Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Springfield, Missouri meeting

An astute reader posted a comment on last night’s (3/10/09) meeting in Springfield, Mo, which I have now mow moved to the front. (See, this is what could happen to you for writing something really informative.)

Springfield(MO)  MoDOT held its proposed transportation meeting tonight.  Local activist asked why the Rail Passenger Service was not included at any funding level?  Steven Reed pointed out that just two years ago the highway department put out a press release supporting it.

Reed says that over ten years thousands of people have spoke out from Springfield to Branson to St. Louis and even The mayor of Branson, Raeanne Presley recently said she has always supported the Rail Passenger Service.  “I say to people ac cross the State Rise up (St. Louis, Rolla, Lebanon, Springfield, Branson), and tell the people who always run the show that we want passenger rail service” Reed said.  The people have no say and MODOT does not have any elected position like maybe the state director

Steven Reed also asked why Springfield, St. Louis, and Kansas City were on their maps as being non economically distressed area’s which meant they received less funding from the stimulus money.  Also asked if mainly the jobs will go to the union workers and they agreed since they are all prevailing wage road projects.  MoDOT said wages are high and unemployment low and that is why Springfield in NOT considered a economically distressed area and that all jobs created would be union and pre-veiling wage.

It is sad that Reed pointed out that he was the only member of the public at the meeting and KOLR10, KSPR, and The News-Leader avoided Reed in the room after the meeting and were even told by a MODOT employee to do so.  The media does not want to talk to Reed after 20 years voluntary community projects and makes fun of him.  Jim Anderwson of the Chamber in the past said he supports the rail passenger service —but said nothing to the media about it—is he about to retire?


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Kansas falters on labor issue

Well, by gosh, I have officially heard it all Evan Stair sends this in today’s dispatches

We are receiving some initial signs in Kansas that political dogma is driving the “tainted” stimulus funding debate. Some in Kansas consider money spent on Amtrak as supporting, not Amtrak services per se, but labor unions. This is analogous to the belief that public school spending supports Kansas education unions. Talk about throwing the baby out withthe bathwater!

I don’t see how increasing transportation options for the general public is bad for either political extreme (right or left). Conveying this message is important as we lead up to the 2010 debate as to whether Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas should fund an expanded Heartland Flyer passenger train. Amtrak’s Kansas Feasibility study is due in late 2009.

In reality, passenger rail expansion can serve many diverse political leanings, just as it can serve the many diverse communities in which it stops. Business is supported through after-the-farebox revenues while environmental concerns, energy conservation, and mobility are addressed on the other side. One need only place a critic on the Flyer today to see that the myths perpetuated by passenger opponents are dead or dying. Show them the Trinity Rail Express, as the Northern Flyer Alliance did two weeks ago, and you can create a passion for such operations elsewhere.

This is something to think about when addressing criticisms of Amtrak or more generally passenger rail. Passenger rail does provide benefit; however, quantifying this benefit is difficult because transportation is a small part of the economic equation. Nobody argues that highways are a necessity as economic corridors. Nobody argues that aviation spending is excessive because it supports business. The belief that the Flyer is a simple excursion train is indeed a myth. Even if it were just for tourism the money spent at the endpoint is still green.

Evan Stair
Executive Director

My experience on Amtrak, limited as it has been in recent years, is that Republicans are well represented among riders and may be a majority in some regions. This is the principle reason David Stockman never got any traction on his mission to destroy Amtrak in the Reagan administration. Even is dead on target.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Commentary on Illinois corridor

The suburban Chicago Daily Herald takes on the proposal to upgrade the St. Louis-Chicago line. Here is a highlight.

Let’s be clear. We like high-speed rail. The nation needs a well-planned, comprehensive network of truly high-speed trains as a significant component of its transportation system. But an expensive proposal that would trim the travel time of just one stretch of rail from five and a half hours to four hours seems hardly to suggest the start of a well-planned rail network.

Durbin called it a “dramatic improvement” to achieve rail speeds of 110 mph on the Chicago-to-St. Louis line, and that may well be. But the question is whether that “dramatic improvement” really achieves anything.

Alas, we suspect that Quinn’s tongue-in-cheek (we hope) justification for the line – “It’s important Chicago Cubs fans get to St. Louis quicker” – is more indicative of the kind of passenger growth this $500 million to $700 million investment would generate. In short, not much.

The federal stimulus bill, whose premise and goals we support, has been roundly criticized for excessive, meaningless government spending. Sadly, this first major project announced by the U.S. Senate’s second-ranking member and the state’s Democratic governor doesn’t do much to dispel that notion.

Let us give these high minded editorialists the benefit of the doubt. That will take a lot because they seen to support a project that would easily consume $20 billion while opposing upgrading existing rail at a cost of $700 million.

Thinking it over, and we should take the questions raised seriously, it is worth considering that Springfield is directly between two major cities and is a state capitol. Further, it is under-served by airlines. Better rail service for Springfield, Ill. makes good sense.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has studied economic questions. Now I want to admit that, to an unsophisticated mind like mine, all economic projections look like witchcraft, but that is all we have. It is all that any business gets. It is an educated guess that trains must hit 110mph to attract significant new ridership and produce higher fares.

And one more thing, Cubs fans need a little lovin’ sometimes.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Missouri matters

TFA commented on regional transportation last week and highlighted Springfield-Branson and northwest Arkansas. Today, there is some commentary in the Kansas City Star from a well-named columnist, Bill Graham.

Now, Missouri is seeking some of the $13 billion for high-speed passenger rail service that the Obama administration is planning to dole out over the next five years. That cross-state line is likely the only place that money would be spent, and experts say high-speed rail service is many years and billions of dollars in additional spending away from becoming a reality, if it ever does.

I’m always torn between the romance of trains and the reality that where the tracks go is limited, and those tracks require costly maintenance.

The atmosphere that airplanes, helicopters and hoverships travel in requires some protections from pollution, but no costly maintenance. Surely these will continue to dominate long-range travel.

I am feeling very charitable today, so let me throw Bill a bone. Kansas City rail transport is deplorable, although there is more service than most American cities in the middle of the country. The link to St. Louis is a horrific bottleneck with a sorry history of severe lateness. The Southwest Chief,  operated by BNSF, is a bright spot.

The Union Station is enormous and I do not know how the restoration has worked out. Looking at photos of the Amtrak facility, I wonder if they can handle even two trains at once. It surely does not inspire confidence in Amtrak’s ability to handle a serious transportation load.

Bill has perceptively observed that airports and highways do not require maintenence like those rusting old rail lines. And we all know that highways do not cost anything to build.

All I want to way is, quit playing the nostalgia card. Trains operate at over 200 mph in most of the first world and America, of which Kansas City happens to be a part, is way behind. It matters because airlines add to pollution as do highways. Yes, trains pollute too, but they have the possibility of carryingng enough people to cause a net reduction. That is the European experience, anyway.

Kansas City needs a decent connection to Lincoln and Omaha, service to Memphsi through Springfield, and an improved corridor to St. Louis. All of this is attainable by non-bdget busting conventional trains operating at over 100 mph. on existing right-of-way. That’s easily doable.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Indiana attitude adjustment

Now that I have your attention, it would appear that Indiana’s attitude is just about the same as everybody else’s. There is a letter in today’s that gives us some useful material. It is from Dennis Hodges of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association.

Over the past 15 years, $15 million has been spent on the study of proposed projects in Northwest Indiana alone. Only the consulting firms are making money. Isn’t it time Indiana spends money on the companies that can supply the products needed to implement the people-moving systems and bring the state into compliance with the transportation realities of the 21st century?

The year 2016, date of the Olympic Games proposed for Chicago and Indiana’s 200th anniversary, offers Indiana that potential. The year sets the stage for serious transportation projects to be a reality. But the Hoosier State mind-set about transportation needs a major overhaul for that to happen. Indiana must document a realistic plan that brings us back into an era of transportation innovation and leadership. With the federal Stimulus and Recovery Package, there is this opportunity. With Indiana being the crossroads of America, our neighboring states are counting on this state to assume its anointed role. A set of younger citizens is looking to Indiana for this leadership. Some of us are doing our part.

At the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville on March 19 and 20, serious-minded transportation innovators will set the stage for Indiana and the Midwest to move these projects forward and to re-establish, by 2016, Indiana’s leadership and innovations in transportation. The seminar is open to anyone who wants to make a critical difference in Indiana. Call (219) 887-1351 or visit

Let’s give Indiana a break. Things are tough in the rust belt, but that should not be an excuse for a refusal to move into the 21st. century. Indiana is blessed by geography. Plenty of large cities are in good fast train distance of Indianapolis. It is an essential part of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association vision.

The problem is not really a provincial attitude, I would be willing to bet, as much as it is a legislature and transportation department held hostage by special interests. Good luck to the regular taxpayers.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

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March 2009