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Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2001

jt Commuter rail study in works for Lawrence

June 28, 2001

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A study by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) shows existing railroad lines between Topeka and Kansas City might be suitable for commuter rail service.

Plans are in the early stages. Many factors -- including funding and which lines would be used -- still are undecided. But Michael Young of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office said the proposal could be good news for Lawrence commuters.

"The comment that keeps coming up is they would love to have someone drive them to work and spend 40 minutes reading the paper or a book," he said.

MARC, which coordinates planning for eight counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area, examined 19 rail lines in eight corridors leading to Kansas City.

It determined three corridors might have enough commuters to support rail service:

  • The corridor from Topeka through Lawrence to Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.
  • A corridor along Interstate 70 in Missouri through Independence and to Odessa.
  • And a corridor south from Kansas City to Lee's Summit, Mo.

MARC project manager Darryl Fields said the study's next phase will determine public interest in riding commuter trains. Early projections indicate about 2,700 people per day would use commuter rail service along the I-70 corridor.

Any or all of the corridors could proceed with rail service, he said.

"I guess demand decides the next step," he said. "We're pretty open on the response. We really want people to be excited about it and push it. We're also open to people coming and saying, 'We don't want it.'"

He and other MARC officials will be in Lawrence for a meeting to explain the study. The meeting will be 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. July 13 at the Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second St.

After that, a focus group of residents and community leaders will be selected to give input on possible rail service.

Though details have yet to be determined, the trains likely would run three times daily between Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City, Mo.

A regional cooperative of cities and counties would need to sign on to the project and give partial funding, Fields said. Federal funds also could be secured.

The cooperative would purchase trains to be operated by a railroad company.

Two rail lines -- one owned by Union Pacific, the other by Burlington Northern Santa Fe -- run between Topeka and Kansas City. In Lawrence, the Union Pacific line passes through north of the river, and the Burlington Northern line passes south. Which rail line might be used is undetermined.

Fields said Burlington Northern traditionally has been more accepting of commuter rail service. Union Pacific runs more freight trains, so the Burlington Northern line also would have fewer conflicts.

Fields said the entire feasibility study should be complete by year's end. After that, a series of meetings between government officials in the region will be scheduled to determine the next step.

Lawrence City Manager Mike Wildgen said the plan could fit with the city's goals for public transportation, though he wasn't familiar with the details Wednesday.

"Some people would probably love to not have to drive again," he said. "It'd have to be convenient on this side -- you'd need a place to park all day and have security. It could work if it was on time, if it was convenient and if it was dependable -- and those are high standards to meet."

-- Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145.

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