Elevated Rail-Sustainability

From the perspective of initial construction costs through long term operational and ridership profitability, elevated rail systems and services are among the least sustainable of mass transportation investments. At costs ranging from $200 million to $350 million per mile to assemble right of way and construct, elevated railway facilities require massive initial investments that tend to monopolize federal and state transportation funding allocations in respective regions. Such tilting, or over concentration of government support, at the expense of other transportation systems and priorities, unnecessarily disrupts the progress of other transportation improvements and projects in local urban environments.

As is all too often the case, the vast expenditures on construction of elevated rail systems are treated as one-time expenses that are not considered or factored in to evaluation of the cost effectiveness of the elevated rail systems or services. Calculations of the costs per passenger seat in the construction and implementation of elevated passenger rail services have ranged from $250,000 to nearly $500,000 per new passenger seat. These numbers are usually set aside, and replaced with calculations of the costs of maintenance and operation of passenger services per passenger mile or boarding once the passenger trains are in service.

By any measure, the costs of creating and maintaining elevated rail passenger services are grossly ineffective expenditures of public transportation funds; and threaten the sustainability of other public transportation service funding and efficiency.

Current evidence of the limited sustainability of elevated, as well as other types of passenger rail services, is regularly brought to the public’s attention by announcements and reports of service and route reductions and/or fare increases on services which are unable to maintain ridership levels sufficient to support maintenance and operation of respective services.

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