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Mar/Apr 2001 issue (#50)


'60s Dream Lives On

Party Troopers

Suit Filed Against George W. Bush

"Friends in High Places"

Baby Bush Bombs Baghdad

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

Biblically-Grounded Movements For Progressive Change In Washington

How to Run for City Council

Mad Cow: Coming to the U.S.?

Monoculture and Mad Cows

Itching to Ride Light Rail

Is Work Killing You?

Escaping the Globalized Gym

Seattle's Clattering Poets

A Puppetista Manifesto

Living Outside Empire

Don't Put the Utilities Back in Charge

ACORN's Falling

Social Transformation Explained? Technogod

Spokane Free-speech Battle


Reader Mail


Urban Work

Media Beat

Nature Doc

Rad Videos

Do Something!

Reel Underground

Itching to Ride Light Rail

A phased approach would make it easier on public pocketbook

opinion by Martin Nix

We need to build the Seattle light rail project not just to a vision, but also to economics. If we build this section-by-section instead of all at once, we can get it in sooner and reduce the cost. Instead of debating what we build—monorail versus subway train—we need to focus on how, where, and when.

This reminds me of the history of the Panama Canal. At first the French wanted to build an all-sea level canal, but could not. An engineer said “let’s build a series of locks”. He was mocked. Guess what? His plan was eventually adopted. If done properly the light rail project (and eventually monorail), could give our future a return-on-investment not unlike that of the Chunnel in England and France.

I personally cannot support the present plan to extend construction three years into the future, and spend additional funds. We should implement a 1.9 billion dollar spending cap on the light rail project. These cost overruns remind me too much of a defense contract. I propose a phased approach which allows us to stop construction at various points. If funds run out, we should go back to the voters for additional approval.

And why should people approve of rail in general? Because trains, such as monorails and subways, are a low-cost alternative to cars and are relatively quick to implement.

If you are one of those who think public transport is for someone else, think again. We just can’t keep playing musical chairs with our four-wheeled living rooms. We are paying for this traffic congestion many times over. Hidden cost such as traffic accidents only drive up our medical cost. We need land area for other things besides parking lots. Already close to 1/3 of your income in some way or another used to finance transportation, and it is increasing. This is hundreds of billions of dollars a year. One of the reasons why manufacturing costs are lower in foreign countries is the lower-cost transportation systems. That is the reason why we are building a first class transit system, to reduce our cost of living.

Monorail not better than light rail

The major cost of any train, whether it be monorail or light rail, is not the track or vehicles. The right-of-way is the major expense, including the relocation of utilities, engineering costs, mitigation to businesses, and so on.

If for example, the Las Vegas monorail, which supposedly cost 7.5 million a mile to build, was instead built up Capitol Hill’s Broadway, it would be much more expensive, due to the crowded utilities that would need to be relocated. The cost of a tunnel is still the cost of a tunnel, even if there is a bicycle path or monorail in it. Few are talking yet about cost reduction for the proposed monorail; I am. The only way to get the cost down on the proposed monorail is to make it smaller, go single track for sections, bring the stations to ground level, and look at ideas like trenchways. The only way cost can be reduced is to build this section-by-section, putting parts into revenue service sooner so that the cash flow is better.

Contrary to popular reports, light rail can climb steep grades, just like the monorail. Technologies called Linear Induction Motors, where the track is a motor, can literally push a train uphill, just like a catapult. Monorails and light rail are very similar in cost and issues. Both are trains. Hopefully, someday we will build a monorail to compliment the Light Rail, but I promise you, the issues and cost will be very very similar. Much of the technology claimed for monorails really do also apply to light rail. Both can use light weight modular bridge beams, and both have similar automation control.

Those who profit off this oil-based society, see this “monorail vs light rail” issue as a “wedge issue”. When it comes to building the monorail, these same promoters will turn on the monorail like they are now on the light rail, and Express Bus System.

If engineers get together, we can get the cost down. For example, mole/tunneling machine technology can be much more advanced than present day drilling. My favorite is waterjet technology, where high pressure water is sprayed onto the geologic section, cutting apart the rock. We can get the cost down for the tunneling machine with good design and a little invention. I feel the tunneling companies are more interested in profit, than serving the needs of this community. Maybe we should form our own not-for-profit tunneling company, and build/invent a new type of mole technology. In many ways, this isn’t just a political issue, it is an engineering issue Let’s see engineers act like engineers. Let’s start building light rail now.

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