July 2000 / Looking Back to 1976
DART Derailed—Light Rail Frustrated
in Dayton, Ohio
Matus (The Third Rail
, March 1976)
Copyright 1976 Third Rail Press.
Reprinted by permission.
Copyright 2000 The Composing Stack
face of mounting criticism, Urban Mass Transit Administrator Robert E.
Patricelli released a light rail transit policy statement December 16
. The statement came at the end of months of aggressive support for
light rail from legislators of both political parties and all shades of
the political spectrum. At the same time that UMTA issued its long-awaited
statement, it stunned light rail advocates by slapping down the only
advanced application for a light rail system before it-that of the city of
In a curt paragraph in the same
news release that announced the light rail policy statement, UMTA said
that it had sent a letter to Dayton's Miami Valley Regional Transit
Authority notifying them that their proposal for a light rail system,
called DART (Dayton Area Rail Transit) was "being removed from the active
file because of certain deficiencies which had to be overcome before the
proposal could be placed in competition with applications from other
Specifically, UMTA claimed a "lack
of assurance of a local financial share, and the lack of a review of
transit alternatives involving bus operations on existing streets and
freeways." UMTA said that its action was taken "without prejudice" to any
"corrected" plan which Dayton might submit in the future.
In the meanwhile UMTA announced its intention
to "assist in the deployment of modern light rail transit in a city or
cities where proper conditions for this type of service are found to
exist." The federal agency did not go into detail as to the nature of the
"proper conditions" it sought.
the Dayton area was swift and strong.
cruel setback" was the way the Dayton Journal Herald described UMTA's
action in a Dec. 17 editorial. ". . . UMTA's reasoning is an insult to
this area's intelligence."
The Journal Herald
editorial went on to quote Tom Norwalk, an Oakwood, Ohio resident and an
originator of the DART concept: "What we're seeing here is a lot of
hypocrisy from the federal government. It is a real tragedy."
The feeling that the federal government had
sought a subterfuge to reject the DART plan was also reflected in a Dayton
Daily News editorial the same day.
points cited by the feds ... were obviously excuses. That leaves the
reason a mystery," said the News. "Clearly, UMTA was looking for excuses
to reject the application."
to UMTA's rejec!ion statement the News said that: 'Alternatives including
more freeways, special bus lanes and a buses-only corridor over the
abandoned rail line [proposed for use by the DART project] have been
studied to death."
"As Kettering [Ohio] Mayor
Charles Horn, who has worked hard for this plan, says, local planners have
no choice but to jump through the hoops that the feds have put up."
On Dec. 23, the Journal Herald commented
further in its "Forum" opinion column: "We're frankly impatient with the
whole federal grants process. It breeds an us-them attitude at both ends,
with local officials and federal bureaucrats seeming to forget that its
all 'our' money, the public's money, that is being handed out by the
"UMTA was created to
promote urban mass transit. Light rail, it seems to us, is most definitely
going to be one of the principal modes of urban mass transportation in
years to come. It is far cheaper to build than subways, it is cheaper to
operate than buses. it will attract patrons who would never ride buses.
And it is cleaner than automobiles or buses."
Unlike many other proposals brought before
UMTA in recent years, the DART proposal was conceived, drafted and
promoted by a voluntary group of local residents, rather than by a formal
Dayton is an active
manufacturing community of some 260,000 residents, located in southwestern
Ohio, about 50 miles north of Cincinnati and 70 miles southwest of
Columbus. Its metropolitan area, one of the fastest growing in Ohio, has a
population of 863,000, as measured by its SMSA (Standard Metropolitan
Statistical Area). Its transportation system includes a substantial
trolley coach fleet, as well as diesel bus service.
The people of Dayton are no strangers to
innovation and leadership in the transportation field. It was in Dayton
that Orville and Wilbur Wright invented the heavier-than-air flying
machine, the city itself becoming a center of aeronautical research and
The automobile came to
Dayton as it has come to all American cities large and small, and with it
the all-too-familiar problems that have been endemic to the American Dream
Machine. But, unlike people in many another city, groups of Daytonians
have refused to accept the inevitability of the march of the car culture.
The opportunity to create an alternative
transportation future presented itself in April 1970, when Dayton was one
of eleven U.S. cities selected by the U.S. DOT for participation in the
Urban Corridor Demonstration Program. The program focused on a southeast
corridor radiating from downtown Dayton to the communities of Kettering,
Oakwood, Washington Township and Centerville. In October 1971, the
Montgomery County Planning Commission submitted a plan for the corridor
advocating an exclusive busway as a partial response to the area's needs.
A report from the consulting firm of Vogt,
Sage and Pflum, issued July 1, 1972, examined the feasibility of the
proposed busway and projected a ridership estimate (10,000 to 15,000
passengers per day at its most optimistic) so modest that the consultants
inferred that the cost of the busway could be justified only if carpools
were allowed to use its right-of-way during peak periods, thereby
substantially negating the busway's usefulness as transit at the times
when it would be needed most.
Even as the
proposed busway was in its talking stages, a trio of Dayton area
residents, none of them professionally (or financially) involved in rail
transit, were preparing a counter-proposal to bring modern rail transit to
the southeast corridor.
The efforts of the
three, Stephen S. King, Thomas S. Norwalk and James B. Rhinehart,
culminated in the preparation of a remarkable 219-page report, "DART-The
Coming Way to Go." Far from the vague, often unbalanced work of the
typical ad-hoc committee, the DART report set out ideas and concrete
proposals that quickly gained wide attention and support.
New Feasibility Study Ordered
The issuance of
the DART report succeeded in delaying further implementation of the busway
plan. The MontgomeryGreene County Transportation Coordinating Committee
applied for Federal approval of a feasibility study of the light rail
proposal on December 28, 1971. Approval was granted and the Philadelphia
consulting firm of Louis T. Klauder & Associates was chosen to produce
the study, with the Washington-based firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell &
Co. acting as sub-consultants with the responsibility of projecting
UMTA Stalling Attacked
DART plan picked up political as well as planning support. Senator Robert
Taft (R-Ohio) openly promoted the light rail proposal in Congress and at
the Department of Transportation, stirring up dust in the process of
gaining momentum. When UMTA action failed to match its outward sympathy
for light rail transit, Mr. Taft pushed harder, culminating in his speech,
"Institutional Receptiveness to New Concepts in Transportation," which he
delivered at the First National Light Rail Conference on June 25, 1975, in
which he accused UMTA of having "no light rail policy" [TR, 1/57].
Despite continually growing support for light
rail and DART in the succeeding months, UMTA continued to delay Dayton's
application, all the while protesting that the application had "not been
delayed," that it was going through normal procedures."
On October 31 a letter was delivered to
Transportation Secretary Coleman:
undersigned Members of Congress, are writing to you to urge that, as a
matter of national transportation policy, you direct the Urban Mass
Transit Administration to support Light Rail transit."
Further citing the advantages of light rail,
the letter concluded that "the rapidly growing interest in the advantages
of Light Rail, in Light Rail's ability to provide not only large but also
medium-sized cities with rail transit at low comparative cost, requires
increased support for Light Rail by our national transportation
"We believe it is in the
interest of the nation to move decisively to implement the Light Rail mode
of urban transit. We urge you, as Secretary of Transportation, to act to
The letter bore the signatures of
Senators Taft, Metcalf, Buckley, Randolph, Cranston, Glenn and Kennedy, as
well as that of Ohio Representative Clarence Brown.
Growing Frustration on DART
continually increasing support for light rail in Congress, Daytonians must
have sensed the impending frustration of their own efforts. Even as light
rail picked up the support of both conservatives and liberals on Capitol
Hill, the Dayton Daily News expressed Dayton's growing frustration in a
November 11 article: "The Dayton area's application seems to be suffering
in UMTA from unfashionability. In the developing mass transit bureaucracy,
light rail isn't powered by the special-interest constituencies that
propel highway, bus line and subway proposals.
"What a shame—what a farce—if the feds
disallow a proposition that the locals are clamoring for, in favor,
sometime later, of one [the busway] for which a general dislike already
has been demonstrated in practice."
So it was
on December 16 that the combined efforts of energetic citizens and
energetic legislators finally resulted in a break in UMTA's silence on
light rail with the issuance of a policy statement. It was also the day
when Daytonians received the long-awaited answer to their own rail transit
The answer was no.
Highlights of the Klauder Report
October 10, 1973, Louis T. Klauder & Associates issued a feasibility
study of light rail transit in the southeast corridor of Dayton, Ohio.
The report described a system utilizing light
railway technology in a 95% exclusive right-of-way system connecting
downtown Dayton with communities extending southeast to Centerville, about
12 miles, via a currently underutilized freight branch of the Penn Central
Except for short stretches, the
line would be double-tracked, and would be signalled only where
required-at curves, and at control points of single track sections.
Most street operation would be in downtown
Dayton, where speeds would be restricted to 25 mph or less. Elsewhere,
full 60 mph speeds would be attained in practice. The average speed for a
through trip from Dayton to Centerville would be 35 mph, allowing for
dwell time of 15 seconds at each station, Higher average speeds, exceeding
40 mph could be obtained through the use of express or skip-stop
Service frequency would be every
10 minutes during peak periods, 20 minutes off-peak, the standard assumed
in the Peat-Marwick-Mitchell ridership study. The generated ridership
projected by the latter study, however, indicates the necessity of shorter
headways, typically 7 minutes peak, 13 minutes off-peak.
Service would be provided at all times except
early morning hours when freight service could continue to be provided for
Costs in the study are
based on all passengers obtaining seats in 5-seat, single-unit,
non-articulated light rail cars.
major conclusions reported by the Klauder study are the following (all
costs in 1973 dollars):
* The DART
plan would provide high speed, high quality service "fully competitive
with automotive travel on existing and planned highways" in the corridor,
* The system would attract 20,000 daily
riders the first year, up to 48,000 by the year 2000.
* Revenues, based on "modest" fares, would
cover costs of operation and maintenance with a "comfortable margin." "In
fact, rail service revenues in excess of costs would be large enough to
provide attractive bus feeder service to outlying rail stations."
* Total capital cost, including all fixed
facilities and vehicles, would average $2- to $3-million per mile,
depending on length.
* The estimated annual
benefits to riders and the public at large would be almost double the
equivalent annual cost of the initial investment.
* Construction can proceed in stages.
Branching and/or expansion of the original line can be easily
* Growth of ridership could
entail additional cost of approximately $1.6-million per mile between now
and the year 2000. "Quantifiable future benefits would exceed this
additional cost by a substantial margin."
* "Construction of the
line would bring substantial developmental benefits ... not the least of which would be reduced
pressure for major new highway facilities in the corridor."
What Might Have
If you came upon Darrek Jones' Miami Valley Rail Authority website
via a search engine, it might take awhile before you realize that
this professional looking web address is a parody. What would tip
you off? Maybe the fact that a quarter-century after the DART
article appeared in The Third Rail, Dayton still runs on
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