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Updated Report on Making Dulles Rail Cost Effective

10 June 2011
By Fred Costello
Board Member At-large
Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance


This work was taken out of personal interest in determining if the proposed Phases I and II of the Dulles Rail system are economically worthwhile.  If worthwhile, those who benefit should provide all of the funds, with no subsidy required from those who do not benefit.  In particular, no tax support would be required to pay for the system.  We hope that organizations such as the government, WMATA, and advocacy groups will find the results of this study to be useful.


This report updates and improves upon our 2003 report FCTA-01: Making the Dulles Rail System Cost Effective, in several ways.  That report can be seen at  We have incorporated much data that was not available in 2003, when we had to make many guesses.  In addition, we have become more skillful in finding data via the Internet.  The conclusions of this report differ greatly from those of the earlier report because our guess of the land value was low by a factor of ten, being based on land values far from the business district.  Herein we use land values in Tysons Corner.


The rail system can be economically worthwhile, without tax support, if certain conditions are met.  These conditions are derived (logically deduced) from the analysis presented in the Discussion section of this report.  The conditions are:
1. The population density within 0.25 miles of each of the six residential stations must be 101 people per acre.  If there is one non-rider per rider, the total population density around the station must be at least 203 people per acre.  If there are two people per dwelling unit, there would be 101 dwelling units per acre.  If each dwelling had a floor plan of 1000 sq.ft.per person and 50% of the land area was covered by buildings, the buildings would be 9 stories high.  Each station would board 14,167 riders per day.  (The computations are in Appendix A.)
2. For every station surrounded by businesses with a FAR of 2 and 300 sq.ft. per person,  workers would be accommodated, the equivalent of 2.5 stations surrounded by residential units. If only 30% ride the rail system, one business station could provide enough employment for 0.75 residential stations.  Mixing residential and commercial units at a single station will take away from the support of the rail system.  Mixing units is clearly a better economic strategy than rail because the residents will walk to work, no rail will be needed, and the potential riders would save the most.
3. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) used 85,000, which value we used in this report..
4. If the costs are borne by the beneficiaries in proportion to their benefit, the following split is equitable:
           $8.18 average daily fare for rail riders on the Silver Line extention past East Falls Church
           $0.40 daily toll for toll-road drivers
           77%  of the increase in land value near the Metro must be paid as a tax by the owners
The current Metrorail fare structure would call for an average daily (round trip) fare of $8.88, varying from $2.92 to $14.28, depending on distance traveled.
5. The Supplementary EIS shows an increase in automotive pollution due to the Dulles rail system because more cars will be on the road.  Although $10 per day seems excessive, the rider will save money relative to driving to work, if the next three conditions are met.
6. Commercial-property owners must not build parking space to accommodate rail riders, so that the business owners save construction costs that can be passed to the rider.
7. The rider must forego owning an automobile and a house with a garage.  The rider's spouse may own a car and a garage at the house.  The rider saves money by not owning the one automobile and the garage it requires.  This saving more than offsets what the rider pays for the rail fare.
8. Street parking and parking-lot parking must not accommodate the automobile the rider might otherwise own.  Because 90% of the riders live within 0.25 miles of a station, this characteristic is not severely restricting.  If such parking were permitted, the rider would not save on a garage cost because he could use this free parking.
Present plans do not meet several of these conditions.  There is no rush by developers to build housing with such limited parking space and by businesses to build office buildings with fewer parking spaces.  Many of the commercial buildings are already built; therefore, the owners would realize no cost saving.

The foregoing is based on having no taxpayer subsidy (called a government subsidy) for the rail system.  There is little logical reason to provide such a subsidy because the three classes of beneficiaries can carry the cost.  Construction costs would be paid not by taxes but by, for example, a rail-revenue bond similar to the highway bonds issued in the past.  Although plans call for most of the construction cost to be borne by the Federal and State governments, these monies are taken from those who do not benefit; therefore, they are unfair (Appendix C).


The foregoing is also based on no escalation of construction costs.  Projects of this type frequently have cost overruns of 100% to 200%.  The fare must be increased to compensate for any such escalation.


To see the complete report, click on the Attachment.

Fred Costello,
Feb 20, 2012, 2:41 PM