Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Higher Train, Lower Price Tag

A ride with a view from Medellin's metro. Why pay more to bury a train line underground? (Photo: Colombia Travel)
Bogotá underworld is a crowded place: power lines, natural gas pipes, sewers, building foundations and lot and lots of loose earth, because Bogotá was built on top of a wetland.

That's a very, very inconvenient place to try to build a train line.

But above Bogotá, there's a lot of....empty space.

Urban trauma: Subway construction in Toronto, Canada.
(Photo: UrbanToronto.ca)
As many analysts have pointed out, the most expensive and slowest place to put a train line is exactly where Bogotá plans to: Underground. Ex-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa says so in a long essay in today's El Tiempo. And the other day an official from Medellin, whose own train line is partially underground, said it clearly: "It's not viable at all...Building an underground subway line is crazy."

An elevated train costs lots less to build and to maintain than does an underground line. (And a ground level train is even cheaper.) That's a fundamental factor for Bogotá, which can't figure out where it'll find the estimated $7.5 billion dollar price tag of the first underground subway line. (The cost is equivalent to the city's whole annual budget.)

A ride in an elevated train line is also lots more pleasant. I grew up mostly in the San Francisco,
Riding in the sun. A BART train pulls into a station. (Photo: NBC Bay Area)
California Bay Area, which has a regional train system called BART. Various BART segments run underground, on the surface and on elevated tracks, and I can tell you that when a train emerges from a tunnel it's like a breath of fresh air: Sunlight replaces fluorescent lights and views of the city and mountains replace gloomy black tunnel walls. Cellphone reception improves, too.

So, more people will ride an elevated train - and enjoy it a lot more.

And it's no secret that one of Bogota's big drivers for building a subway line is status. That's why city leaders keep repeating that Bogotá's the only big Latin American city without a metro, and one of only a couple of cities its size in the world without one. Peer pressure is a bad reason to do anything. But, if what Bogotá wants is status, then building a shiny, visible above-ground train line will do lots more for the city's image than would burying that train under ground.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: