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Pro-rail people should oppose Cap Metro this time

For all two of you who read my blog but haven't seen this elsewhere, you really need to go look at Mike Dahmus' ongoing argument against Cap Metro's ballot proposition for November 2nd.

I like Mike's blog but I'll agree that it's an acquired taste -- he's simultaneously a wonk and a pit bull. As I understand his argument, here it is in the minimum number of bullet points:

The last point has been the hardest for me to understand. Like most people, I don't quite get the difference between "commuter rail" and "light rail" and tend to assume that rail is rail. Here's the difference as explained in the Wikipedia:

Light rail: "Light-rail systems can handle steeper inclines than heavy rail, and curves sharp enough to fit within street intersections... They are typically built in urban areas, providing frequent service with small, light trains or single cars."

Regional (or commuter) rail: "Commuter trains are usually optimized for maximum passenger volume... differing from light rail or metro systems by being larger; having (in most cases) a lower frequency of service; having scheduled services (i.e. trains run at specific hours rather than at specific intervals); serving lower-density areas, typically by connecting suburbs to the city centre; sharing track and/or right-of-way with intercity and/or freight trains."

So light rail goes where you want it to go, when you want it to go. Commuter rail will get people from Leander to one distant corner of downtown, not from where the most people live to where the most people work, and won't accommodate other uses like running errands at off-peak hours or going out in the evening. Once you've put in commuter rail on a certain corridor you can't switch to light rail later because the tracks are incompatible. Not to mention that once voters have invested $100 million in commuter rail they won't be willing to start over with light rail!

So to sum up: if we vote yes on Nov. 2nd we'll be stuck with a rail system that doesn't work and never get one that does.

(A suggestion to Mike: how about a FAQ on rail in Austin? And another on toll roads? With a one-line summary of each in a sidebar on your blog? That would help us late arrivals get up to speed much more quickly.)

austin 2004.10.10 link