In looking ahead many decades, to the time when total transport
tasks will have doubled and redoubled, Balance Research believes
that society, if well informed, will not allow the volumes
carried by road to be much greater than they are today.
Rail transport, largely ignored for general transport since the
rise of modern, under-priced highways, will be confirmed by society
and governments as the means to absorb almost all the growth
in coming decades.
Today's road carriage industry will join in the change, becoming
transport facilitators using rail wherever feasible for local and
long distance legs. They will take advantage of its lower resource
usage, because this lower usage will be reflected into relative
pricing between the modes.
We often hear, from leaders of many governments, that a certain rail
project "will take x-number of trips off the road system". This,
Balance Research would suggest, misses the point about transport
policy. More important is that a project will reduce the rate of growht
of road traffic. Road traffic will almost never decrease: it's just
that society, well informed, will not want it to increase.
Savings reaped by society from avoiding the road traffic growth
will be substantial and in varied form. Per unit of task, the
transport sector will then be using far less resources and
causing far less damage.
But for as long as there are subsidies to transport, with the greatest
subsidies going to the modes which use more resources, the present
growth pattern will continue. Under present policies, then, rail may
well maintain its share of the growing total, but road will still reach
four times today's levels at some time.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TRANSPORT WORK
UNDERSTAND THE RESOURCES USED BY TRANSPORTATION
- Financial costs to all levels of government.
- National, state and local governments all pay in
various ways for road and rail infrastructure and operating
- Loss of value in assets which are not adequately maintained:
this most greatly affects the local level.
- Transport activity increases other Government costs
in areas like public health, hospitals, legal system
- Various government activities require transportation. The cost
of this is rising with greater road congestion.
- Financial costs to industry and travellers.
- Many individuals and families who would like to avoid
owning a car find that public transport is not adequate for
their needs. This forces them into using their limited resources
to support a car, or more cars than they would need under better
- Many businesses would save if rail freight were available
to meet their needs, but general freight services by rail are now
unavailable in most towns and cities.
- The wastage of time and fuel related to congestion.
- Consumption or spoilage of environmental resources, both locally and globally.
- Road, rail and air all contribute to this. But they differ greatly
in resources spoilt or used per unit of task.
- Land used per unit of task (tracks/roads/parking/buffer areas).
- a ten metre railway reservation, with two tracks, can carry up to
50,000 persons per hour per direction. A wider reservation (say 20 m in
a practical situation, 30 m at stations), with three tracks, can carry
at least 75,000 persons per hour in the peak direction with a mix of
stopping and express trains.
- with a typical mix of motorway and arterial roads, the same load
of 75,000 persons per hour in peak direction would require around
forty road lanes per direction. Land for parking, medians and
side buffers would add to the usage of land resources.
- Public health, road trauma, society discomfort.
- Society discomfort includes loss of quiet enjoyment,
apprehension of danger and difficulty in moving around without a car.
- the rate of accidents per million vehicle-Km is improving in many
jurisdictions, but it will not approach zero. As road traffic continues to grow,
absolute numbers of trauma cases will still grow. If all growth is absorbed
by rail, road traffic could stay at today's levels. Absolute numbers
of cases would then decline.
- The cost of road trauma includes substantial effects which are not
widely tallied in the transport debate and not fully compensated by transport
accident insurances. These include effects on families and employers.
- As long as public transport is inadequate, there is pressure to
allow driving licences to all, inevitably including some individuals
only marginally fit to drive. With comprehensive public transport,
society would accept a much hgher standard of fitness to drive.
- Airline operations are intrusive on many people's lives and this
intrusion can be construed as consumption of a resource.
ESSENTIAL TO STUDY MARGINAL RESOURCES IN EACH MODE
- Need to separate network costs from marginal costs.
- Network costs may include establishment of a rail or road
corridor with initial installations and in the case of rail,
basic levels of common carrier service and sunk costs of
capital servicing and other resources used up by the existance
of transport infrastructure and activities.
- Marginal costs are the additional resources needed to
carry additional traffic. These may include carrying greater loads,
running extra trains or road vehicles and building extra tracks or road
lanes, demand-related maintenance and other resources used up by the
volume of transport activities.
- Network costs may be greater for rail. This is often true of
major new projects because of the high engineering and safety
standards required for a railway, even though in the long run
a given capital outlay will carry more by rail than by road.
- Marginal usage of resources are almost always less for rail.
Running extra trains, and carrying more loads on existing trains, uses
less labour, less energy and less societal resources per additional
unit of task than adapting the road network to carry the same
- In line with the above, one may consider the costs which will arise
from the next doubling of road traffic. Society may wish to avoid that
scenario because of its unsustainable demand for resources (land,
energy, societal disruption).
- The costs of doubling (and ultimate redoubling) road traffic
cannot be avoided while governments make no specific charge for road
use but generally consider that railways should operate commercially.
- Many railway support payments are described as being for the
purpose of achieving social goals, providing a socially necessary
service. Governments, in making such payments, seem to avoid saying
that they will reduce the cost to governments and the community
related to usage of highways.
- Many freight tasks cannot be attracted to rail: they are
cheaper on road even though they use more resources.
- Some railways have improved their apparent efficiency by
shedding less profitable tasks. These tasks have gone to the highway
where they now use more resources, borne by the community.
DEBATE THE TRUE AND TOTAL SUBSIDIES TO TRANSPORT
- Railways receive payments for community service and perhaps
- Government road owners make no specific charge for use of
roads and are fully subsidised.
- Road users pay fees and fuel taxes (in some countries users of LPG
pay no fuel tax) towards the cost of road provision and maintenance but
no fees for damage to the environment or society or congestion.
- Effective subsidy is greatest to heavy goods vehicles, per
- Railway operators pay Governments or infrastructure owners a tonne-Km
fee to use a rail track, but government revenue per tonne-Km for heavy
long-haul trucks, levied via annual fees and diesel tax, is far less per
tonne-Km. The more the truck is used, the cheaper the cost per tonne-Km.
- Alternately, many railway operators provide and maintain their own
tracks, with similar financial effect.
NOTE THE LOOMING PRESSURES ON ROAD AND AIR CAPACITY
- Governments are increasingly baulking at building new capacity
in the highway network, although political pressure is still
effective in forcing their hand to do so.
- Governments will not be able to resist pressure for road
capacity unless really adequate alternatives exist for passenger
and freight including Metro Freight on Rail.
- The airway network may not cope with a doubling of today's
traffic levels. Safety may be compromised by substantial increases
- Parts of the community believe that airway operation is
depriving them of quiet enjoyment, for which they are not
compensated fully or at all.
LOGIC OF SUBSIDISING THE MODES WHICH USE MORE RESOURCES
- Society directly and indirectly subsidises air, road and rail
- Road and air modes use more resources per unit of task, yet they
benefit from the greatest subsidies per additional (marginal) tonne-Km
or passenger-Km, including non-cash resources. No wonder they are so
CONSERVING ROAD SPACE FOR TASKS THAT REALLY NEED IT
- Governments will have limited scope for increasing road
capacity. Political pressure forces them to resort to very expensive
- A combination of road user charging and adequate rail
services for passengers and freight is the only way that highway
space can be kept available for those urgent or sensitive tasks
for which rail may not be suitable.
CHANGING BOUNDARIES BETWEEN RAIL AND ROAD
- Many people in industry have come to believe that rail is
suitable only for tasks exceeding a certain distance.
- Industry people have mentioned figures like 200 Km, or
1000 Km. as being minimum distance for rail to be efficient.
- Balance research says that provided rail and road users face
the same cost of inputs, there is NO MINIMUM DISTANCE for rail.
- At the time when road haulage was becoming popular,
rail-to-road transfers were still very labour intensive.
Containers, easy to transfer, were not widely used for local
traffic. By the time that containers were becoming common on local
movements, rail freight was concentrating on trainload freight.
- To minimise the growth of heavy goods on metro highways,
governments will need to introduce Metro Freight on Rail.
- This will move the intermodal point closer to the origin.
In some cases private sidings will be used, restoring van traffic
(dock to dock) as a desirable system.
- Medium distance traffic, now on highways between
neighbouring cities, will have to be attracted to rail.
- This class is a good example of tasks which use more
resources on the highway but for which the road charges are lower.
- Society will eventulally find ways of ensuring that these
tasks go to the mode which uses less resources and does less damage.
LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE GREATLY AFFECTED BY RAIL POLICY
- Many councils consider that road traffic is already
excessive and putting local roads under pressure.
- Local roads in many municipalities cannot be kept in order,
especially where railways have ceased to provide general freight
service or have closed.
- The shortfall in road maintenance is typically excluded from
consideration in studies on the cost of roads and road activities.
WORKING WITH ROAD CARRIERS FOR MUTUAL BENEFIT
- Road carrier companies may in future redefine themselves
as transporters using road and rail. They will find ways of taking
advantage of the lower resource usage of rail compared to road.
- Highways will be too congested to be used for bulk, regular
or low-value goods, and society will empower railways to compete
for local as well as medium distance tasks of this kind.
- Transport operators will benefit from the continued availability
of road space for urgent and specilaised tasks, while railways carry
the vast bulk of less urgent and regular shipments.
- Handling the natural increase this way will be much easier
on the community than forever increasing road capacity.
THE ROLE OF RAIL IN ABSORBING THE GROWTH IN TOTAL TASKS
ENHANCED ESTIMATING FOR FUTURE RAIL DEMAND
HOW MUCH RAIL MUST GROW TO KEEP ROAD TRAFFIC SUSTAINABLE
METRO FREIGHT WILL RETURN TO RAIL, DIRECT OR INTERMODAL
INNOVATIVE SERVICES FOR PASSENGERS INCLUDING NON-RADIAL
FAMILIES MUST BE CONFIDENT THAT NO CAR IS NEEDED
UBIQUITOUS FEEDER SERVICES, SAME HOURS AS TRAINS
FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS: NO SUBSIDIES OR EQUAL SUBSIDIES
PUBLIC EDUCATION ABOUT TRANSPORT RESOURCES
INDEX OF SUBMISSIONS
THIS INDEX LEADS TO ON-LINE DETAILS OF SUBMISSIONS, TALKS AND
PAPERS PREPARED BY BALANCE RESEARCH OVER MANY YEARS.
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