Those rush-hour commuter trains wouldn't do everything everybody wants (see today's story with lots of reader comment). They wouldn't take you to the basketball game or to the restaurant or the airport.
Still, according to a new study, they would be awfully attractive for thousands of students and workers every day.
That's partly because the Triangle is expected to keep growing like crazy. And it's pretty clear that we aren't going to come up with the money to expand our roadways fast enough to keep pace. So every drive to work will take longer and longer in coming years.
Commuter rail would be relatively cheap to build because we don't need much in the way of new tracks or land or environmental studies: $2 million to $9 million a mile for capital including the trains themselves, cf $50 million a mile for electric-powered light rail.
The full study looked at service from Greensboro to Goldsboro with a side track from Hillsborough to Chapel Hill. Not so much demand east of Wilson's Mills or west of Durham.
It predicted 11,150 daily riders by 2022 for the full 140-mile line.
But most of these riders, 8,238 of them, were concentrated on 50 miles between Durham and Wilson's Mills (fyi, that's east of Clayton). So that's where the first trains would be likely to start running.
That compares to ..
2,500 riders today on San Jose's 86-mile Altamont Commuter Express
4,200 on San Diego's 41-mile NCTD Coaster
8,900 on Seattle's 80-mile Sounder Commuter Rail
9,400 on the 34-mile Dallas-Fort Worth Trinity Railway Express
12,400 on Miami's 72-mile SFRTA Tri-Rail
The recommended fare would be set by zones. A trip that starts and stops in the same zone is recommended at $2. Into a second zone, $3. (That's the expected average fare, $3.) A third zone, $6, all the way to $10 for 6 zones.
How big is a zone? Raleigh is shown in the middle of a fare zone that runs for six stops from Morrisville/RDU to Garner. Wilson's Mills is at the eastern end of the next zone.
So it's $2 to ride from Garner to Morrisville, if that's your thing. It's $3 from Clayton or Wilson's Mills to Cary or Morrisville.
Durham, RTP and West Durham are in the first zone west of Morrisville. So Raleigh to Durham or RTP for example is a $3 ride.
The study authors say their assumptions are based partly on plans for big improvements in Triangle bus service. More bus routes will help make more neighborhoods accessible to rail stops.
Current plans don't include buses directly serving all the proposed 11 Triangle rail stops. Presumably our transit agencies would decide to provide those sensible bus connections, and the study authors say this would boost ridership further for commuter trains.
Maybe the predictions are wrong. Maybe the Triangle won't grow like crazy, as it has been doing for the past 30 years.
When I checked the history of growth predictions a few years ago I found a consistent trend: when forecasters predict how fast the Triangle will grow in the future, they're almost always proven wrong.
We usually find that we have grown faster than they predicted.