Commuter Rail Study Update: Costs and Ridership

October 20, 2008 37 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

JTA's commuter rail study is now far enough along to provide preliminary estimates for service frequencies, ridership projections, annual Operating and Maintenance costs, as well as capital costs. Will this be convincing enough to keep the train moving forward?

All of the information below is preliminary in nature and may change as studies progress.

Rolling Stock

Bi-Level DMU's have been selected as the most appropriate rolling stock.

Operating Plans


North Corridor

The North Corridor would connect Downtown Jacksonville with Yulee.  The S-Line ROW would be used to form the inner city segment of this corridor.  Out of the three corridor currently being studied, this one would need the most amount of new track and upgrades.  Preliminary estimates show ridership significantly drops off north of the Trout River crossing.

Service Frequencies: 15 minute peak service/30 minute off-peak service

Travel Time from JTC - Distance from JTC - Station Name

42 minutes - 22.8 miles - Yulee
40 minutes - 21.7 miles - Hedges
33 minutes - 15.5 miles - Pecan Park
29 minutes - 12.6 miles - Airport Center Drive
27 minutes - 11.6 miles - Cole/New Berlin Road
24 minutes -  9.3 miles - Busch Blvd.
21 minutes -  7.7 miles - Hecksher Drive/Zoo
18 minutes -  6.3 miles - East 65th Street
15 minutes -  5.1 miles - West 44th Street
13 minutes -  4.1 miles - East 21st Street
11 minutes -  3.4 miles - Springfield Warehouse District
 8 minutes -  2.6 miles - Shands Hospital
 6 minutes -  1.9 miles - West 8th Street
 4 minutes -  1.3 miles - Kings Road
 0 minutes -  0.0 miles - Jacksonville Transportation Center

Weekday Service: 36 round trips

Peak Trainsets/Crews: 7

Peak Car Requirement: 7


Southwest Corridor


This corridor would use the CSX "A" Line to connect Downtown with Orange Park and Green Cove Springs.  Estimates show that the strongest ridership numbers occur north of I-295.

Service Frequencies: 30 minute peak service/60 minute off-peak service

Travel Time from JTC - Distance from JTC - Stations

 0 minutes -  0.0 miles - Jacksonville Transportation Center
 3 minutes -  2.0 miles - Riverside
 6 minutes -  3.9 miles - FCCJ-Kent
 9 minutes -  5.1 miles - San Juan Avenue
13 minutes -  8.0 miles - Timuquana
16 minutes -  9.5 miles - NAS Jacksonville
19 minutes - 11.9 miles - Interstate 295
22 minutes - 13.6 miles - Orange Park
26 minutes - 16.5 miles - Lakeside
30 minutes - 19.9 miles - Doctors Inlet
35 minutes - 23.3 miles - Lake Ashbury
41 minutes - 29.3 miles - Green Cove Springs

Weekday Service: 18 round trips

Peak Trainsets/Crews: 4

Peak Car Requirement: 8


Southeast Corridor

 This corridor would use the FEC line between Downtown Jacksonville and St. Augustine.  Preliminary estimates indicate it would attract the highest ridership and cost the least to implement.  Of interesting note, the study shows the Downtown Southbank (San Marco) station attracting more rail riders than the Jacksonville Terminal.

Service Frequencies: 30 minute peak service/60 minute off-peak service

Travel Time from JTC - Distance from JTC - Stations

 0 minutes -  0.0 miles - Jacksonville Transportation Center
 3 minutes -  1.1 miles - San Marco
 6 minutes -  3.6 miles - Emerson Street
11 minutes -  7.2 miles - J Turner Butler Boulevard
15 minutes -  9.0 miles - Baymeadows Road
20 minutes - 13.3 miles - Avenues
23 minutes - 15.8 miles - Old St. Augustine Road
28 minutes - 19.3 miles - Race Track Road
36 minutes - 27.5 miles - Palencia
41 minutes - 31.8 miles - St. Augustine - St. Johns County Airport
44 minutes - 33.6 miles - St. Augustine - St. Johns County Complex
47 minutes - 35.7 miles - St. Augustine - Historic District
51 minutes - 38.4 miles - St. Augustine - West St. Augustine

Weekday Service: 18 round trips

Peak Trainsets/Crews: 4

Peak Car Requirement: 8


**The information below does not account for interfacing with transit modes**

Estimated Weekday Passenger Trips (Ridership 2015)

North Corridor: 2,045 trips

Southwest Corridor: 2,974 trips

Southeast Corridor: 4,814 trips


Preliminary Gross Annual Operating Costs

North Corridor: $13,717,154

Southwest Corridor: $12,471,569

Southeast Corridor: $14,383,217


Annual Total Farebox Revenue

North Corridor: $1,913,804

Southwest Corridor: $2,783,472

Southeast Corridor: $4,506,104


Net Annual Operating Costs

North Corridor: $11,803,349

Southwest Corridor: $9,688,097

Southeast Corridor: $9,877,113


Comparative Commuter Rail Operating Costs per Passenger Trip

$21.50 - Jacksonville North Corridor (projected)

$14.44 - Trinity Express (Dallas-Fort Worth)

$13.44 - Jacksonville Southwest Corridor (projected)

$13.35 - Seattle-Tacoma

$12.93 - Orlando (Projected)

$12.53 - Tri-Rail (Miami-Fort Lauderdale)

$10.42 - The Coaster (San Diego)

 $9.58 - Jacksonville Southeast Corridor (projected)


Preliminary Capital Cost Estimates

$197,000,000 - North Corridor

$158,100,000 - Southwest Corridor

$171,700,000 - Southeast Corridor

$543,400,000 - Total


Preliminary Capital Cost Per Mile Estimates

North Corridor: $197 million/23.7 miles = $8,312,236 per mile

Southwest Corridor: $158.1 million/29.3 miles = $5,395,904 per mile

Southeast Corridor: $171.7 million/38.4 miles = $4,471,354 per mile

Total: $543.4 million/91.4 miles = $5,945,295 per mile


Capital Cost Comparisons
Outer Beltway (Southern Portion) = $1.8 billion / 46.5 miles = $38.7 million per mile
Florida 9B (I-795) Phase I = $170 million / 4.2 miles = $40.5 million per mile
I-95/I-10 Interchange = $148 million
Atlantic-Kernan Overpass = $45 million
Branan Field Chaffee Road Phase 1 (103rd to I-10) = $25.8 million

Cleveland Euclid Corridor (2008) – 5.7 miles for $168 million = $29.5 million per mile
Pittsburgh East Busway Ext. (2003) – 2.3 miles for $68 million = $29.6 million per mile
LA Orange Line BRT (2005) – 14 miles for $350 million = $25 million per mile


Metro Jacksonville's Observations

The points below are comments by Metro Jacksonville members that participated in the commuter rail meeting.  These members include Steve Congro, Ennis Davis, Daniel Herbin as well as Robert Mann from the Jacksonville Transit Blog.

Validated Cost Estimates

In our initial July 2006 "Commuter Rail vs. BRT" article (, we indicated the typical cost for commuter rail in the range of $2 to $10 million per mile.  The recent JTA preliminary estimate now indicates a fully signalized double tracked 91.4 mile commuter rail system costing approximately $6 million per mile.  

Determining a Cost-Effective Starter Line

As the study progresses, it will make more economical sense to reduce the length of the studied corridors to develop a strong starter system.  Reducing the length, yet still serving segments that attract the highest ridership will reduce capital and annual O&M (Operations & Maintenance) costs.  A starter plan that phases double tracking will also reduce the initial costs as well.  We agree that Diesel Multiple Units are a better fit for a local system, as opposed to a push pull type of service.  However, we believe there may be significant savings found by purchasing used Budd RDCs instead of cars such as Colorado Railcars.

Implementing without raising taxes

JTA and the City of Jacksonville will need to get creative in finding a dedicated source of income to fund annual operations and maintenance costs.  It will be imperative to get a successful starter line off the ground before asking for a tax increase.  As proven in other communities with successful examples of fixed mass transit already up and running, it is easier for a region to embrace larger future investments with a working model. We would suggest that this source come from visionary use of JTA/city owned property for transit oriented development and port related uses.  For example, the S-Line would provide a direct link between FEC's Bowden Yard and the Tallyrand Port Terminal.  It could also be used for local freight service within inner city industrial areas.  Not only should it be viewed as a way to take trucks serving our expanding port off the street, profit made from local freight service could be combined with the fare box to offset O&M costs.

Get the Convention Center out of the Terminal

We need to make a decision about the future of the convention center.  If it is going to stay there, then so be it. Otherwise, we should redesign the facility to better incorporate the old terminal.  If we continue our poor planning of the transportation and convention center, we'll end up with two expensive and ineffective facilities.  This would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Re-evaluate Terminal Rail Layout

Plans include bringing Amtrak back to the downtown Jacksonville Terminal.  Amtrak is also exploring plans for increased Florida corridor service, including using FEC for a direct link between Jacksonville and Miami.  If Amtrak is successful, there is a strong possibility that their trains will be broken down here to follow routes to Miami and Orlando/Tampa.  This will require additional tracks and facilities at the Jacksonville Terminal.  Since commuter rail will use the same rail lines, it should be designed with the needs of Amtrak in mind as well.