Expensive Trains Lead Cities to Financial Crises

COST comments: Similar radio scripts to those below could be written about a number of US cities in addition to Washington, DC. Additional cities with older, tired and worn out train transit systems include New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Each city needs billions of dollars for capital refurbishment and replacement to keep their trains runing. A number of other cities will experience this same financial crisis as light rail systems installed in the late 1970s and early 1980s approach the limits of their useful operating life. None of these cities have financial plans to meet these huge capital needs and support from the Federal Goverment has been and will continue to decline. Most of these cities are struggling to meet operating costs which, on average, fare revenues pay only about 24%. In Austin, Capital Metro fare revenues are less than 10% of operating costs, one of the lowest fare recoveries in the nation. More than 90% of the transit operating costs and all the capital costs for each rider is subsidized by taxpayers and subsidizes will increase as train transit is added.

Running on empty: Metro funding in crisis

September 25, 2008 – 3:17pm
Adam Tuss, WTOP Radio

WASHINGTON — “As serious as a heart attack” — that’s how members of Metro’s board of directors described the transit agency’s funding crisis.

“If you think of your own health — you can get away with not paying attention to your health. But at some point your body is going to rebel, and it is going to be very serious,” Metro Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said Thursday. “It is just a question of when, and it’s the same thing for this transit system. These are the arteries of the region and of our economy.”

At a news conference earlier this week, Metro General Manager John Catoe announced the transit agency needs more than $11 billion between 2010 and 2020 to maintain and expand the transit system — as well as keep it safe and reliable.

“If we do not address these needs, service will suffer.”

Zimmerman calls the needs essential.

“We have over 300 rail cars that are as old as the system. They are going to be hitting 40 years of life which is about as long as you can get out of a railcar.”

Metro leaders say some of the top priorities are new buses and trains to keep pace with growing ridership and infrastructure repairs in order to maintain a safe and reliable system.

Metro leaders were encouraged Wednesday by passage of a bill in the House, which would provide Metro with $1.5 billion in federal funds over 10 years. That measure, however, still has to clear the Senate where similar legislation pertaining to Metro has been shot down.

Catoe has admitted riders are already seeing the effects of under-funding with the transit system.

Metro G.M. says billions needed for transit agency

September 22, 2008 – 12:42pm

Malfunctioning rail cars and worn-out tracks are two of Metro’s problems.

Adam Tuss, WTOP Radio

WASHINGTON – Metro General Manager John Catoe is giving some sobering news about the health of the transit system.

At a news conference Monday, Catoe said Metro needs more than $11 billion between 2010 and 2020 to maintain and expand the transit system — as well as keep it safe and reliable.

“If we do not address these needs, service will suffer,” Catoe said.

Crumbling platforms, malfunctioning rail cars and worn-out tracks are just part of the problem.

Metro officials say some of the top priorities are new buses and trains to keep pace with growing ridership and infrastructure repairs in order to maintain a safe and reliable system.

Here’s the really bad part: Metro has no idea how they will get the funding.
Catoe is hoping the federal government will be willing to kick in more for the transit system.

“Federal employees make up about 40 percent of the rush hour riders on the Metrorail system. While we receive some federal funding, we need more assistance from the federal government,” Catoe said.

Metro currently receives about $279 million a year in federal funds. Catoe said he wants that figure to double — at least.

“There are many if’s with this [plan,] but from a funding standpoint, you have to plan forward to the future,” Catoe said.

D.C., Maryland and Virginia have all pledged $50 million a year over the next 10 years toward Metro. In Virginia, securing that funding will prove a difficult task, as lawmakers in Richmond have already stalled on a transportation funding package.

A federal bill that would match the $1.5 billion over 10 years from local jurisdictions is also being held up on Capitol Hill.

Metro riders say the 32 year-old transit system is starting to show its age.
“Every week I say to myself, can it be one week in which Metro runs smoothly and without complication?,” said one rider recently while standing on the Shady Grove rail station platform — a platform, which coincidentally, is being held up by 2×4 wooden beams.

Catoe admitted Monday that riders are already seeing the effects of under-funding with the transit system.

“If you board our trains during the peak periods, they are very crowded. Imagine a 6 percent increase in riders on an annual basis every year. We will have to pack them in even tighter,” Catoe said. “Other transit agencies have the same situation that we do, and they have responded by taking seats out of their cars. I don’t want us to get to that point where there are no seats in Metro cars.”

With ridership surging, one of the questions riders often ask is how Metro can be hurting for cash. Fares only pay for the operating cost of Metro; they do not pay for the capital projects like power generators, concrete to replace platforms, and track fasteners to hold rail lines in place.

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