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Commuter Rail in Houston

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why doesnt Houston have commuter rail? it only costs ~10 million a mile, vs 100 or so million for light rail. we have spent over 2 billion on light rail over the last decade.. with that amount of money we could have built over TWO HUNDRED miles of commuter rail.. that would be enough track milage to build rail to Conroe (Hardy), Galveston (Highway 3), Highway 6 (288), Rosenberg (90A), Kingwood (Hirsch/494), Willowbrook/1960 (the rail line that eventually parallels 249), Cypress (290/Hempstead), Katy, and down Westpark..

i understand the importance of having a core/base system (light rail), but now that we have (almost) 3 lines built out (and in a couple years an uptown BRT line), we have something to work with/transfer to when the commuters get into the city, so i think its time to start looking at building some of these commuter rail lines. traffic is bad and only going to get worse as millions more people move to the area.. at what point do we finally say enough is enough, its time for an alternative?

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 it only costs ~10 million a mile,

 

It wouldn't cost $10m a mile to get it inside the loop and reasonably close to Downtown jobs. All the freight lines are at capacity so new right-of-way would be required.

 

Besides, the Park & Ride system provides better service than commuter rail ever could. Would you prefer a nonstop (or close to nonstop) 65 mph ride from a suburban parking location to the door of your office building or a trip with a number of stops that gets you to the outskirts of Downtown where you have to transfer to a bus or light rail train to get the rest of the way?

 

Could the Park & Ride system be operated and marketed better? Absolutely. But it's already a more effective commuter transit system than most commuter rail systems. Try finding a postwar commuter rail system with a subsidy per boarding of $9 (METRO's P&R average).

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Great points.. You'll have to forgive my wild ramblings. I've been sketching out a fantasy transit map recently and have been implementing different modes of transportation. When I did some research on the costs I was stunned at how cheap commuter rail is. You're right, a lot of the lines would need additional ROW for commuter rail, and/or possibly need to be trenched, which would be a good deal more than 10 million a mile but the Westpark corridor up to Montrose wouldn't need new ROW. I hope METRO is serious about the 90A proposal. It's kind of sad we don't have a single mile of commuter rail..

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Park & Ride is actually the part of the METRO system that is experiencing the most growth at the moment (3.4 increase over LY), but even at those rates it isn't big volume. The entire system generates approx. 33,000 average weekday boardings and that's spread over 30 different locations. Even if you assume exponential increases it's hard to get to ridership numbers that require commuter rail on any single route.

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Park & Ride is actually the part of the METRO system that is experiencing the most growth at the moment (3.4 increase over LY), but even at those rates it isn't big volume. The entire system generates approx. 33,000 average weekday boardings and that's spread over 30 different locations. Even if you assume exponential increases it's hard to get to ridership numbers that require commuter rail on any single route.

the only 33,00 I know of is the rail line and that does not take i the extended line.. metro overall dalily ridership is  somewhere in the 100,000 plus range( including P and R)

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the only 33,00 I know of is the rail line and that does not take i the extended line.. metro overall dalily ridership is  somewhere in the 100,000 plus range( including P and R)

 

In the latest stats available, (YTD through November 2013), average weekday ridership on the P&R system was 33,108.

 

Average weekday ridership for Metro (rail and bus combined, including P&R) was 286,772.

 

Average weekday ridership for MetroRail was 37,558.

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We've already spent a ton of money on the P&R system.

I'd rather we focus our resources on improving inner city transit, not suburban transit.

Not enough potential transit riders that far out.

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In the latest stats available, (YTD through November 2013), average weekday ridership on the P&R system was 33,108.

 

Average weekday ridership for Metro (rail and bus combined, including P&R) was 286,772.

 

Average weekday ridership for MetroRail was 37,558.

where did you find the park and ride number? that seems pretty low. especially considering how much higher the total bus ridership is.

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where did you find the park and ride number? that seems pretty low. especially considering how much higher the total bus ridership is.

Those are the official METRO numbers.

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In the latest stats available, (YTD through November 2013), average weekday ridership on the P&R system was 33,108.

 

Average weekday ridership for Metro (rail and bus combined, including P&R) was 286,772.

 

Average weekday ridership for MetroRail was 37,558.

 

Further to my earlier post, FWIW, there are approximately 19 metro areas in the United States that have commuter rail systems.  Of those 19, only 7 have ridership greater than our P&R System.

Edited by Houston19514
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Further to my earlier post, FWIW, there are approximately 19 metro areas in the United States that have commuter rail systems. Of those 19, only 7 have ridership greater than our P&R System.

I saw a stat the other day that really surprised me. 65% of rail users in the US are in the New York City metro.

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We've already spent a ton of money on the P&R system.

I'd rather we focus our resources on improving inner city transit, not suburban transit.

Not enough potential transit riders that far out.

i agree for the most part.

and let me be clear.. i dont think we actually need commuter rail down all of the corridors i mentioned. i was just saying theoretically with the amount of money weve spent on light rail, we could of built commuter rail (at 10 million a mile, which was pointed out to be a flawed assumption) to all of those places. i would however not mind seeing commuter rail down Westpark (and a couple of the other routes), to take busses off that narrow/congested tollroad, and put that expanse of ROW along the south side of Westpark to use. it would be the easiest commuter rail to implement (unless we were able to convince a railroad company to somehow integrate commuter rail into their cargo schedules, though most of those lines are at capacity as someone mentioned.. maybe the 90A line?)

i disagree however that there arent enough potential transit riders that far out. Houston has almost 4 million people living outside the city. if they were able to reroute the busses that were taken off the roads by rail, to spiderweb outward from each station to serve the local areas so that people were within "walking distance" of the busses, and thus the train stations, it may help boost numbers. also its a pretty common notion that trains are more appealing than busses. not to mention the whole "reverse white flight" phenomenon thats predicted to happen in the coming decades as the inner cities gentrify and home values go up, forcing the poor out to the suburbs.

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Park & Ride is actually the part of the METRO system that is experiencing the most growth at the moment (3.4 increase over LY), but even at those rates it isn't big volume. The entire system generates approx. 33,000 average weekday boardings and that's spread over 30 different locations. Even if you assume exponential increases it's hard to get to ridership numbers that require commuter rail on any single route.

So you would agree rail being built on dense corridors makes sense since the ridership is higher than all commuter routes combined.

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i agree for the most part.

and let me be clear.. i dont think we actually need commuter rail down all of the corridors i mentioned. i was just saying theoretically with the amount of money weve spent on light rail, we could of built commuter rail (at 10 million a mile, which was pointed out to be a flawed assumption) to all of those places. i would however not mind seeing commuter rail down Westpark (and a couple of the other routes), to take busses off that narrow/congested tollroad, and put that expanse of ROW along the south side of Westpark to use. it would be the easiest commuter rail to implement (unless we were able to convince a railroad company to somehow integrate commuter rail into their cargo schedules, though most of those lines are at capacity as someone mentioned.. maybe the 90A line?)

i disagree however that there arent enough potential transit riders that far out. Houston has almost 4 million people living outside the city. if they were able to reroute the busses that were taken off the roads by rail, to spiderweb outward from each station to serve the local areas so that people were within "walking distance" of the busses, and thus the train stations, it may help boost numbers. also its a pretty common notion that trains are more appealing than busses. not to mention the whole "reverse white flight" phenomenon thats predicted to happen in the coming decades as the inner cities gentrify and home values go up, forcing the poor out to the suburbs.

It's a good point that there is a significant portion of people that would ride trains but refuse to ride buses.

Also HOV isn't perfect especially on the 45 north corridor where it slows to a crawl daily. A grade separated system would save a lot of time there.

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We've already spent a ton of money on the P&R system.

I'd rather we focus our resources on improving inner city transit, not suburban transit.

Not enough potential transit riders that far out.

Agreed this was dart's mistake but now they are working on making streetcars within the city to help connectivity once you arrive. Basically they took the reverse approach of us which may work out better in the long run because I don't see us building commuter rail after university and uptown lines.

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Further to my earlier post, FWIW, there are approximately 19 metro areas in the United States that have commuter rail systems.  Of those 19, only 7 have ridership greater than our P&R System.

i count at least 8 (unless you arent counting NJ and NY as separate.. you did say metro i guess).

top 8.. (keep in mind 5 of the 8 are metros with lower populations than Houston)

NYC

Chicago

(NYC again.. different rail operator)

NJ

Boston

Philly

San Fran/San Jose

LA

Baltimore

the one i find most impressive is Caltran in San Francisco/San Jose.. 77 miles of track, moves over 47,000 people a day. 

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^Where there is nothing now - there is room for something in the future.  No reason to not see Houston having commuter rail 20-30 years down the road.  The biggest problem is it is almost* a generational sort of investment.  If we started to build commuter rail today it would be at least a 1/2 decade before the first segments of that first line open - more than likely even longer.  For a full implementation of commuter rail to all suburbs/surrounding cities it would take a couple of decades (not unlike LR investment inside the city core).

 

The problem with Houstonian's against LRT/HR/BRT etc. is they want a 50% reduction in traffic overnight.  They don't want to see 7% or even 12-15% reduction in traffic on weekdays commuting to town.  To them those numbers aren't worth the expense.  The problem is the money MUST be spent since there is a limit to how much road surface we can construct in town (eg: I-45s Pierce Elevated, 610-West Loop etc).  While I've no doubt Heavy Rail or Commuter Rail (what ever its called) would be a success to The Woodlands/Conroe, Galveston/League City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy and other areas, I do know that it wouldn't be an immediate overnight success story.  We - Houstonian's - are so impatient we're neglectful.  The mantra that "It takes too long to build it" is absurd.  Not building it takes even longer!

Edited by arche_757
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Agreed this was dart's mistake but now they are working on making streetcars within the city to help connectivity once you arrive. Basically they took the reverse approach of us which may work out better in the long run because I don't see us building commuter rail after university and uptown lines.

i agree about the DART mistake. but why dont you see us building commuter rail after university and uptown lines? that seems like there wouldnt be a better time.. the inner city system would finally be built out as envisioned (granted, IMO we need streetcars in some populated/dense areas to extend the "last mile" reach of the light rail).

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So you would agree rail being built on dense corridors makes sense since the ridership is higher than all commuter routes combined.

 

I agree that heavy rail, preferably grade separated, makes sense when capacity is extremely high.  I have yet to see a convincing argument for LRT over BRT especially because emerging technologies are continuing to erode the few advantages that LRT does have.  I don't believe that Houston has any corridors that justify the use of heavy rail at this point in time, however agree that METRO should be establishing ROW for the point that they will need it.

 

I believe that the most pressing need for Houston is expanded coverage and frequency.  Neither of which are strengths of rail.

 

Regarding the Park & Ride vs. rail, it's an extremely flawed comparison because Park & Ride utilizes existing infrastructure while rail requires construction of an entirely new set of infrastructure.  The cost comparisons aren't even close.  For example the Katy Freeway Park & Ride is entirely contained in the existing infrastructure that supports an estimate 274,000 vehicles/day which significantly exceeds the daily ridership of any light rail system in the United States.

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I agree that heavy rail, preferably grade separated, makes sense when capacity is extremely high.  I have yet to see a convincing argument for LRT over BRT especially because emerging technologies are continuing to erode the few advantages that LRT does have.  I don't believe that Houston has any corridors that justify the use of heavy rail at this point in time, however agree that METRO should be establishing ROW for the point that they will need it.

 

I believe that the most pressing need for Houston is expanded coverage and frequency.  Neither of which are strengths of rail.

 

Regarding the Park & Ride vs. rail, it's an extremely flawed comparison because Park & Ride utilizes existing infrastructure while rail requires construction of an entirely new set of infrastructure.  The cost comparisons aren't even close.  For example the Katy Freeway Park & Ride is entirely contained in the existing infrastructure that supports an estimate 274,000 vehicles/day which significantly exceeds the daily ridership of any light rail system in the United States.

 

I think the major issue is (for Houstonian's):  Cost+Construction Time vs doing nothing (which is free).

 

Waiting until we have total gridlock is foolish, since then we will end up waiting another 10 years or so for full buildout.

 

And for anyone to think that Houston with 6 million people is not big enough/populated enough for commuter rail to work is silly.  Just how many millions more do we need until we are no longer the exception to the norm?

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i agree about the DART mistake. but why dont you see us building commuter rail after university and uptown lines? that seems like there wouldnt be a better time.. the inner city system would finally be built out as envisioned (granted, IMO we need streetcars in some populated/dense areas to extend the "last mile" reach of the light rail).

 

I don't see it because of hard headed political opposition here.

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I agree that heavy rail, preferably grade separated, makes sense when capacity is extremely high.  I have yet to see a convincing argument for LRT over BRT especially because emerging technologies are continuing to erode the few advantages that LRT does have.  I don't believe that Houston has any corridors that justify the use of heavy rail at this point in time, however agree that METRO should be establishing ROW for the point that they will need it.

 

I believe that the most pressing need for Houston is expanded coverage and frequency.  Neither of which are strengths of rail.

 

Regarding the Park & Ride vs. rail, it's an extremely flawed comparison because Park & Ride utilizes existing infrastructure while rail requires construction of an entirely new set of infrastructure.  The cost comparisons aren't even close.  For example the Katy Freeway Park & Ride is entirely contained in the existing infrastructure that supports an estimate 274,000 vehicles/day which significantly exceeds the daily ridership of any light rail system in the United States.

 

There are corridors where ridership would be extremely high. Westheimer from downtown to highway 6 would be a great corridor. If you put it in the right place, people will ride. If there were no corridors that justified the use, we would have no traffic, and that is not the case.

 

Also, rail could be built on HOV infrastructure, so that sunk cost could be eliminated.

 

Frequency is a strength of rail. Our light rail is 3 times faster than our buses except park and ride, and there are cities like Vancouver where it runs every 3 minutes, and in mexico city every 2 minutes.

 

FYI BART carries 400,000 people a day.

 

The one advantage that LRT has over buses is, it's not a bus.

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^Where there is nothing now - there is room for something in the future.  No reason to not see Houston having commuter rail 20-30 years down the road.  The biggest problem is it is almost* a generational sort of investment.  If we started to build commuter rail today it would be at least a 1/2 decade before the first segments of that first line open - more than likely even longer.  For a full implementation of commuter rail to all suburbs/surrounding cities it would take a couple of decades (not unlike LR investment inside the city core).

 

The problem with Houstonian's against LRT/HR/BRT etc. is they want a 50% reduction in traffic overnight.  They don't want to see 7% or even 12-15% reduction in traffic on weekdays commuting to town.  To them those numbers aren't worth the expense.  The problem is the money MUST be spent since there is a limit to how much road surface we can construct in town (eg: I-45s Pierce Elevated, 610-West Loop etc).  While I've no doubt Heavy Rail or Commuter Rail (what ever its called) would be a success to The Woodlands/Conroe, Galveston/League City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy and other areas, I do know that it wouldn't be an immediate overnight success story.  We - Houstonian's - are so impatient we're neglectful.  The mantra that "It takes too long to build it" is absurd.  Not building it takes even longer!

 

This is so true. You ask a lot of people that have been to other cities or move in from other cities, and they all wonder why we don't have a rail system, and they would ride it if we had one. The demand is there, but it has to be built. But there's a reason certain people do their level best to stop it, it hurts their bottom line. This leads to corruption.

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I think the major issue is (for Houstonian's):  Cost+Construction Time vs doing nothing (which is free).

 

Waiting until we have total gridlock is foolish, since then we will end up waiting another 10 years or so for full buildout.

 

And for anyone to think that Houston with 6 million people is not big enough/populated enough for commuter rail to work is silly.  Just how many millions more do we need until we are no longer the exception to the norm?

 

THIS. completely agree with your posts in this thread.. waiting until traffic becomes that bad is extremely ill advised and would have adverse effects on our growth and economy. and like i pointed out, only 3 of the top 8 metros with commuter rail (by ridership) have bigger populations than Houston. even the Baltimore area (26th biggest city in the US, 20th biggest metro) has commuter rail..

 

There are corridors where ridership would be extremely high. Westheimer from downtown to highway 6 would be a great corridor. If you put it in the right place, people will ride. If there were no corridors that justified the use, we would have no traffic, and that is not the case.

 

Also, rail could be built on HOV infrastructure, so that sunk cost could be eliminated.

 

Frequency is a strength of rail. Our light rail is 3 times faster than our buses except park and ride, and there are cities like Vancouver where it runs every 3 minutes, and in mexico city every 2 minutes.

 

FYI BART carries 400,000 people a day.

 

The one advantage that LRT has over buses is, it's not a bus.

huh.. Westheimer would be a great corridor for commuter rail? maybe a subway..

agreed rail could be built on HOV infrastructure. thats how i originally envisioned it years ago.. but i kind of like the HOV system, and it would operate even better with the busses taken out of the equation, so i figured ROW along existing rail lines for some corridors could be acquired instead. though i would put rail down the Katy tollway, leaving one HOT lane in each direction, and unfortunately/possibly take out the HOV on 45 from Broadway to downtown (well, as far as it goes towards downtown at least, and extend the rail to the METRO HQ station) for an express line to Hobby. light rail to Hobby would take quite a while to get into town/make transfers/ect.. plus a LRT extension from Palms TC would go through some undesirable parts of town that you wouldnt want to "showcase" to out of towners as their first impression of our city.

thinking about it, its sad they dont leave available ROW or build a rail line alongside the Hardy extension into downtown, because north of 610 there appears to be room for a third line, where there are currently only 2, but south of 610 im afraid they might take up all of the potential ROW with the tollroad.

i wish METRO planned long term and set aside more corridors in the past, like the Westpark ROW, for future commuter rail when its needed. because by the time its needed, if we dont have any ROW set aside it will be a ***** and a half to acquire new ROW from whoever/whatever is developed along the corridors.

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THIS. completely agree with your posts in this thread.. waiting until traffic becomes that bad is extremely ill advised and would have adverse effects on our growth and economy. and like i pointed out, only 3 of the top 8 metros with commuter rail (by ridership) have bigger populations than Houston. even the Baltimore area (26th biggest city in the US, 20th biggest metro) has commuter rail..

 

huh.. Westheimer would be a great corridor for commuter rail? maybe a subway..

agreed rail could be built on HOV infrastructure. thats how i originally envisioned it years ago.. but i kind of like the HOV system, and it would operate even better with the busses taken out of the equation, so i figured ROW along existing rail lines for some corridors could be acquired instead. though i would put rail down the Katy tollway, leaving one HOT lane in each direction, and unfortunately/possibly take out the HOV on 45 from Broadway to downtown (well, as far as it goes towards downtown at least, and extend the rail to the METRO HQ station) for an express line to Hobby. light rail to Hobby would take quite a while to get into town/make transfers/ect.. plus a LRT extension from Palms TC would go through some undesirable parts of town that you wouldnt want to "showcase" to out of towners as their first impression of our city.

thinking about it, its sad they dont leave available ROW or build a rail line alongside the Hardy extension into downtown, because north of 610 there appears to be room for a third line, where there are currently only 2, but south of 610 im afraid they might take up all of the potential ROW with the tollroad.

i wish METRO planned long term and set aside more corridors in the past, like the Westpark ROW, for future commuter rail when its needed. because by the time its needed, if we dont have any ROW set aside it will be a ***** and a half to acquire new ROW from whoever/whatever is developed along the corridors.

 

Yea the more time that goes by the more expensive ROW becomes. As far as going through undesirable parts of town all public transit does that, it's just part of the game. Those are the people that need it the most.

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I agree mass transit generally serves more of the poor people. But taking first time visitors of our city through those decrepit areas seems counter productive to the impression we want to give of our city. Idk, the undesirable areas are a small concern. More importantly taking the light rail into the city from hobby would take 45 minutes or so. As long as some of the shorter flights.. A direct line down 45 and Broadway would be much faster. Or down Mykawa and then over on airport blvd.

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And I noticed you mentioned in another thread waiting on the bus is generally the longest part of the trip. Commuter rail is timely as it doesn't have to deal with surface street traffic, so you know when to expect the train, and thus are able to factor that into your schedule so you don't have to wait so long.

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i count at least 8 (unless you arent counting NJ and NY as separate.. you did say metro i guess).

top 8.. (keep in mind 5 of the 8 are metros with lower populations than Houston)

NYC

Chicago

(NYC again.. different rail operator)

NJ

Boston

Philly

San Fran/San Jose

LA

Baltimore

the one i find most impressive is Caltran in San Francisco/San Jose.. 77 miles of track, moves over 47,000 people a day. 

 

You have to look at these as CMAs, not MSAs.   The list in fact constitutes a list of the 7 largest CMAs in the country, the smallest of which (Philadelphia) has 800,000 more people than the Houston CMA.

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I agree mass transit generally serves more of the poor people. But taking first time visitors of our city through those decrepit areas seems counter productive to the impression we want to give of our city. Idk, the undesirable areas are a small concern. More importantly taking the light rail into the city from hobby would take 45 minutes or so. As long as some of the shorter flights.. A direct line down 45 and Broadway would be much faster. Or down Mykawa and then over on airport blvd.

 

Or they could do both. Even in new york and san francisco and LA all the trains go through bad areas, but if you're not getting out it shouldn't affect you.

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You have to look at these as CMAs, not MSAs.   The list in fact constitutes a list of the 7 largest CMAs in the country, the smallest of which (Philadelphia) has 800,000 more people than the Houston CMA.

Not really.

 

The 2010 census showed that Philly had only had ~44,000 more people than greater Houston.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas

 

As you'll see the 2012 census projections show that Houston is now larger, and we are growing at a much faster rate... at least until Philly gets that supertall (when that happens 95% of this forum will move out there to be around taller buildings).

 

Oh you're referring to CMA's... I think that number paints a false picture - Baltimore/Washington are a combined area, but each city is seperate from the other.  Philly and Willmington (and other minor outlying cities) area the same way.  Boston includes Providence and other enclaves.  NONE of those cities are really a singular part of a single metropolitan area.  For transit concerns Philly needn't spend money on connecting to Willmington and Boston on connecting to Providence.  State and Federal transit intitiatives should focus more on that.   Houston is unique among major US cities (speaking the largest metros) in that it is the ONLY city of any real size inside that msa/csa area...  I mean Houston's big additions to the list include these behemoths: El Campo, Brenham, Bay City and Huntsville.  None of those cities are larger than 50,000 people.

 

Edited by arche_757

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i disagree however that there arent enough potential transit riders that far out. Houston has almost 4 million people living outside the city. if they were able to reroute the busses that were taken off the roads by rail, to spiderweb outward from each station to serve the local areas so that people were within "walking distance" of the busses, and thus the train stations, it may help boost numbers. also its a pretty common notion that trains are more appealing than busses. not to mention the whole "reverse white flight" phenomenon thats predicted to happen in the coming decades as the inner cities gentrify and home values go up, forcing the poor out to the suburbs.

The reason I suggest that there are less potential transit riders in the 'burbs is because the lower density allows most people to own and operate a car cheaply. Cars become inconvenient once you get in the city center where parking is a hassle and traffic is worse.

Certain lines might be worth the investment for commuter rail, or hybrid commuter rail like the 90A line you mentioned. The reason I hesitate advocating for commuter rail is because traditional commuter rail means trains go to a central station and passengers then have to transfer to a bus or light rail the rest of the way. Our bus and light rail network is quite slow in comparison to most heavy rail subway systems in cities with high commuter rail ridership.

Now what I WOULD be in favor of would be a commuter rail type network that doubles as a subway system in the inner city. Exhibit A is Washington DCs system, which is a subway in the central areas of the city but further out stops are far apart and it's more like commuter rail. That would allow people to go straight to their area of employment with minimal transfers (and even if there is a transfer, at most it would be a couple minutes and require no walking). The advantage of this system is better connectivity between suburban areas and employment centers, easier transfers, higher frequencies, higher ridership (both capacity and actual), better cost efficiency, and room for future ridership growth.

Edited by mfastx
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I think the major issue is (for Houstonian's):  Cost+Construction Time vs doing nothing (which is free).

 

Waiting until we have total gridlock is foolish, since then we will end up waiting another 10 years or so for full buildout.

 

And for anyone to think that Houston with 6 million people is not big enough/populated enough for commuter rail to work is silly.  Just how many millions more do we need until we are no longer the exception to the norm?

 

I understand that you're saying that you believe that it's foolish to think that commuter rail is "foolish" to think commuter rail might fail.  I'm more than happy to lay out my concerns about commuter rail. 

 

- The plans that I've seen are a "hub and spoke" system focused around getting commuters to downtown.  METRO's statistics show that 53% of downtown workers already utilize public transit or rideshare.  Assuming those numbers are correct, then downtown is pretty adequately serviced by public transit and isn't the issue.  Providing transit to other areas is the issue.

 

- I do not agree with assumptions that people will connect to the network of public transit and connect to other job centers.  Doing that significantly increases transit time to the end destination.  The average commute time in Houston is currently 28 min.  Using commuter rail and transferring between lines will almost certainly end up increasing commute times.

 

- Assumptions that commuter rail will drive development back into downtown are questionable.  Houston has no commuter rail and downtown is booming.  Dallas' has commuter rail and a 30% vacancy rate in downtown.  It's just not that simple.

 

- Further on the Dallas example, Dallas' commuter rail line carries about 8,000 daily riders and has plateaued in ridership for about three years.  That's only marginally better than the Katy Park & Ride line at a much larger expense.  We may disagree on this, but I wouldn't consider 8,000 daily riders on a commuter rail line to be a success.

 

In light of those comments, I would be very curious to hear why you think it would succeed other than just saying it's "foolish".

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I agree that commuter rail certainly sounds great: although the Westpark and Katy lines have been dismantled, there are existing rail corridors that stretch out to Cypress (and beyond, Hempstead and College Station), Sugar Land (and beyond, Rosenberg and Sealy), and other destinations.

There's a few problems with that, though: the lines are owned by UP, which means that they'll have priority in freight traffic, even in double-tracked areas, so the areas that aren't double tracked will have to be, resulting in major investment. That cuts into the "pre-existing network". Secondly, they start in the suburbs, where do they go?

Even if UH-D became a transit center where you could switch commuter rail to light rail, the main destination isn't downtown in most cases. Where else would you have the 290 commuter trains stop? The Northwest Transit Center? Those transfers will build up average commuting time (and frankly, I think ~30 minutes average is great) and probably won't noticeable impact in gridlock.

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BTW, some interesting statistics regarding commute methods are found in the following.  If you want to test yourself, I've listed stats for three cities below - Houston, Dallas, Austin.  Pick the city first and then look at the report and see how correct you were.  If you're feeling really brave, post your answers before you look at the report.  :)

 

http://demographia.com/db-jtwmma2012.pdf

 

City A

79.7% commute in car alone

11.0% car pool

  3.5% work from home

  2.6% use mass transit

  1.4% walk

  0.3% bike

  1.6% other

 

City B

81.0% commute in car alone

10.1% car pool

  4.6% work from home

  1.5% use mass transit

  1.1% walk

  0.2% bike

  1.5% other

 

City C

76.3% commute in car alone

11.1% car pool

  6.4% work from home

  2.3% use mass transit

  2.1% walk

  0.8% bike

  1.1% other

Edited by livincinco

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Not really.

 

The 2010 census showed that Philly had only had ~44,000 more people than greater Houston.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas

 

As you'll see the 2012 census projections show that Houston is now larger, and we are growing at a much faster rate... at least until Philly gets that supertall (when that happens 95% of this forum will move out there to be around taller buildings).

 

Oh you're referring to CMA's... I think that number paints a false picture - Baltimore/Washington are a combined area, but each city is seperate from the other.  Philly and Willmington (and other minor outlying cities) area the same way.  Boston includes Providence and other enclaves.  NONE of those cities are really a singular part of a single metropolitan area.  For transit concerns Philly needn't spend money on connecting to Willmington and Boston on connecting to Providence.  State and Federal transit intitiatives should focus more on that.   Houston is unique among major US cities (speaking the largest metros) in that it is the ONLY city of any real size inside that msa/csa area...  I mean Houston's big additions to the list include these behemoths: El Campo, Brenham, Bay City and Huntsville.  None of those cities are larger than 50,000 people.

 

 

Yes, I understand that Baltimore and Washington are separate.  But the commuter rail system numbers shown are not separate, so we have to look at the population of the CMA, not the MSA.  Likewise for the  other metro areas on the list.

 

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^Where there is nothing now - there is room for something in the future.  No reason to not see Houston having commuter rail 20-30 years down the road.  The biggest problem is it is almost* a generational sort of investment.  If we started to build commuter rail today it would be at least a 1/2 decade before the first segments of that first line open - more than likely even longer.  For a full implementation of commuter rail to all suburbs/surrounding cities it would take a couple of decades (not unlike LR investment inside the city core).

 

The problem with Houstonian's against LRT/HR/BRT etc. is they want a 50% reduction in traffic overnight.  They don't want to see 7% or even 12-15% reduction in traffic on weekdays commuting to town.  To them those numbers aren't worth the expense.  The problem is the money MUST be spent since there is a limit to how much road surface we can construct in town (eg: I-45s Pierce Elevated, 610-West Loop etc).  While I've no doubt Heavy Rail or Commuter Rail (what ever its called) would be a success to The Woodlands/Conroe, Galveston/League City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy and other areas, I do know that it wouldn't be an immediate overnight success story.  We - Houstonian's - are so impatient we're neglectful.  The mantra that "It takes too long to build it" is absurd.  Not building it takes even longer!

 

What reason is there to think that replacing our park & ride system with commuter rail would result in anything close to a 12-15%, or even 7% reduction in traffic in weekday commuting?

 

In the listing of top commuter rail systems in the US discussed above, only one of those top 7 metros is remotely similar to Houston --  Los Angeles.  LA's 388-mile commuter rail system serving a population almost 3 times that of Houston manages to pull only 42,700 riders per day.  Washington/Baltimore, which has an extensive and pretty long-standing commuter rail system, only has 55,400 riders.  And after those top 7 metros, commuter rail system ridership drops off a cliff.   Even in Chicago, with almost 600 miles of commuter rail, less than 5% of workers use commuter rail.

 

8.   Miami -- 15,000 riders

9.   Salt Lake City -- 13,000 riders

10. Seattle -- 11,300

11. DFW -- 9,500

12. San Diego -- 5,300

 

Edited by Houston19514

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I understand that you're saying that you believe that it's foolish to think that commuter rail is "foolish" to think commuter rail might fail.  I'm more than happy to lay out my concerns about commuter rail. 

 

- The plans that I've seen are a "hub and spoke" system focused around getting commuters to downtown.  METRO's statistics show that 53% of downtown workers already utilize public transit or rideshare.  Assuming those numbers are correct, then downtown is pretty adequately serviced by public transit and isn't the issue.  Providing transit to other areas is the issue.

 

- I do not agree with assumptions that people will connect to the network of public transit and connect to other job centers.  Doing that significantly increases transit time to the end destination.  The average commute time in Houston is currently 28 min.  Using commuter rail and transferring between lines will almost certainly end up increasing commute times.

 

- Assumptions that commuter rail will drive development back into downtown are questionable.  Houston has no commuter rail and downtown is booming.  Dallas' has commuter rail and a 30% vacancy rate in downtown.  It's just not that simple.

 

- Further on the Dallas example, Dallas' commuter rail line carries about 8,000 daily riders and has plateaued in ridership for about three years.  That's only marginally better than the Katy Park & Ride line at a much larger expense.  We may disagree on this, but I wouldn't consider 8,000 daily riders on a commuter rail line to be a success.

 

In light of those comments, I would be very curious to hear why you think it would succeed other than just saying it's "foolish".

 

- does the highway hub and spoke system not work for getting people to other destinations besides downtown? i havent really seen any commuter rail system plans for Houston besides the fantasy/ideal ones on here, but most of those implement current rail or open corridors with available ROW. many of these transit lines would have stops/connect into the light rail system and other popular areas besides downtown.

- i didnt notice anyone assume commuter rail would drive development downtown. especially since it would serve much more than just downtown, and lines like Westpark and 90A couldnt even go to downtown.

- i look at Dallas' LRT to be more like commuter rail, in that it extends out to the suburbs, has fewer stops, and its own grade separate ROW throughout much of the lines. those 85 miles carry over 100,000 people. and many of DARTs lines were built through some rather desolate places in hopes to spur development, or else they would surely have a higher ridership.

 

I agree that commuter rail certainly sounds great: although the Westpark and Katy lines have been dismantled, there are existing rail corridors that stretch out to Cypress (and beyond, Hempstead and College Station), Sugar Land (and beyond, Rosenberg and Sealy), and other destinations.

There's a few problems with that, though: the lines are owned by UP, which means that they'll have priority in freight traffic, even in double-tracked areas, so the areas that aren't double tracked will have to be, resulting in major investment. That cuts into the "pre-existing network". Secondly, they start in the suburbs, where do they go?

Even if UH-D became a transit center where you could switch commuter rail to light rail, the main destination isn't downtown in most cases. Where else would you have the 290 commuter trains stop? The Northwest Transit Center? Those transfers will build up average commuting time (and frankly, I think ~30 minutes average is great) and probably won't noticeable impact in gridlock.

what do you mean they start in the suburbs, where do they go? into the city of course..

there are talks of possibly extending the uptown line to Northwest Mall.. if that happened, there could be a stop there, serving the uptown destinations. then there could be a stop where the rail line from Memorial Park (could be a future connector from the Hempstead line to the Westpark line and then down to the 90A line) hits the Hempstead line, northwest of the TxDot building, before continuing on to the Hardy Yards or Post Office site/UH-D. yes those transfers may add a little bit of time to take another form of transit to your final destination, but this whole commuter rail proposition would be planning for the future. when Houston has 10+ million people in 2040 traffic will be a ****storm and commute times will likely be at least double what they are today.

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- does the highway hub and spoke system not work for getting people to other destinations besides downtown? i havent really seen any commuter rail system plans for Houston besides the fantasy/ideal ones on here, but most of those implement current rail or open corridors with available ROW. many of these transit lines would have stops/connect into the light rail system and other popular areas besides downtown.

- i didnt notice anyone assume commuter rail would drive development downtown. especially since it would serve much more than just downtown, and lines like Westpark and 90A couldnt even go to downtown.

- i look at Dallas' LRT to be more like commuter rail, in that it extends out to the suburbs, has fewer stops, and its own grade separate ROW throughout much of the lines. those 85 miles carry over 100,000 people. and many of DARTs lines were built through some rather desolate places in hopes to spur development, or else they would surely have a higher ridership.

 

what do you mean they start in the suburbs, where do they go? into the city of course..

there are talks of possibly extending the uptown line to Northwest Mall.. if that happened, there could be a stop there, serving the uptown destinations. then there could be a stop where the rail line from Memorial Park (could be a future connector from the Hempstead line to the Westpark line and then down to the 90A line) hits the Hempstead line, northwest of the TxDot building, before continuing on to the Hardy Yards or Post Office site/UH-D. yes those transfers may add a little bit of time to take another form of transit to your final destination, but this whole commuter rail proposition would be planning for the future. when Houston has 10+ million people in 2040 traffic will be a ****storm and commute times will likely be at least double what they are today.

 

As I've stated before, I fully support METRO investing money to buy ROW to potentially, I just don't agree with putting the rail in before the demand supports it.

 

In my opinion, DART is a cautionary tale that Houston needs to look at carefully.  DART invested their money heavily in rail and I hear all the arguments that DART has "invested for the future", but I think that it's relevant to look at what else has happened as a result.

 

- DART has increased their LRT ridership from 2008 to 2012 (the most recent actuals listed in the 2014 DART financial plan), but the total system ridership decreased by more than 10% in that same time period.  I frequently hear rail advocates argue that rail bolsters the entire system, but that's not what has happened in Dallas.  Interestingly enough, although the bus system has suffered continues declines during that time period, the biggest decline was in users of the HOV and it occurred at the same time that the Orange Line was opened.  It's not a stretch to then conclude that ridership on the Orange Line pulled heavily from people that were already carpooling with little impact on those who drive alone.

 

- Rail proponents frequently talk about the lower operating costs for rail, and DART has a 2014 budget for operating costs of $238 million for buses and $184.5 million for rail.  However, they generally don't include the debt service that is incurred by the large capital outlays of rail.  DART will pay an additional $180 million in debt service in 2014 due to the bonds issued to construct rail.  That makes the annual outlay to support the rail system $364.5 million in comparison to $238 million for buses.  Additionally, that plan under funds operations by $178 million with no indication as to how that gap will be made up.

 

- DART has a long term financial burden that is going to impact their ability to operate their existing system for years.  DART has budgeted between $200 - $300 million/year in revenue to pay down the debt incurred from the initial construction a total of $4.66 billion over the next 20 years and that is a severely underfunded plan.  Long term debt in 2014 at the start of 2014 is 3.59 billion and at the end of 2033 is still 3.09 billion.  That means that DART is going to pay $4.66 billion in the next 20 years to reduce their overall debt by only $500 million.  To be fair, part of that is due to an additional $1.1 billion in bond measures that are projected to be issued in 2025, but those are to keep the system in a "good state" and are not designed to provide further service enhancements.  Capital outlays drop dramatically during the next 10 years indicating that the agency has no ability to make further investments.

 

So what's the end result?  Houston has had a horribly mismanaged transit agency for years, Dallas has a rail network that makes many on this side envious.  So who's further ahead?

 

- Which metro has a higher percentage of transit usage - Houston

- Which metro has a higher percentage of drivers commuting alone - Dallas

 

You can draw your own conclusions, but I'm not particularly anxious to follow the path of Dallas.

 

http://www.dart.org/ShareRoot/debtdocuments/BusinessPlanFY14.pdf?nocache=1

 

 

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what do you mean they start in the suburbs, where do they go? into the city of course..

there are talks of possibly extending the uptown line to Northwest Mall.. if that happened, there could be a stop there, serving the uptown destinations. then there could be a stop where the rail line from Memorial Park (could be a future connector from the Hempstead line to the Westpark line and then down to the 90A line) hits the Hempstead line, northwest of the TxDot building, before continuing on to the Hardy Yards or Post Office site/UH-D. yes those transfers may add a little bit of time to take another form of transit to your final destination, but this whole commuter rail proposition would be planning for the future. when Houston has 10+ million people in 2040 traffic will be a ****storm and commute times will likely be at least double what they are today.

Well sure, there's downtown, but not everyone works downtown. Overall, I think the only viable commuter rail is on the 290 corridor, with an Austin commuter rail like "toy train" stopping at downtown, Northwest Mall or a spur to the Northwest Transit Center, Jersey Village, Cypress, Fairfield with occasional service even to College Station perhaps.

Other than that, it becomes far more troublesome. Building a line from Sugar Land to downtown, starting from 90-A and US-59 is at least 24 miles versus 18 miles, with additions depending on how many stations you want to add.

Rough truth for everyone is that it needs more highway lines--and in hurricane evacuations, the more highway lanes you have, the better.

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As I've stated before, I fully support METRO investing money to buy ROW to potentially, I just don't agree with putting the rail in before the demand supports it.

 

In my opinion, DART is a cautionary tale that Houston needs to look at carefully.  DART invested their money heavily in rail and I hear all the arguments that DART has "invested for the future", but I think that it's relevant to look at what else has happened as a result.

 

- DART has increased their LRT ridership from 2008 to 2012 (the most recent actuals listed in the 2014 DART financial plan), but the total system ridership decreased by more than 10% in that same time period.  I frequently hear rail advocates argue that rail bolsters the entire system, but that's not what has happened in Dallas.  Interestingly enough, although the bus system has suffered continues declines during that time period, the biggest decline was in users of the HOV and it occurred at the same time that the Orange Line was opened.  It's not a stretch to then conclude that ridership on the Orange Line pulled heavily from people that were already carpooling with little impact on those who drive alone.

 

- Rail proponents frequently talk about the lower operating costs for rail, and DART has a 2014 budget for operating costs of $238 million for buses and $184.5 million for rail.  However, they generally don't include the debt service that is incurred by the large capital outlays of rail.  DART will pay an additional $180 million in debt service in 2014 due to the bonds issued to construct rail.  That makes the annual outlay to support the rail system $364.5 million in comparison to $238 million for buses.  Additionally, that plan under funds operations by $178 million with no indication as to how that gap will be made up.

 

- DART has a long term financial burden that is going to impact their ability to operate their existing system for years.  DART has budgeted between $200 - $300 million/year in revenue to pay down the debt incurred from the initial construction a total of $4.66 billion over the next 20 years and that is a severely underfunded plan.  Long term debt in 2014 at the start of 2014 is 3.59 billion and at the end of 2033 is still 3.09 billion.  That means that DART is going to pay $4.66 billion in the next 20 years to reduce their overall debt by only $500 million.  To be fair, part of that is due to an additional $1.1 billion in bond measures that are projected to be issued in 2025, but those are to keep the system in a "good state" and are not designed to provide further service enhancements.  Capital outlays drop dramatically during the next 10 years indicating that the agency has no ability to make further investments.

 

So what's the end result?  Houston has had a horribly mismanaged transit agency for years, Dallas has a rail network that makes many on this side envious.  So who's further ahead?

 

- Which metro has a higher percentage of transit usage - Houston

- Which metro has a higher percentage of drivers commuting alone - Dallas

 

You can draw your own conclusions, but I'm not particularly anxious to follow the path of Dallas.

 

http://www.dart.org/ShareRoot/debtdocuments/BusinessPlanFY14.pdf?nocache=1

 

Houston isn't following Dallas's path at all, it has laid down new track for all of its lines and is building them in the inner city in dense corridors, whereas Dallas did for some but also used abandoned right of way for a lot of it to get more built quicker and they all go out to the suburbs. Now Dallas is working on a streetcar system within the city to help people get around once they arrive. Also I guarantee if there was an east west line, perhaps on 635 from Irving to 75, ridership would go up a lot. Its potential is limited when everything is north south.

 

Also regarding your costs, it seems you are not aware that costs of building goes up over the long run. It will be interesting to see how much more it costs Houston to build its system compared to Dallas who is done with theirs. Your plan of saving money now for buses could backfire in the long run because costs will be so much higher later any potential savings are offset. But then again you've basically admitted you're anti-rail and want to push it off as long as possible, which sounds like a lot of ordinary and politicial people in Houston.

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But then again you've basically admitted you're anti-rail and want to push it off as long as possible, which sounds like a lot of ordinary and politicial people in Houston.

Just because livincinco doesn't want to build lots of rail ASAP doesn't mean he's anti-rail.
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As I've stated before, I fully support METRO investing money to buy ROW to potentially, I just don't agree with putting the rail in before the demand supports it.

 

In my opinion, DART is a cautionary tale that Houston needs to look at carefully.  DART invested their money heavily in rail and I hear all the arguments that DART has "invested for the future", but I think that it's relevant to look at what else has happened as a result.

 

- DART has increased their LRT ridership from 2008 to 2012 (the most recent actuals listed in the 2014 DART financial plan), but the total system ridership decreased by more than 10% in that same time period.  I frequently hear rail advocates argue that rail bolsters the entire system, but that's not what has happened in Dallas.  Interestingly enough, although the bus system has suffered continues declines during that time period, the biggest decline was in users of the HOV and it occurred at the same time that the Orange Line was opened.  It's not a stretch to then conclude that ridership on the Orange Line pulled heavily from people that were already carpooling with little impact on those who drive alone.

 

- Rail proponents frequently talk about the lower operating costs for rail, and DART has a 2014 budget for operating costs of $238 million for buses and $184.5 million for rail.  However, they generally don't include the debt service that is incurred by the large capital outlays of rail.  DART will pay an additional $180 million in debt service in 2014 due to the bonds issued to construct rail.  That makes the annual outlay to support the rail system $364.5 million in comparison to $238 million for buses.  Additionally, that plan under funds operations by $178 million with no indication as to how that gap will be made up.

 

- DART has a long term financial burden that is going to impact their ability to operate their existing system for years.  DART has budgeted between $200 - $300 million/year in revenue to pay down the debt incurred from the initial construction a total of $4.66 billion over the next 20 years and that is a severely underfunded plan.  Long term debt in 2014 at the start of 2014 is 3.59 billion and at the end of 2033 is still 3.09 billion.  That means that DART is going to pay $4.66 billion in the next 20 years to reduce their overall debt by only $500 million.  To be fair, part of that is due to an additional $1.1 billion in bond measures that are projected to be issued in 2025, but those are to keep the system in a "good state" and are not designed to provide further service enhancements.  Capital outlays drop dramatically during the next 10 years indicating that the agency has no ability to make further investments.

 

So what's the end result?  Houston has had a horribly mismanaged transit agency for years, Dallas has a rail network that makes many on this side envious.  So who's further ahead?

 

- Which metro has a higher percentage of transit usage - Houston

- Which metro has a higher percentage of drivers commuting alone - Dallas

 

You can draw your own conclusions, but I'm not particularly anxious to follow the path of Dallas.

 

http://www.dart.org/ShareRoot/debtdocuments/BusinessPlanFY14.pdf?nocache=1

 

thanks for the very informative response. it is interesting to know that DART wont have much funding for expansion for the next 20 years (though Houstons not supposed to get more rail funding till 2025, according to that law last year, right?), but they have already built out their planned system, whereas Houston still has over 15 more miles to build before its original 5 line system plan is built out (a plan less than half the size of DART), and considering the Culberson mess with the other 2 lines, and the law we passed a year ago keeping METRO tax money from going to rail until 2025, by the time we get around to building the additional light rail, it will probably cost close to 200 million a mile.. or $3 billion total.. on top of the 2.5 billion or so weve spent for the first 3 lines. almost 6 billion for 40 miles of light rail. if the "initial construction cost estimates" you quoted were the total construction costs to build out DART, not just the balance they still have to pay, then they built a system over twice as large for over a billion dollars cheaper.

i agree, i wouldnt of gone with DARTs approach to build where they hope future development will happen along the rail lines, instead of building where the people and the development already are, like METRO did with its first line. but they certainly were able to get it built much cheaper and in the long run will have a larger system with more destination options than our system could ever provide (unless we plan to add 100+ miles of commuter rail)..

and btw, im not saying we need all of this commuter rail now, im saying we need to be planning for the future by reserving vacant ROWs and start acquiring additional ROW alongside current corridors [like alongside the Hempstead line, or the future Hardy downtown connector {acquiring ROW through land purchases or eminent domain can be the toughest part of building new rail}], like you are advocating. though i certainly wouldnt mind seeing a commuter rail line or two along certain corridors once METRO finishes the LRT system (of course by the time METRO finishes the university and uptown lines well probably actually need commuter rail).

 

Well sure, there's downtown, but not everyone works downtown. Overall, I think the only viable commuter rail is on the 290 corridor, with an Austin commuter rail like "toy train" stopping at downtown, Northwest Mall or a spur to the Northwest Transit Center, Jersey Village, Cypress, Fairfield with occasional service even to College Station perhaps.

Other than that, it becomes far more troublesome. Building a line from Sugar Land to downtown, starting from 90-A and US-59 is at least 24 miles versus 18 miles, with additions depending on how many stations you want to add.

Rough truth for everyone is that it needs more highway lines--and in hurricane evacuations, the more highway lanes you have, the better.

i agree not everyone works downtown, which is why there would be that stop at the extended uptown LRT spur from Northwest TC to Northwest Mall for people who work around Uptown, or for people to transfer over on to get to the University Line, or a particular bus route, to get to other nearby areas like Greenway/Upper Kirby.

what makes you say 290 is the only viable corridor? i think Westpark would make a great starter commuter rail line. it would pass within half a mile from Westchase, hit the Hilcroft TC, have a stop at Post Oak/Westpark to transfer to uptown, and have a stop at Greenway/Upper Kirby, before ending at Wheeler Station, just a short LRT ride from downtown/museum district/medical center..

and i assume you meant Prairie View (or Hempstead?), not Fairfield (which is on i45, ~90 mi south of Dallas).. but i wouldnt waste the money double tracking the current Hempstead/Hwy 6 rail line all the way out to Prairie View/Hempstead, and especially not all the way to College Station. that would be 100 miles of commuter rail, compared to 26 miles running it from downtown (Post Office site/UH-D or Hardy yards) to Cypress. the largest population between Cypress and College Station is Hockley, with 23,000 people.. every other town between the two is less than 10,000 people. i just dont think its worth another 74 miles of commuter rail (or at least 740 million, at the conservative 10 million a mile estimate, not counting costs to acquire additional ROW) to connect a metro of less than 250,000 people, when we could use that money to connect larger populations (and destinations that are likely to be commuted to/from) here in Houston. 

how would a line from Sugarland get to downtown? the METRO study has the line ending at Fannin South station/TC. i guess it could jump over to 288 and run up the median to 59 (and over to Wheeler station?), but once you get to 59 there isnt really any available ROW to run rail into downtown. its about 12.5 miles from 90A/59 to Fannin South station. 

i think we all agree Houston needs more lanes of highway.. but most of us realize we cannot continue pouring concrete and asphalt until our highways all merge into each other and there is no land left for development/people to live. at some point we are going to have to start seriously considering alternate modes of transportation.

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i think Westpark would make a great starter commuter rail line. it would pass within half a mile from Westchase, hit the Hilcroft TC, have a stop at Post Oak/Westpark to transfer to uptown, and have a stop at Greenway/Upper Kirby, before ending at Wheeler Station, just a short LRT ride from downtown/museum district/medical center..

and i assume you meant Prairie View (or Hempstead?), not Fairfield (which is on i45, ~90 mi south of Dallas)

Fairfield the master planned community on 290, not Fairfield, Texas.

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ah.. Fairfield the community (sorry, i had family driving back from Dallas today in the nasty weather and was thinking of the other Fairfield), i have rail extended out to the outlet mall/neighborhood there in my little fantasy plans. but beyond the Grand Parkway i dont see the point in wasting money to connect any further out. we might as well build a commuter rail to Beaumont (which i dont think we should do) if were going to build one to College Station. its a shorter distance than College Station, and the Beaumont metro is larger than Bryan-CS.

Edited by cloud713

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A couple of things:  In response to all the people who've copied and pasted and replied here...

 

1) I'm in favor of more transit options.  Never did I ever say we should build this and destroy that.  The more the merrier.  Keep the park n' rides!  Build rail!

 

2) I think the hub and spoke system is the best alternative.  What do you propose?

 

3) Dallas - while usually a good comparisson to Houston, is not Houston.  Houston is a singular city.  We do not have Arlington, Fort Worth and Plano (plus others) pulling commuting numbers away from our largest employment areas.  And the major employment areas are: Downtown, Uptown and The Medical Center - All of those employment areas contain large numbers of commuters.  Our geography is largley a spoke.  Even our major suburbs lie at the edge of those spokes and we needn't build some rather convoluted system like DART.  Dallas grows north/northwest/northeast, with most of the city stopping a few miles south of downtown.  You've all seen it.  Houston on the other hand has grown not quite evenly, but much more so than Dallas.

 

4) My argument that we should build now - is again missed largely by you who fail to see that it will take 10-15 years to complete these projects.  By that time the average daily commute time will move well north of the 28 min. we're looking at now.

 

5) Daily commute times are also calculated by those who travel 15 minutes from Upper Kirby to Downtown (or similar neighborhoods) versus those who are spending 1 hour from Cypress to Downtown.  Those average out to be 28 minutes, that in no way reflects all commuters!  And as inner city streets fill with more and more traffic those numbers will skew more and more towards a longer commute time.  Fair to say we saw the numbers drop in the 2000s because of the influx of workers from the suburbs back into the inner city.

 

Think of it like this:  Houston needs a new power plant, not because we are currenlty at capacity but because we will be soon.  So would you risk brownouts and electrical disruptions over building something that will be needed?  I think not.

 

Honestly, rail - done right will help commuters in Houston.  Futhermore it will allow continued linear development down our major corridors and allow quick non-vehicular transit options to those who want it.  The need will still be there for buses, park and rides, private cars and the like.

 

Noah didn't build the ark because it was raining.  He built it because it would rain.

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thanks for the very informative response. it is interesting to know that DART wont have much funding for expansion for the next 20 years (though Houstons not supposed to get more rail funding till 2025, according to that law last year, right?), but they have already built out their planned system, whereas Houston still has over 15 more miles to build before its original 5 line system plan is built out (a plan less than half the size of DART), and considering the Culberson mess with the other 2 lines, and the law we passed a year ago keeping METRO tax money from going to rail until 2025, by the time we get around to building the additional light rail, it will probably cost close to 200 million a mile.. or $3 billion total.. on top of the 2.5 billion or so weve spent for the first 3 lines. almost 6 billion for 40 miles of light rail. if the "initial construction cost estimates" you quoted were the total construction costs to build out DART, not just the balance they still have to pay, then they built a system over twice as large for over a billion dollars cheaper.

i agree, i wouldnt of gone with DARTs approach to build where they hope future development will happen along the rail lines, instead of building where the people and the development already are, like METRO did with its first line. but they certainly were able to get it built much cheaper and in the long run will have a larger system with more destination options than our system could ever provide (unless we plan to add 100+ miles of commuter rail)..

and btw, im not saying we need all of this commuter rail now, im saying we need to be planning for the future by reserving vacant ROWs and start acquiring additional ROW alongside current corridors [like alongside the Hempstead line, or the future Hardy downtown connector {acquiring ROW through land purchases or eminent domain can be the toughest part of building new rail}], like you are advocating. though i certainly wouldnt mind seeing a commuter rail line or two along certain corridors once METRO finishes the LRT system (of course by the time METRO finishes the university and uptown lines well probably actually need commuter rail).

 

i agree not everyone works downtown, which is why there would be that stop at the extended uptown LRT spur from Northwest TC to Northwest Mall for people who work around Uptown, or for people to transfer over on to get to the University Line, or a particular bus route, to get to other nearby areas like Greenway/Upper Kirby.

what makes you say 290 is the only viable corridor? i think Westpark would make a great starter commuter rail line. it would pass within half a mile from Westchase, hit the Hilcroft TC, have a stop at Post Oak/Westpark to transfer to uptown, and have a stop at Greenway/Upper Kirby, before ending at Wheeler Station, just a short LRT ride from downtown/museum district/medical center..

and i assume you meant Prairie View (or Hempstead?), not Fairfield (which is on i45, ~90 mi south of Dallas).. but i wouldnt waste the money double tracking the current Hempstead/Hwy 6 rail line all the way out to Prairie View/Hempstead, and especially not all the way to College Station. that would be 100 miles of commuter rail, compared to 26 miles running it from downtown (Post Office site/UH-D or Hardy yards) to Cypress. the largest population between Cypress and College Station is Hockley, with 23,000 people.. every other town between the two is less than 10,000 people. i just dont think its worth another 74 miles of commuter rail (or at least 740 million, at the conservative 10 million a mile estimate, not counting costs to acquire additional ROW) to connect a metro of less than 250,000 people, when we could use that money to connect larger populations (and destinations that are likely to be commuted to/from) here in Houston. 

how would a line from Sugarland get to downtown? the METRO study has the line ending at Fannin South station/TC. i guess it could jump over to 288 and run up the median to 59 (and over to Wheeler station?), but once you get to 59 there isnt really any available ROW to run rail into downtown. its about 12.5 miles from 90A/59 to Fannin South station. 

i think we all agree Houston needs more lanes of highway.. but most of us realize we cannot continue pouring concrete and asphalt until our highways all merge into each other and there is no land left for development/people to live. at some point we are going to have to start seriously considering alternate modes of transportation.

 

Appreciate the opportunity to have a serious discussion about this as it seems that you are clearly interested in discussing the nuances rather than just posting rhetoric as too frequently happens in this forum.

 

I think that you raise valid points regarding building earlier vs. later, however I do think that there are additional costs related to building early that you might not be considering.  The first is that while rail's operating costs are clearly lower than bus, I do think that they are frequently understated by rail proponents.  In keeping with the focus on Dallas, I agree that there's some advantage to having built the system early and the lower construction costs that were incurred, but it's also relevant to consider the operating costs that DART has to absorb on an annual basis.  In 2012 (the most recent full year financials available), DART generated $80m in operating revenue and suffered an operating loss of $565m across the year.  Their financial projections don't look like they improve anytime in the near future either.  So you can argue that maybe they save a billion in capital costs by building their system before there was sufficient demand to support it, but I'd argue that it's costing them multiple billions to support that system with minimal return in revenue to due insufficient ridership.  I'm not necessarily opposed to subsidizing the operating costs of a transportation system, but $80m in operating revenue and $645m in operating costs is pretty extreme.

 

I understand your point about Dallas having their system in place, but I do think that it's very relevant that most of us agree that they built the wrong system and that's my concern with rail in Houston.  I completely agree that rail is the right approach for cities that have dense employment centers that are concentrated in a downtown area, but I don't see that ever happening in either Houston or Dallas.  I would expect that employment in both cities (and throughout most Sunbelt cities) will continue to fragment through an increasing number of job centers as long as those cities continue to grow.

 

In my opinion, both cities really need a transit network that looks more like a spiderweb than a hub and spoke system.  Which allows multiple points of access to any job center rather than a single line of connections from point to point and that kind of system is much better served by bus than by rail.  That type of system generates lower traffic on any single corridor, but provides better access to most locations.  Building that kind of system by rail would be both prohibitively expensive and would provide honestly more capacity than the city needs.

 

Bus provides far more options because of the lower up front investment.  It's very easy to convert a standard bus line to a "Quickline" type of service and then continue to upgrade features to various levels of BRT, until you move to a dedicated BRT if ridership demands it.  If ridership gets really strong, then you already have ROW to build rail.

 

The same is true with commuter rail - Carpool lanes and Park & Ride already service a far higher percentage of the population than transit does and they have corridors established.  It wouldn't be difficult to convert those corridors to rail, but why do it if there isn't anywhere close to sufficient ridership to support it?  Why not take LA's much more successful approach of establishing transit once the demand actually exists? 

 

LA built it's first rail line in 1990 and then has built their system out from that point with great success.  However, the population of the Greater LA area in 1990 was 14.5 million, more than double the current population of Houston.  Their system has been successful because their population and density was sufficient to support it at the point that they built it.

 

As I've mentioned before, I just don't see rail as being the right tool to improve Houston's transit issue in the forseeable future.  We would be much better served by providing reliable extensive coverage that while it wouldn't generate the same ridership in individual corridors, it would provide higher overall ridership numbers at a lower cost.

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I agree with you livincinco on the facts that Houston needs to build the right system - not just rush into and build something that later will be less effective.  I also agree with the spider web, however a spoke is derived from a spider web.

 

I don't agree that sunbelt cities will lack a large downtown.  Downtown Houston is quite large, smaller than Chicago, NYC and perhaps DC and Philly, but growing and large.  Add in the fact the other 2 major employment areas are within 5-7 miles of Downtown (roughly an area the size of Manhattan)..and the fact the Inner Loop is growing more dense each year and I'm not sure how you can adequately make that argument?  Also LA in 1990 was mired in traffic.  LA in 2014 is still mired in traffic.  Perhaps its a successful light rail system but it is not adequate for that city.

 

BRT is the way to achieve what most of us are talking about, and add in the heavier rail down the road.  Arguably certain areas will be served better by rail than bus.  Westheimer should probably have a rail line all the way out to the Sam Houston Tollway.  That would have been a great starter line for LR or even a heavier elevated or subway line...but that's a different topic (of sorts).

 

Furthermore my system (which is a 2030 or so full implementation kind of wishful thinking) - would utilize commuter rail down major freeways to large suburban areas, with LR in place along large high volume streets inside the Beltway and BRT running down other streets, and tieing into the systems from the perpendicular (your spiders web).  That is what I think we will eventually need.  PnR and standard busing will still exist and run as it currently does.

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