Study: Rail cheaper than buses
By 2020, the cost of running a train up and down the valley is expected to be significantly lower on a per-passenger basis than the cost of operating a beefed-up bus system, according to results of a study released yesterday.
Over the short term, the study indicates operation and maintenance costs of buses are cheaper than rail – with one exception.
If a valleywide commuter rail is built as far as Carbondale, the per-passenger cost of running a train in 2003 will be cheaper than buses – $3.05 each time someone gets on the train, $3.50 each time someone gets on the bus.
The information is the final piece of the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority’s corridor investment study, which also includes capital costs and ridership estimates.
The study used annual ridership based on two population-growth models. One is based on the current demographic trends, the other on “planned growth,” which assumes all of the comprehensive land-use plans being written from Rifle to Basalt are implemented and enforced.
Operation and maintenance costs include maintenance and repairs, labor and management, and fuel. The cost per passenger is calculated as annual operation and maintenance costs divided by the expected ridership.
Assuming that construction of either rail or a beefed-up bus system is finished between Aspen and Glenwood by 2003, the study indicates the cost per passenger in the first year of operation under the “planned growth” scenario for rail is $3.59, with 2.99 million passengers using the system. The cost of a bus system under “planned growth” is $3.36 per passenger, with 2.19 million passengers.
Under the “trend growth” model, rail costs $3.86 per passenger with three million passengers in 2003; the bus system costs $3.50 per passenger and attracts 2.12 million riders.
In 2020, if people behave the way they’re supposed to under the “planned growth” scenario, rail will be operating at a cost of $1.99 per passenger, with 10.4 million passengers; bus transit will cost $2.03 per passenger, with 8.1 million climbing on board. Under “trend growth,” the cost of operating the train in 2020 is $1.92 per passenger, with 11.7 million riders; the cost of buses would fall to $2.26 per passenger, with 9.3 million riders.
The margin area over 20 years is 10 to 20 percent. The totals don’t include the Entrance to Aspen costs.
The reason more people are expected to ride the train is convenience – it takes less time to get from Basalt to Aspen on a train than on a bus, said Holding Authority spokeswoman Alice Hubbard.
The study also looks at phased construction of the rail system. Instead of installing rail service all the way from West Glenwood to Aspen, the study considered the costs of starting rail service in downtown Glenwood, Carbondale, El Jebel or Basalt.
Rail consultant Roger Millar said he was surprised to see that starting a train in Carbondale, with buses continuing to Glenwood Springs, proved the cheapest of all, even in 2003.
“I expected El Jebel to be the most cost-efficient of the phased options,” Millar said. “This indicates there are enough commuters in Carbondale to make rail very efficient.”
The information will be mulled over by four local task forces, each representing a different section of the valley, which will make recommendations to the Holding Authority board.
If all goes as planned, the local elected officials from Glenwood Springs to Aspen who sit on the Holding Authority’s board will decide by Oct. 1 which option – bus or rail – is the most viable transportation solution. Once they have made their choice, the voters will be asked to approve financing for the so-called “locally approved alternative.”
If the voters reject the board’s alternative, they may be asked to adopt one of the other alternatives, or they may have a chance to vote in favor of doing nothing at all.
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