LETTER: Light rail is impractical
I like trains. They are fun and I have always liked them. As a child I had a large set mounted on green plywood that light up and smoked--it was great.
I have enjoyed being on them as an adult here and abroad with their sleek European look. They work well in Europe because they have been established around densely populated areas for centuries, where cars are expensive and often impracticable.
Here in America conditions are different, the culture, the demographics the whole milieu. Trains or light rail although rating high on the cool scale, are nevertheless the most expensive option in moving people around.
Trains still, however, are great for moving freight by being very economical and practical over well-established supply lines.
There has been some moderate success for light rail in Japan and France, but it worked probably only due to dense population centers. If traffic reduction is the excuse for the commitment to light rail, well, there has not been any noticeable improvement, and of course it is cost prohibitive and once started it is a long term venture.
Worst yet, often rail has to be subsidized to have continued operation and commonly runs at a loss. Rail is unfortunately terribly inflexible and mostly incapable of changing to accommodate demographic changes or consumer needs.
No train line has ever made a profit or much less broken even. One prime example is Amtrak with its terrible economics. Buses, although less romantic, are great in many aspects. They are economical and highly flexible. Ridership numbers here locally are seldom posted but I am pretty sure they are not promising.
Using the light rail system inherently caters to a distinct group of people, business or tourists. It does not seem to be practical for everyday usage for the typical household, to the grocery store, school etc.
One troubling issue is that often decisions about rail are made by an unelected, well-paid group that sometimes uses extraordinary means to secure property for light rail i.e. eminent domain, resulting in confiscation of private property from citizens often with compensation less than current market value.
Rail is also less capable of adapting to rapidly changing technology, thus committing resources to an aging system.
Putting on my conspiracy hat, social engineers just love trains because it gets freedom-loving Americans out of their cars and into something they can control and direct, and, of course, receive revenue.
An unfortunate consideration also is an ever increasing threatening world possibility of a dense group of people together at a regular time creates a possible terrorist scenario.
So in conclusion, the future of light rail is ultimately dependent on how much the populace wants to support this in economic trying times or will it decide to spend their limited resources more effectively, and
I am sure our friends in less urban areas and eastern Washington would have something to say on that issue.