Friday, July 27, 2007

Chastain insists his plan will work

Kansas City MO - Clay Chastain, the former KC resident that now resides in Virginia but still meddles in Kansas City affairs, insists his rail plan for KC is workable.

Once again however, Chastain pinned his belief about his rail plan on hopes and dreams rather than reality. At a meeting between Chastain and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of Kansas City, Chastain did little to prove that his plan was workable beside suggesting more local taxes be imposed to pay for it.

Chastain told the committee he expected the pie of funding for public transportation to get bigger. “I think the pendulum of the federal government is swinging in the right direction,” Chastain said of the Democratic shift in Congress.

In my experience, the Democrats talk a good game but fail to deliver on their lip service. KC won't see any more money under a government controlled by Democrats than it received under a government controlled by Republicans.

You can't build and fund anything just on the hope that someone in the government will take pity and hand you a big check to pay for it. Chastain just can't seem to understand that simple point. He wants KC to jump to the head of the line and not have to follow any rules or regulations that the rest of the country must follow.

Chastain reluctantly agreed that you can't decimate the bus system and expect the Feds to pony up the money. However, that won't stop him for pushing for his personal legacy line. Another threat of an expensive lawsuit was also issued by Chastain at the meeting if he doesn't get his rail line with gondola ride built as he wants it, proving he doesn't care if the bus system does get destroyed in the process.

Clay Chastain's rail proposal is the perfect example of a personal legacy project that he wants everyone else to pay for. It's his way or he'll sue to get his way.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Environmental Impact of Light Rail

Seattle WA - An article on the Crosscut web site brings to light an interesting slant to the rail debate. The environmental impact of building a light rail line.

The writer, Emory Bundy, does a rather good job in pointing out that building a rail line has a much more serious impact on the environment than the pro-rail and environmentalist crowd would have you believe. Remember, rail is sold to the public as being good for the environment but the environmental costs are completely ignored.

Bundy states: "As an offset, Sound Transit claims it will save 14,000 tons of CO2 annually by running light rail trains on electricity, sparing the region emissions that otherwise would be generated by automotive traffic. Even if granted, it would take 90 years from completion of the line to break even on the energy transaction. If Sound Transit should manage to cut tunnel-related greenhouse emissions in half, by aggressive use of hydro electricity and human labor, an implausible proposition, it still would take 45 years to break even."

That's a long time to just break even on the environmental carbon footprint but Bundy failed to mention that even in the time frame given, the line still wouldn't break even on the environmental costs. Why? Even taking the shorter of the two times, 45 years, the line would have been rebuilt several times over. Each rebuild making more of a carbon impact and adding more time before the line breaks even on it's carbon footprint. The number also doesn't take into consideration the day to day maintenance on the line which also will add to the carbon footprint. In short, the Sound Transit extension will never pay for itself environmentally but will continually add carbon debt that will never be paid off. And no, buying carbon credits from Ozone Al won't cover it.

Actually, this whole carbon footprint nonsense is just that, nonsense. I am pointing this out the way I am simply to show people that rail isn't as environmentally friendly as proponents like to make it out to be. Those who are rushing out to buy "carbon offsets" (I could do a whole series on that scam) for a trip to the store will be shocked to see that the environmentally friendly rail line they take to work isn't as eco-friendly as they thought. As green is one of the big selling points for expensive rail projects, the public needs to understand that it isn't as green as the proponents say it is.

Getting back to Bundy's article. Bundy should have just left the article as a relatively decent informative piece. Instead he turned a good and informative article into a joke by going off in the last third of the article about how everybody should be riding bicycles to work. Over the years, I've worked next to people that biked to work and let me tell you, they stunk from their sweat in the summer, looked like a drowned rat if it rained and on some occasions, looked like they stopped off to do some mud wrestling on the way in. I'd rather take the bus.

While Bundy does miss a lot of points such as not comparing the impact of road building to rail as well as making assumptions on demographics, he brings up some valid points. Rail won't really help reduce the problems that its proponents say it will. In Seattle's case, hydro-electric power helps but in other parts of the country, all rail does is move the pollution from one location to another; namely to a coal-fired power plant in an already near capacity electrical power grid.

I could go on for days as each item in Bundy's article brings up two or more items that need to be covered. Slapping a rail line down isn't as simple as it may seem. The same goes for a busway or highway as well. Rail however, has more of a direct negative financial impact to it due to its much higher cost and as shown by Bundy, rail also has much more of a negative environmental impact than the general public is led to believe.

Beside the major distraction of his bike speech at the end, Bundy's article is pretty good. It brings up some good and valid points about the environmental impact of rail that are rarely mentioned. Many of these things I have been saying all along but there was some new information as well as a new way of applying what I already knew to better counter the pro-rail environmental rhetoric.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tacky Trolleys proposed

Winston-Salem NC - Winston-Salem is considering adding night time, weekend trolley service (with the tacky trolleys) to the city. The trolley service, tried once before during lunch hours and fizzled, is stated to help drum up business during the evening hours as well as spur the night life of the city.

Normally with such a news story, I would just read it, roll my eyes and forget it but a comment by the Art Barnes, General Manager of the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA), caught my attention. That comment was this: “just because something doesn’t work in one venue doesn’t mean you should give up on it."

Upon reading that comment, I immediately thought of all the waste done by transit systems and city leaders across America based on that very philosophy. Try, try and try again until the idea can be force fit into the fabric of the city just doesn't spell good fiscal management nor does it spell success.

I like Art Barnes and have corresponded with him in the past but his comment is a philosophy that I see practiced almost daily and I must disagree with him. The philosophy he states usually fails with costly results. The philosophy is almost ingrained into the thinking of public officials who give little thought about spending taxpayer money.

Just like with my local transit system who mastered the technique of trying to get a failed strategy to work and literally crippled the operation due to the excessive costs, the Winston-Salem trolley plan is similar. It is a plan that has failed in the past and should be left to rest in peace.

What we hear though is that "such trolley services have been successful in other cities". Wow, then let's jump on the bandwagon! What works in one city doesn't mean it will work in another city if tried. A point often ignored and ignored in this case as well. Lunchtime trolley operations work in other cities but failed miserably in Winston-Salem.

If the venture is funded strictly through private money, it's a whole new ball game but it won't be. What will happen is that more and more public money will have to be sunk into the plan if it gets up and running. The WSTA will most likely end up on the short end of the financial stick as money that should go for regular WSTA service on it's many routes will be siphoned off to pay for the night time tacky trolley operation that will not even come close to being cost effective.

The comment toward the end about extending the proposed service to colleges and having them pay for it is laughable as well. Oh you may get them to pay a small portion of the service but nowhere close to what is needed to run the service. Colleges will insist on free service for the students as well for a fraction of the actual cost of the service.

I say, let a proven failure rest in peace. Resurrecting a tacky trolley operation on the public dime, when it has failed before, will do nothing to improve business at the bars and clubs nor will it keep the roads free of drivers that have had too much to drink.

Monday, July 23, 2007

PAT's costs are over budget already

Pittsburgh PA - The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is struggling to come up with excuses on the much touted (by PAT at least) North Shore Connector rail project. The project, which just recently started a few weeks ago, is already positioned to go through half of its $9 million dollar contractor contingency fund due to unexpected problems.

The totally unneeded $425 million project, pushed for by former PAT Executive Director, Paul "Captain Scuttles" Skoutelas, will connect Downtown Pittsburgh to the North Shore across the river. That, boys and girls, is less than a mile walk.

Overall, PAT has a $19 million dollar contingency fund for overruns. $9 million of that is for contractor overruns. Considering that the work just started and over $4 million has had to be drawn against the contingency fund already, prepare of one hell of an expensive project.

It is obvious that PAT's contractors, engineering and consultants failed to do their job. Soft ground? Ummm, why didn't you take core samples before you started work. What a bunch of idiots.

What will really make this North Shore Connector a disaster in the making is that no more Federal, state or local money will be pumped into the project. The public and political backlash from the lies of PAT's management have cost them dearly. When the plan was being pushed and even right up until work started, PAT claimed everyone wanted it. Management waved studies and polls around which weren't worth the paper they were printed on as they were totally fabricated. The truth is that only PAT wanted this subway extension. The public didn't want it, politicians were against it but yet the false studies and polls were accepted by the FTA for funding the project. The FTA stated earlier in the year that they wouldn't have approved the project had they known the truth which was that the politicians and public didn't want this project done due to PAT's financial crisis (which PAT officials also lied to the Feds about).

If this project runs through its $19 million contingency fund, work will have to cease regardless of how far along it is. Given that most every transit project out there goes way over budget, I'm projecting that when all is said and done, the North Shore Boondoggle will go from a $425 million project to a minimum of a $600 million dollar project. Where will that additional money come from? You got it, PAT officials will cry and whine about it before punishing the riders once again by slashing existing service and raising fares even though they can't use the money from that to pay off the project due to different funding types (but they'll punish the riders anyway). They must complete it or the Feds will want their money back on the project.

By the time that Steve Bland arrived at PAT in 2007, it was too late to stop the project without losing millions of dollars through having to pay contractors, engineers and consultants for something never delivered. PAT still should have stopped it. It would have been far less costly for the cash strapped agency to cancel it than to go ahead with it.

In the end, Paul "Captain Scuttles" Skoutelas will get his personal legacy line that he pushed so hard for. Ironically it will not be the legacy he wants but a new legacy. One of excessive greed, mismanagement and plain incompetence. Congratulations Paul, you've earned it!