Topeka Carey Maynard-Moody is looking forward to the day when rail travel will be so popular in Kansas she won’t need volunteers to clean the Lawrence depot.
She and other passenger train enthusiasts are supporting Senate Bill 409, which they say will promote passenger rail service as a more viable option. “The future of the Kansas economy will depend on taking full advantage of all modes of transportation. Rail, both passenger and freight, are essential, yet undeveloped resources,” Maynard-Moody said.
The bill, before the Senate Transportation Committee, would allow the Kansas Department of Transportation to develop a passenger rail program, and it provides a method for the agency to try to get federal grants. Any state funding for the program would have to be approved by the Legislature.
There has been a lot of talk recently about expanding Amtrak service from Kansas City, through Lawrence and Topeka, to Oklahoma City and then Fort Worth, Texas.
KDOT has contracted with Amtrak to perform a feasibility study of the potential for passenger rail service along that route. The study, due this month, will provide estimates for costs, ridership, revenues and any subsidies that will be needed.
Fifty-five cities, including Lawrence, have signed on to support this proposal.
“This plan is truly a vision for the future,” said Mark Corriston, vice president of the Northern Flyer Alliance Inc., a consortium pushing for daytime passenger rail service.
Currently, Amtrak has one long-distance passenger train that goes through Kansas, called the Southwest Chief. According to Amtrak, nearly 40,000 people boarded the train in 2008 at Kansas locations, including 4,500 in Lawrence.
Maynard-Moody is chairwoman of Depot Redux, a group that wants to restore the Lawrence Amtrak passenger station at Seventh and New Jersey streets.
The depot was built in 1955. Passenger trains come through after midnight and before dawn, headed westbound and eastbound, respectively. Depot Redux staffs the arrivals and departures, and has volunteer cleanup days.
Like many stations across the country, the depot is in need of major repairs, Maynard-Moody said, including a new roof, air conditioning and heating systems, and bathrooms and a platform that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Our station must not get razed by neglect,” she said. The group is working with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to take ownership of the building.
A number of organizations have also gotten aboard SB 409.
The Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired supports the bill, saying increased passenger train service would give people who cannot drive more options.
And the measure is supported by the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, which says rail travel would reduce air pollution because trains require about one-third as much energy per passenger mile as automobiles and airplanes.