Transit Indicators – BNSF, School Buses

When I look at the state of US transit, especially public transport, the two biggest indicators of the failure of US transit are BNSF and School buses.

Why BNSF?

The Burlington North Santa Fe Railway Corp. was the dominant rail company when I lived in Texas, and here in Colorado. Without a detail look into their tracks, trains, and business model, my summary is, they run massive trains, often over thousands of miles of single track lines. The tracks often run right through the middle of cities, the track commands significant space either side of the track.

This isn’t their state of the art crossing, but it’s pretty typical. This crossing was just north of the Dell campus in Round Rock Texas. The train crossing is average, appears to be pulling a lot of cars that contain, well, err,  cars! An epically long train, over 100 cars and 4 engines.

If, as in many towns, you want to add commuter rail, either alongside the existing line, or on the existing tracks, BNSF both take forever to evaluate the capacity; then charge absolute top-dollar for either access or for land acquisition. This report, on a commuter rail line that voted on in 2004, likely not finished until 2042. BNSF can’t even give an estimate as for the timeline.

While some people don’t mind the train horns being blasted 24hrs per day, many do. The old fashion crossings, seen in the video above, are universally disliked. They are not the optimal safety design, people do stupid things. Also, the train are required under federal legislation to use their horns. In Austin, it has been 10-years and there are still not quiet zones through the key residential areas or downtown. Up the road in Boulder, same story. Hugely expensive. long delays. Construction supposed to start this month, finally.

School Buses?

School Bus in rear view mirrorWe live 3-miles from our daughters elementary school, a mile of which is pretty much uphill. We also cross the BNSF railroad track, and a CO state highway to get there. One thing you notice, a lot, are the school buses. Almost every day around 7:45 a.m.  an RTD public transpory bus is in front of us. Occasionally, we sat are sat behind the bus, while we wait at the BNSF crossing.

I wondered, why don’t more kids take the public buses to school? The bus we sit sit behind, goes right past the middle school, so that will be an option, especially since we have a stop less than 150yds from the house. But why don’t more kids?

I don’t know if school buses/busing was chicken or egg, but I do know the few other countries depend on specialist school buses, like the US does. Of course, busing in the US has a tortuous past. When I was attending High School in the UK, we exclusively used public transport. My bus was the 322. At peak times it was a double decker bus, and for the rest of the day, a single level bus.

Each year, school buses provide an estimated 10 billion student trips in the United States. Every school day, 475,000 school buses transport 25 million children to and from schools and school-related activities.

Looking at the public bus routes through Louisville, while the buses travel through build up areas. With the middle school being the exception, it’s on Main St. the buses don’t go anywhere near elementary schools. Centaurus High School is well situated, and adjacent to a number of bus routes. Yet, students, by and large, take private school buses.

If we are to address climate change, we need to think about transit in a meaningful way, increased train service, electric where possible, and rethinking busing, converting it to public transport and electric vehicles is essential. Imagine if we could use public buses for the majority of those 10 billion student trips, what other transit options would open up?