The Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Cost Database Analysis Study
The Capital Costs database created and regularly updated by the FTA, documents the as-built costs for 54 federally funded projects in the following modes: bus rapid transit, commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail and trolley. It is openly accessible at https://www.transit.dot.gov/capital-cost-database.
The database is intended for performing historical cost analysis and developing order-of-magnitude cost estimates for conceptual transit projects. Project costs are tracked in FTA’s Standard Cost Categories and the project costs have been validated.
The purpose of the Capital Cost Database is not to prepare a detailed cost estimate. Instead, the database should be used for preparing conceptual, ballpark estimates for conceptual projects or for better understanding the unique characteristics of a cost estimate by comparing the costs to historical experiences. The Capital Cost Database is updated on a recurring basis.
The purpose of this study is to analyze the data to reveal trends, derive insight and lessons for the transit industry, while providing recommendations to improve the data collected in the database.
Our study consists of three parts: Background, Trends, Insight and Recommendations.
Table 1 summarizes the descriptive and cost data for the 54 projects in the database. All the cost data in the table and the charts in this analysis have been normalized for inflation based on 2021 dollars.
- There are 18 heavy rail, 27 light rail, 3 commuter rail, 5 bus rapid transit and 1 street trolley lines in the database.
- The oldest line in the database is Chicago’s O’Hare Blue Line extension, with a mid point of construction in 1981 and the most recent one is Sacramento’s South Corridor Light Rail Extension that opened to service in 2015.
- The total length of the lines is 546 miles.
Costs per Mile
The scatter plot charts show the Cost per Mile data of all the projects in the database. The first charts shows tunnel percentage of lines by color, and the second shows the project states. The sizes of the circles indicate mode.
The project with the highest total costs per mile, at $760 million, is the Brown Line Ravenswood built by Chicago CTA. The scope consist mainly of the 18 stations and 0.3 miles of elevated heavy rail guideway. The midyear of construction is 2004.
The project with the lowest costs per mile, at $10 million, is Portland’s Willsonville to Beaverton Commuter Line. 15 miles in length and with 5 stations, 97% of the line is at grade. The midyear of construction is 2007.
Tunneled vs. Elevated
In the two charts below, we see the tunneled and elevated percentage of the length for each project. The highest cost/mile project Chicago’s Brown Line Extension’s scope consists mainly of the 18 station’s construction work and the 0.3 mile long viaduct construction, hence the percentage of elevated guideway is 100%. The second highest cost/mile project which is Minneapolis’s Northstar Commuter Line has 5 at grade and 1 aerial stations, 26-vehicle capacity light maintenance facilities and 0.4 miles of aerial guideway.
The projects with more tunnels are on the higher cost/mile range of the spectrum while mostly elevated lines are more evenly distributed. Sacramento’s South Corridor Light Rail Extension has below median costs/mile, while 100% of the line is elevated.
Geographical Distribution of Investment
The projects in the database are located in 22 US states. California is the state with the most miles of projects funded (126.5 miles) and highest amount of dollars ($17.6 B) invested.
Project Cost Breakdowns for Each Transit Project Mode
Hover over bars for more information.
Cost Categories for Each Mode
The below chart excludes the outlier Chicago Ravenswood project (station category costs/mile = $1.3B)
Bus Rapid Transit
The below chart excludes the outlier South Boston Piers – Busway Project (MBTA) (Guideway costs/mile = $320 million).
There is only one street trolley project so we don’t have a chart for it.
Cost Categories for Each Mode
Right of Way
Right of Way excluding outlier Chicago CTA – Brown Line Ravenswood (ROW costs/mile = $228 million).
Systems excluding outlier Chicago CTA – Brown Line Ravenswood (Systems costs/mile = $254 million).
Right of Way
Stations excluding outlier Pittsburgh – North Shore LRT Connector (Costs per Station = $512 million).
California projects with midyears of construction:
Sacramento – Stage I – 1985
Los Angeles – Long Beach Blue Line – 1987
Santa Clara VTA – North Corridor – 1987
Los Angeles – Red Line Segment 1 – 1988
Los Angeles – Red Line Segment 2A and 2B – 1994
Los Angeles – Red Line Segment 3 – 1998
Santa Clara VTA – Tasman West – 1999
Sacramento – South Corridor – 2002
Sacramento – Folsom Corridor – 2002
San Diego – Mission Valley East – 2003
San Francisco BART – SFO Extension – 2003
Los Angeles – East Side Extension – 2009
South Corridor Light Rail Extension Phase 2 – 2013
Los Angeles projects with midyears of construction:
Long Beach Blue Line – 1987
Red Line Segment 1 – 1988
Red Line Segment 2A and 2B – 1994
Red Line Segment 3′ – 1998
East Side Extension – 2009
Chicago Projects with midyears of construction:
Chicago CTA – Blue Line Douglas – 1981
Chicago CTA – Southwest Orange Line -1990
Chicago CTA – O’Hare Blue Line Extension – 2002
Chicago CTA – Brown Line Ravenswood – 2004
Pennsylvania Projects with midyears of construction
Pittsburgh – Light Rail Stage I – 1984
Philadelphia SEPTA – Frankford Rehabilitation – 1998
Pittsburgh – Light Rail Stage II – 2003
Pittsburgh – Airport Busway – 2008
Pittsburgh – North Shore LRT Connector – 2011
Portland Projects with midyears of construction:
MAX Segment I – 1984
Westside/Hillsboro MAX – 1996
Interstate MAX -2002
South Corridor/Portland Mall – 2006
Wilsonville to Beaverton – 2007
UTAH Projects with midyears of construction:
North South Corridor – 1998
Weber Co. Commuter Rail – 2008
Mid Jordan LRT – 2011
Draper Light Rail Line – 2012
Washington DC Projects and midyears of construction:
Glenmont Outer (B) -1996
Greenbelt Mid (E) -1996
Anacostia Outer (F) – 1998