Elevated Rail-Finance

Costs of right of way acquisition and construction of elevated rail systems often combine to become the highest of any above ground mode of transportation exceeded only by subways and multi-lane freeways. Primarily built to separate passenger trains from already congested urban settings, elevated rail structures tend to be built in existing urbanized locations, with high land values and existing development in the path of planned rail routes. These conditions lead to expensive, and often litigious right of way acquisition processes, which tend to be the most delayed and drawn put of any type of transportation mode or service. Whether built on earthen berms or reinforced concrete structures, elevated rail can become the most costly and most controversial of all mass transportation system developments.

Financing of elevated rail projects typically follows long-established federal government-centered funding regimes. Seeking 85% or greater federal funding of rail development projects, loc al and regional transportation authorities and planners tend to develop plans which are most likely to be approved and funded by federal agencies. This over emphasis on securing funding for transportation projects produces formulaic evaluation of alternatives and development of plans that sacrifice innovation and local community priorities to improve the likelihood of securing funding.

Tendencies to “gold plate” what is essentially passenger train technology often leads to vastly over priced, over budget rail projects, which distort the local priorities and practical solutions to community and regional transportation situations. Great care and diligence must be exerted throughout initial phases of elevated rail service development to maintain local and community priorities, both environmental and fiscal, in the formulation and adoption of elevated rail system plans.

Heavily concentrated on the planning and construction phases of transportation projects, federal funding of new passenger rail developments consistently leaves local system operators to fend for themselves in supporting services for which projected ridership or performance do not materialize. Debt service obligations on local components of development financing can become problematic when system revenues fall below initial projections. As debt service and system operation financing slip deficit, local transportation authorities must seek funding transfers and subsidies from other sources of revenue; further diminishing the value of the transportation services to the respective community or region.


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