The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Sound Transit's operating costs six times US Average

Sound Transit's light rail capital costs are six times the national average

12/6/02by Maggi Fimia

Question: Is it fair and accurate to claim that the Sound Transit Light Rail project is $200 million/ mile, six times higher than the National average?

The following is a breakdown of the cost per mile for LRT in Seattle vs. average cost around the country.

Source for average capital cost in US is from the General Accounting Office-01-984 MASS TRANSIT Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise pg. 4 Table 1 -

Thirteen LRT facilities were examined, average cost in Yr. 2000 dollars was $34.8 milion/mile with a range of $12.4 million to $118.8 million.

Source for capital cost for Link Light Rail is from an analysis by Emory Bundy using Sound Transit numbers:

The 14-mile portion for which we know the cost, the cheap, easy part, has more than tripled, from $900 million in 1996 to $2.9 billion today. Sound Transit publicly says its current, 14 mile MOS is $2.1 billion, or, in its February update of its 2002 financial plan, $2.2 billion. But that is simply what it calls its development, or capital project. It omits "other capital"--such as costs for acquiring the downtown tunnel, the promised Rainier Valley fund, public art, that sort of thing--which is $253 million. It omits project reserves, $138 million. And it omits debt service during construction, $351 million. That, according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, is part of the development cost of the project.

So the cost is not $2.1, or $2.2 billion, but $2.9 billion. You can verify it in appendix B of Sound Transit's New Starts submission to the FTA, October 2001 (where it's $2.84 billion), and in the agency's updated 2002 financial plan ($2.9 billion). Further, if you refer to the Inspector General's April 4, 2001 report, page one, and to the January 2001 report of Diversified Capital, Inc's review of the project., also page one, you will find the total cost at $4.16 billion. Sound Transit liked to say $3.6 billion, the difference being the same aforementioned items, other capital, project reserves, and debt service during construction. In doing so, it failed to include $560 million of the actual cost of the project. Long-term debt service? That's in addition, per GAAP, and begins when the project has been completed, and put into service. (end of Bundy's text)


$2.9 billion / 14 miles = $207 million/ mile or almost 6X the National average in Year 2000 dollars.

Members of People for Modern Transit would like to argue that the ST segment would be going through tunnels and be elevated and that it is not fair to compare it with other systems on flat, established ROW. That, however, is our whole point- it has become prohibitively expensive in our region and needs to be re-evaluated.

The light rail proposal - even the 21- mile line - has never been compared to an equal investment in other technologies and solutions. In fact, the original 1993 EIS that looked at options for our region did not even study Surface Light Rail because they concluded that it would not serve our three county Region. The rail option compared to Bus Rapid Transit in 1993 was a totally grade -separated Rapid Rail system like BART or Vancouver, BC. No portion of it ran on the surface- putting any part on the surface affects the whole line for number of cars you can ever have per train, frequency and speed.

The 2001 Joint Operations "Study" done by Metro and ST compared this 14- mile segment with buses for maximum capacity- but assumed a built out light rail system, standing room only, service from the Eastside and much more frequent headways than are actually planned or possible. The bus assumptions used present day operations which are at about 50% of capacity for volume of buses, seated passengers only, and only 85% full. They concluded that trains can carry 3 X the number of people than buses. Nowhere in the "study" do they reveal that the comparison did not assume equal investments. When asked why not, the answer was, "No one told us we had any money to spend on buses."

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