Rail Comeback?

Ridership on the Go system in the Greater Toronto Area rose by 7.5% from a year ago.  Is it back to the future for transportation?

The Go system is struggling to keep up.  Rail platforms are being extended to accommodate more cars.  New locomotives are on order, to increase the number of trains.  New track is being laid, to allow trains to move past each other.  Buses are on order.  Parking lots at stations are full.

It isn’t that the economy is roaring.  Transit ridership usually increases when jobs are being created.  It is gas prices.  Today’s gas prices are high enough to get at least some people out of their cars.

Trains are far more fuel efficient than cars or trucks.  The friction losses of steel on steel are very small compared to the losses of rubber on asphalt.  And of course the air resistance is lower for train cars than for individual vehicles.  Trains are anywhere from 3-10 times as fuel efficient as other means of transportation.

The challenge now is to build the capacity to make it possible for people and goods to leave their cars and their trucks.  But my guess is that building rail transit and freight capacity would cost a lot less in the long run than building new road capacity, especially if future fuel prices are factored in.

There is a lesson here for governments.  Clearly there is a price response from consumers to fuel costs.  Congestion, smog, acid rain, climate change, and resource depletion costs can all be helped by a shift to a more energy efficient transportation infrastructure.  We need to make sure that as we build the infrastructure, that the price signal remains for consumers to use it.

Leave a Reply