This is not a first. In the most recent legislative session, $100,000 was appropriated for a study of high speed rail between Texarkana and Memphis. That was the first time any Arkansas government branch ever spent a dime on rail transport. Last week’s Highway Commission story concerns a second sun of $100,000 to be sought from the FRA.
Arkansas Business reported the story, as did the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It was, however, an item in the Memphis Commercial Appeal by the Associated Press that caused a stir across the Big Muddy.
Randy Ort, Highway Department spokesman, said establishment of high-speed passenger rail service between Little Rock and Memphis would require building new tracks. Sections of rail lines that formerly connected the two cities directly, across the Delta region in east Arkansas, were removed after they were no long in use.
In the first place, Randy Ort is a professional transportation spokesman and a quality guy. What he said was seriously misunderstood. I spoke with Ort Friday morning and here is what I learned.
The Highway Department is very much aware that the Union Pacific right-of-way between Little Rock and Memphis is very much active and would be the subject of any rail passenger survey. The reporter apparently heard a discussion of the old Rock Island main line, of which 60 miles is now reverted to whatever abandoned railroads become. That, by the way, happens to include a bridge over the White River.
It is interesting to note that the difference between the two routes is less than 20 miles. The Highway Department is looking only at the UP line (which is the old Missouri Pacific). I also get the general impression that the state transportation folks understand the difference between true HSR and “high performance rail” in speeds, and construction expenses.
Anyway, everybody can go back to Defcon-1.