Why We Believe the Milestone-2 Report Capital Cost Figures are Biased in Favor of Light Rail and Against Monorail

The Cap Metro Route and Vehicle recommendation based on the Milestone 2 Study ranked light rail first and monorail last. One important criteria of this ranking was ''affordability'  (capital costs and operating and maintenance costs):

Criteria

Desirable Condition

Metro Rail

LRT

DMU

BRT

Monorail

PRT

People Mover

Automated Urban Rail

Affordability

Be affordable (initial capital costs and annual/long range operating and maintenance costs) and cost effective.

-

+ +

+ +

+ +2

-

n/a

+

+

You can see that Light Rail gets two stars for Affordability while Monorail gets a negative star '-'. However, this is highly flawed!!

What Is Not In the Report:

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Cap Metro's light rail costs are based on other 'representative' LRT systems, NOT Cap Metro's OWN ESTIMATED LRT System Costs for Austin!

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The 'representative' Light Rail Costs listed are not even representative of what is being proposed for new LRT systems or extensions to existing LRT systems based on our research into the Federal Transit Administration's  2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02)! Instead, the capital construction costs for LRT systems quoted by Cap Metro average significantly less in cost per mile than the systems listed in the 2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02).

bullet

Three of the lowest-cost LRT systems or extensions listed by the Cap Metro study are not representative of the capital construction costs incurred by entirely new rapid transit systems.

bullet

The Cap Metro study does not list the most expensive light rail segment in the country: Seattle Sound Transit's Central Link LRT (MOS-1), Seattle WA, at $362 Million / Mile, nor even their Central Link LRT (MOS-2 and MOS-3), Seattle WA segment at $83 Million / Mile.

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The Monorails selected as 'representative' Monorail systems by the Cap Metro study are three of the most expensive Monorail systems either planned or operating and are not representative of typical Monorail capital construction costs. One should look instead at the cost structure of Seattle's planned Monorail system.

Let's look at each of these in detail:

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FIRST: Light Rail costs shown in the study do not reflect Cap Metro's OWN ESTIMATED LRT System Costs for Austin:

 

The following chart from the Milestone 2 Study cites these representative light rail costs (shown here in graph form with Cap Metro's own estimated light rail costs included in red):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, Cap metro gives a figure of $918 Million in capital construction costs for their base route (called Alternative 1) (Revised Executive Summary Milestone 1 10-12-01). Given our estimate of their base route length of 20.8 miles, this yields a per mile capital construction cost of $44 million/mile. Note that this is in the high range of all the representative light rail systems shown above. The mean or average of all Cap Metro's 'representative systems' (excluding Austin) is $30.0 Million / Mile and the median cost of all Cap Metro's 'representative systems' (again excluding Austin) is $25.3 Million / Mile. Cap Metro's own estimate for the capital construction costs of an Austin light rail system falls into the high range of the 'representative' light rail systems used by their study to compare Monorail vs. light rail costs.

Cap Metro is also considering both partial and fully elevated light rail transit systems. They are trying to gain some of the benefits of a true monorail system without giving up the streetcar mentality. They cite the cost of a fully elevated light rail transit system (Alternative 6) as an additional $561.8 million dollars for a total of $1.486 billion dollars. That is almost $1.5 BILLION dollars of capital construction cost. This comes out to $71 million dollars per mile.

Proposed Capital Metro Route (Alternative 6)- All except East Austin Extension is elevated.

 

 

Alternative        

 cost

($ millions)

           
1         918
1B +4.9
1C * +28.7
1D * +11.0
1E * +14.6
1F +19.5
2 +43.0
4 +204.6
5 +211.5
6 +561.8
7 +452.6
9 +4.5
11 ** +138.3

Capital Metro  Construction Costs

In fact, Cap Metro's earlier proposal in November 2000 (defeated by voters in that election) to the Federal Transit Administration which can be found here lists the cost for a 14.6 mile, 16 station 'Minimum Operable Segment' (MOS) was estimated to cost $739 million for a cost of $50.6 million/mile. The FTA report also stated: 'Allowance for contingencies are relatively low'.
 

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SECOND: The 'representative' Light Rail Costs listed are not even representative of what is being proposed for new LRT systems or extensions to existing LRT systems based on our research into the Federal Transit Administration's  2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02)!

Based on the 2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02) from the Federal Transit Administration, we have compiled the following table of all light rail transit (LRT) proposed projects in this report, which indicate the length and total estimated capital construction costs:

Light Rail Project Length (Miles) Number of Stations Total Capital Cost ($ Millions) Cost / Mile ($ Millions) Comments
Light Rail Corridors, Austin TX 14.6 16 739 50.6 'Allowance for contingencies relatively low'
South Corridor LRT, Charlotte NC 11 19 331.1 30.1  
Interstate 71 Corridor LRT, Cincinnati OH 19 24 874.7 46.0  
North Central LRT Extension, Dallas TX 12.5 9 517.2 41.4  
Southeast Corridor LRT, Denver CO 19.12 14 879.3 46.0 $879.3 represents 'fixed guideway' costs only
Southwest Corridor LRT, Denver CO 8.7 5 176.32 20.3 +14 New light rail vehicles
Downtown to Astrodome Light Rail, Houston TX 7.5 17 300 40.0  
Eastside Corridor, Los Angeles CA 5.9 8 759.5 128.7 'primarily at-grade, with a 1.8 mile mid-section underground in tunnel.'
Medical Center Extension, Memphis TN 2.0 6 74.58 37.3  
Hiawathat Corridor LRT, Minneapolis-St. Paul MN 11.6 17 675.4 58.2  
Hudson-Bergen LRT (MOS-1) 9.6 15 992.14 66.1 This estimate is for 'minimal operating segment 1 (MOS-1). Total Cost of 'full 21-mile system (30 stations) is expected to be $2.0B ( $95.2 million/mile)
Hudson-Bergen LRT (MOS-2), NJ 5.1 8 1215.4 238.3 The MOS-2 description claims that the full line is 20.1 miles long, not 21 miles long as described in MOS-1
Hudson-Bergen LRT (MOS-3), NJ 4.7 7? ?1 ? MOS-3 Map shows 6 stations but this would make a total of 29 for the full line
Newark Rail Link (MOS-1), NJ 1 5 207.7 207.7 Full 8.8 mile, 16 station line is expected to cost $694M ($78.9 million/mile)
Centerline Rail Corridor, Orange County CA 30.1 35 3741 124.3 Will be 90% elevated and 10% at-grade
Central Phoenix/East Valley Corridor, Phoenix AZ 20.3 28 1076 53.0 At-grade system
North Shore Connector LRT, Pittsburgh PA 1.6 4 389.9 243.7 Includes 'acquisition of ten new light rail vehicles' and modification of two stations.
Interstate MAX LRT Extension, Portland OR 5.8 0 350 60.3  
South LRT Extension, Sacramento CA 6.3 12 222 35.2  
CBD to University LRT, Salt Lake City UT 2.5 4 118.5 47.4  
North-South LRT, Salt Lake City UT 15 17? 312.49 20.9 Right of way already owned by Utah Transit Authority
Mid Coast Corridor, San Diego CA 3.4 3 116.7 34.3  
Mission Valley East LRTExtension, San Diego CA 5.9 4 431 73 Includes elevated, at-grade and tunnel portions and construction of two new park and rides plus access road
Third Street Light Rail - Phase 1, San Fransisco CA 5.4 22 530.8 98.3  
Tasman West LRT, San Jose CA 7.6 11 325 42.8  
Central Link LRT (MOS-1), Seattle WA 7.2 10 2603 361.52 Includes 4.5 miles of new exclusive right of way,1.3 miles of exclusive ROW in existing tunnel,  and 1.4 miles of ROW reconverted from existing busway
Central Link LRT (MOS-2 and MOS-3), Seattle WA 16.3 13 1350 82.8  
Metrolink St. Clair Extension, St. Louis MO 17.4 8 339.2 19.5  

1Numbers don't add up: $992.14M (MOS-1) + $1215.4M (MOS-2) = $2207.54M, which is already $207.54M greater than claimed full line cost of $2,000M. So what is cost of MOS-3?

Here are the 'New Start' costs shown above in chart form:

We next compare all the LRT capital costs per mile that were listed in the FTA 2001 Annual Report (in blue below) against the LRT capital costs per mile as reported by Cap Metro in their Rapid Transit Project Milestone 2 Study (in red below):

Finally we compare the mean (average) cost and the median cost (1/2 systems above; 1/2 systems below this figure) for the systems reported in the FTA 2001 Annual Report vs. the Cap Metro selected systems in their Rapid Transit Project Milestone 2 study:

Measure FTA 2001 Annual Report Cap Metro
Mean 85.5 30.0
Median (1/2 below this cost; 1/2 above this cost) 50.6 25.3

We believe that this is evidence of Cap Metro deliberately 'low-balling' light rail transit capital construction costs.

THIRD: Three of the lowest-cost LRT systems or extensions listed by the Cap Metro study are not representative of the capital construction costs incurred by entirely new rapid transit systems.

1. Sacramento- Original Line ($12.4 Million/Mile)- 'Sacramento's current light rail system began operations in the state's capital in 1987. The system was built to be inexpensive, originally being 60% single track. Major funding for the original system came from canceling a new freeway project that was underway and diverting the funds to light rail instead. In fact, a section of the light rail system was built on the unfinished freeway structure' Source: Sacramento Light Rail

2. Sacramento- Mather Field Road Extension ($15.4 Million/Mile)- Extended an existing line just one stop. No new vehicles added (also check out this picture of ugly light rail in Sacramento). The Mather Field Station is your typical basic light rail station. About as minimal of an extension as you can get:

'Stops are then made at Startfire and Tiber before reaching the original end of the line at Butterfield. The line then continues to the current end of the line at Mather Field/Mills. Extending service to Mather Field/Mills without needing more vehicles was accomplished by taking advantage of a 10 minute lay over that existed at Butterfield. The schedule is currently too tight to allow intermediate stops, so none were built.' Source: Sacramento Light Rail.

One cannot and should not extrapolate the low cost/mile of a minimal extension as being 'representative' of the cost of a typical 'new' light rail system (i.e., no new rolling stock added, only one new station added, and minimal engineering needed to extend the system by one stop).

3. Baltimore Central Line - Three Extensions (16.4 Million / Mile)- Funded 80% by the Feds (FTA) and 20% by the State of Maryland as a 'design-build' and 'turnkey' system. According to this Federal Transit Administration Case Study, Turnkey denotes use of a private contractor by a public agency, for both design and construction services for a transit construction project. Turnkey procurements are generally firm fixed price contracts, usually guaranteed by a payment/performance bond'. Of course this came in at low-cost- it was a firm fixed price contract!!

Here's more information: 'This three-part expansion project cost $106 million, utilizing a single contractor, Whiting-Turner, who was responsible for the design and construction of the extensions, called a design-build project. This project was also one of five around the country being recognized by the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) in what is termed a "Turn-Key" Demonstration Program.' Source: Baltimore Central Light Rail Line.

FOURTH: The Cap Metro study does not list the most expensive light rail segment in the country: Seattle Sound Transit's Central Link LRT (MOS-1), Seattle WA, at $362 Million / Mile, nor even their Central Link LRT (MOS-2 and MOS-3), Seattle WA segment at $83 Million / Mile.

According to the FTA, 'Segment 1 is currently the most expensive transit project in the United States with a full funding grant agreement'. Just follow the hyperlinks above for MOS-1 and MOS-2 to see the FTA's description of these segments of the proposed Sound Transit light rail system. This information was dated April 2001 and the Rapid Transit Project's Milestone 2 study was dated October 15th 2001, so there was plenty of time for this data to be reviewed by Cap Metro. Instead, neither this system nor its high cost were ever mentioned.

In fact, the MOS-1 cost estimate grew about $1 Billion over an initial cost estimate of $1.674 Billion! Read about it in April 4, 2001 Interim Report in the Seattle Link Light Rail Project- Office of the Inspector General (pdf format) or here in txt format.

FIFTH: The Monorails selected as 'representative' Monorail systems by the Cap Metro study are three of the most expensive Monorail systems either planned or operating and are not representative of typical Monorail capital construction costs. One should look instead at the cost structure of Seattle's planned Monorail system.

Regarding monorail cost, the study chose to list three of the most expensive monorails either planned or operating:

According to the study, three monorail systems were examined:

 

Monorail Project

Cost/Mile

($Million)

Dollar Year

Las Vegas Extension (planned)

162

2000

Newark Airport mini-monorail

186

1996

Kitakyushu monorail

103

1985

           Source:  PB 2001 and LTK Engineering Services 1999

Let's examine these costs in more detail:

 

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Las Vegas: Estimated costs are grossly exaggerated:

 

Some sources indicate that the estimated cost per mile of $162 million for the Las Vegas monorail are exaggerated. One source indicates that the total capital cost of the project is valued at $354 million for 6.4 Km (3.84 mi) of route, which works out to a capital construction cost of $92.2 million per mile:

'The new Las Vegas Monorail will link seven stations over 6.4km of elevated dual-monorail guideway, integrating the two existing stations and re-equipping the approximate 1.6km guideway of the MGM-Grand Bally's former monorail line. The 36-car monorail fleet, to be operated in nine four-car trains, will provide direct service to eight major resort properties and the Las Vegas convention centre...Bombardier, as a member of a consortium, will be responsible for the electrical and mechanical systems of the fully automated monorail line, including 36 M-VI monorail cars. This contract is valued at $200 million. Bombardier will operate the system for an initial five years with an option for an additional ten years. The five-year operations and maintenance contract assigned to Bombardier carries a value of $56 million. The total capital cost of the project is valued at $354 million'

However, the critical point here is that the Las Vegas monorail is not a representative sample.  It exists to take conventioneers and gamblers to casinos and the convention center, not to take commuters to their jobs and schools.  Las Vegas Hotels and Monorail are more for entertainment than they are for sleeping and transportation. In a city where billion dollar hotel-resorts are not unheard of, spending lavishly on a monorail system is not unreasonable. Austin should not spend on a monorail like Las Vegas anymore than Austin should build hotels like Las Vegas.

bulletNewark: Mis-built project:

According to this article, Newark's 'notorious' new airport monorail which runs 2.1 miles and cost $354 million, was 'overbuilt, mis-built, and dogged by mishaps that might only happen in New Jersey'.

bulletKitakyushu: Special circumstances:

The cost of the Kitakyushu monorail was high because according to Kim Pedersen, President and Founder of the Monorail Society, 'Kitakyushu had a lot of special circumstances, including building the guide-way along the underside of a new freeway':

 

Photo courtesy of The Monorail Society

Seattle: The Monorail System not mentioned by Cap Metro in their cost study:

Seattle's new Monorail system is being planned by the Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), an entity created and empowered by the people of Seattle through their  Initiative 53. The  ETC has recently estimated the their Monorail system to cost between $69 Million / Mile to $124 Million / Mile (view a summary of the report here).

Yet, Seattle's Sound Transit is still proposing a comprehensive light rail system for the city of Seattle. According to documents filed with the 2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02), Seattle's Minimum Operating Segment 1 (MOS-1) would cost $352 Million / Mile. Why does the Cap Metro study not favorably compare the cost for a Monorail system in Seattle with that of the proposed light rail system in Seattle?

Although cost figures for the proposed Seattle Monorail were not published until 1/16/02, it has been widely known in the transportation industry that Seattle's ETC was planning a new Monorail system. Would it have been too difficult for the consultants hired by Cap Metro to produce this study to directly contact the ETC to inquire about cost figures, as we at the Austin Monorail Project have done?

Finally, the ETC's February 2002 newsletter states:

'At between $69 million and $124 million per mile, the ETC’s estimate compares favorably to the $150 million per mile Sound Transit expects to spend on its $2.1 billion, 14-mile light-rail line running from Convention Place to South 154th Street.'

'The ultimate cost of the monorail will be greatly influenced by whether the system uses a two-car or four-car configuration. The four-car trains are expected to cost much more than the shorter, lighter two-car trains, and account for the ETC’s huge cost range. '

Part-2: Capital Construction Costs of Representative Monorail Systems (Coming Soon)

 

In this section, we will look at capital construction costs of other actual and planned representative Monorail systems around the world.

 

Part-3: Capital Construction Cost Analysis of our Proposed Austin Monorail System (Coming Soon)

 

In this next section, we will develop an estimated capital construction cost for our proposed Austin system based on relevant cost information that we have received from various Monorail manufacturers throughout the world.

 

However, since a given manufacturer may only supply certain parts of the total system (i.e., vehicles, power supply, and control systems), we must estimate costs for other structures (beams, columns, foundations, etc) from other sources. We will look at Seattle Monorail's estimated capital construction costs in detail and see how this may guide the generation of an estimate of capital construction costs for a Monorail system in Austin.

 

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