Friday, October 19, 2007

Pardon me boy, is that the money chewing choo-choo?

Fred Dooley has the details from the Wisconsin Car Rental Alliance on the KRM rail plan in the proposed state budget. Read the details at Fred's site, but there's one aspect I want to address.

The train won't go to the airport. How stupid is that? If you're going to have a train, why would you skip the airport when the people who would probably use it the most are people landing at Mitchell International?

And this is the problem with any plan that involves trains and rails. The trains don't go where people need to go. The ridership is never what is expected because the trains don't go where people want to go. So they have to build more rails to get more riders. And the rails will have to stretch into neighborhoods and the neighborhoods fight it more fiercely than they fight the freeways. (You think the people in Story Hill are fighting mad now about possible freeway expansion, wait until somebody decides they need a train to run from West Bend to Miller Park.) Meanwhile, even after they expand the trains still won't go where people want to go.

Do you know why every train plan involves government subsidies? Because it's 19th century technology applied to today's problems. Do you know the most efficient means invented of moving materials, people, goods and services - the true model of mass transit efficiency? The interstate freeway system.

In the early 1990s I traveled to Washington DC several times. Each time I rode the Metro system because it would take me to within a couple of blocks (with a couple of exceptions) of where I wanted to go on those visits. I was also much younger and fitter then, so a mile or two by foot wasn't a problem. However, I stayed in the College Park area and guess what was happening. The Metro was trying to expand and the community was fighting it, exactly as I described above. I also noticed I never had to struggle to find a seat.

The last time I went to Washington DC I rented a car. I think I've joked here about ending up in the wrong neighborhood in a rental car and a tourist map. I should've just put a bumper sticker on the rental, "Carjack Me Please." I've also ended up in the wrong neighborhood riding the Metro. At least in the rental car I could do something I couldn't do on the Metro. I locked the car doors. I also picked a single direction and started driving, not stopping until I saw horses and a barn, and then I pulled out my map again. Again, not something you can do on a train.

The reason I bring it up is that, unlike Milwaukee, Washington DC is close to the ideal for trains. But even in Washington DC they couldn't make rail work.

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