AUSTIN, Texas – While rail transit is a popular solution to traffic woes, a new study published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation raises questions about the effectiveness – and even safety – of the projects.

Great Rail Disasters: Impact Of Rail Transit On Urban Livability is available online at

“The rush to build light rail in America has led, and is leading, to a series of financial and mobility disasters,” says Randal O’Toole, author of the study. O’Toole is head of the Center for the American Dream at the Independence Institute, a Boulder, Co.-based research organization that originally commissioned the study.

O’Toole’s exhaustive study of cities using rail finds it usually costs more to build and operate the projects than planned. He reports that to pay for cost overruns, transit agencies often boost transit fares or cut transit service outside of rail corridors.

But the cost must also include lost opportunities to ease congestion in other ways, O’Toole finds. Most regions building rail transit systems, according to the research, expect to spend half to four-fifths of their transportation capital budgets on transit systems that carry only 0.5 to 4 percent of passenger travel.

“This imbalanced funding makes it impossible to remove highway bottlenecks and leads to growing congestion,” says O’Toole.

When looking at deaths per billion passenger miles, O’Toole also finds rail transit poses significant hazards for travelers.

Interstate freeways account for 3.9 deaths per billion passenger miles. Accidents on urban roads and streets in general lead to about 6.8 deaths per billion passenger miles. Bus travel is one of the safest forms of transport with only 4.3 deaths per billion passenger miles.

On the other hand, heavy rail averages 5.0, commuter rail 11.3, and light rail 14.8 deaths per billion passenger miles.

“Rail transit tends to be more dangerous than other forms of travel,” he reports.

O’Toole says the research leads him to a simple conclusion: “Cities that have avoided rail should continue to do so; rail transit is a disaster.”