The Low-Capacity, High-Cost Transit Scam

Mumbai opened a monorail last week, the first 12 miles of what is planned to be an 84-mile system costing a total of US$2 billion. A high-density city like Mumbai may be one of the few places in the world where rail transit makes sense. But the Mumbai monorail has a design flaw that makes it as stupid as the most idiotic rail lines in the United States (of which there are many candidates).


Not only are Mumbai’s monorail trains small, their average speed is just 20 mph. Wikimedia commons photo.

That flaw is that the trains are no more than six short cars long, and can run only every three minutes. Even at crush capacity, the system can move only 7,400 people per hour. That’s a tiny fraction of what a real high-capacity rail system can move. New York’s Eighth Avenue subway line can move 30 ten-car trains per hour, and each car has a crush capacity of 240 people, making it capable of moving 72,000 people per hour. Americans won’t accept crush-capacity conditions, but even at American levels of crowding, New York subways can move at least six times as many people per hour as the Mumbai monorail.

If you’re going to spend billions of dollars building a rail line in a dense city, you should at least build one that has the capacity to move large numbers of people. Not surprisingly, the early reports from Mumbai are that the train is overcrowded. “My ride wasn’t as joyful as I had expected it to be,” said one resident who had an hour-long wait before boarding.

The politicians who buy these low-capacity trains–and there are lots of cities around the world buying them–just aren’t thinking things through. Or maybe, like an event planner who chooses a room that is slightly too small rather than one that is too big so the crowd makes the event appear to be more successful than it really is, the politicians are deliberately building low-capacity systems so they can claim success even though taxpayers are out huge amounts of money for projects that provide negligible transportation benefits. Either way, they are mortgaging their cities’ futures in order to build an expensive Disney toy that will do nothing to solve transportation problems.

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