Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ross Capon's Testimony on the Purple Line

Ross Capon became Executive Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) in 1976 and was named President this year.

Statement of National Association of Railroad Passengers And Ross Capon, NARP President and a Bethesda resident

Before the
Purple Line Alternatives Analysis/Draft EIS Public Hearing
Chevy Chase, Maryland
November 18, 2008

Support for Purple Line Light Rail Transit

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

As a co-founder with Harry Sanders of the Action Committee for Transit back in 1986, I had no idea that, 22 years later, there would still be a question about whether to build light rail on the former B&O freight line—and that I would be telling you at this hearing that my oldest son, a Maryland senior and daily commuter, has spent a good part of the last four years on the Beltway. I hope my eight-year-old, should he attend Maryland, will have better public transportation.

The Purple Line will bring important travel-choice and environmental benefits. We urge that it be built as rapidly as possible.

The Purple Line will enhance the usefulness—and extend the reach of—Metrorail due to connections at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.

We are pleased that the University of Maryland administration has agreed to the right-of-way that the student government pressed for and which will insure maximum usefulness of the service for the university community.

Bus Rapid Transit is not the right answer. A GAO study found light rail 15.5% less costly to operate than bus. Vehicle life-cycle costs favor rail. Federal Transit Administration will assist in bus replacements at 12 years, rail vehicles at 25 years (and rail vehicles can operate for 30-35 years).

Rail attracts riders by virtue of greater comfort—that is, generally more on-board space per passenger and a smoother ride—and better system identity. Rail also is safer, particularly in bad weather, and more reliable. In a February, 2006, storm, New Jersey Transit shut down its entire bus system but not the light rail lines in Newark and Jersey City. Boston had to remove articulated buses from its Silver Line because they fishtailed dangerously in the snow.

Our impression is that Bus Rapid Transit, for the most part, is supported by people who really don’t want anything at all, or whose main goal is to keep transit of any kind off the Georgetown Branch right-of-way in Bethesda, placing it instead on Jones Bridge Road where it will inevitably serve lower passenger volumes.

To people (and the Columbia Country Club) who have worked hard against light rail, I recommend a visit to Newton, Massachusetts. I grew up there, on the “wrong side of the tracks” (the former Boston & Albany mainline, now MBTA commuter rail and the Mass Turnpike Extension). However, on the city’s south side, there is the Highland Branch which, in the late 1950s was transformed from a low-frequency diesel railroad to light rail (Riverside branch of MBTA’s Green Line). This service is highly successful and an asset to property values. The line bisects the historic Woodland Gulf Club, founded in 1896.

It is a sad commentary on transportation priorities in Maryland that, even today, we are asking whether to build the Purple Line, and holding hearings on cutting MARC train and MTA transit services, and seeing continuing cuts on Ride-On bus service, but construction on the InterCounty Connector moves along. I have asked Maryland DOT, and not received an answer, about how the budget cuts were allocated among the modal administrations, and whether the same percentage cuts were applied to the Highway Administration and the MTA, even though the former is huge and the latter is smaller and more environmentally beneficial.

Thank you for considering our views.