A group of graduate students in the Kansas University School of Business has come up with some pretty encouraging figures about the economic benefit of the proposed Northern Flyer Amtrak route.
The route would go from Kansas City, through Lawrence and Wichita and down to Oklahoma City where it could link to existing rail service to Dallas/Fort Worth. The project would significantly increase Amtrak options in Lawrence, which currently is served only by the Southwest Chief which goes from Chicago, through southwestern states, and to Los Angeles.
After doing some number-crunching, Jayhawk Consulting, which is a group of KU MBA students, has estimated that the new route would generate $3.20 in economic benefit for every $1 that is invested. Overall, the study estimates Kansas would gain almost $57 million in infrastructure, operational spending and tourism dollars from the Northern Flyer.
That includes about $12 million in tourism spending. The study estimated Lawrence would draw about 7,295 visitors a year resulting in an estimated $251,830 tourism dollars. The study suggests that Amtrak should concentrate its marketing efforts for the Northern Flyer on seniors, VIP travelers and Big 12 fans. For seniors and VIPs, the train is a comfortable way to travel for people who no longer drive long distances or want to travel in style.
For Big 12 fans, the route would provide access to seven Big 12 universities — KU, Missouri, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State. The study points out, “Students, fans and alumni can use passenger rail to travel with their team on road games.”
That’s a nice idea, but providing adequate access for Big 12 fans or any other travelers along this route will take more than upgrading a rail line. Traveling across Kansas, the train would stop in Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, Strong City, Newton, Wichita, and Winfield/Arkansas City. If tourists wanted to stop in any of those towns, except maybe Topeka and Wichita, how would they get from the train station to any place they wanted to go?
Even in Lawrence, tourists would have a difficult time connecting to any other public transportation, a problem that likely exists in some of the other Big 12 cities. K-State fans would have to find their way from Topeka; OSU fans would have a 25-mile trek to Stillwater from the closest stop at Perry, Okla.
The Northern Flyer economic impact figures produced by the KU students certainly are encouraging, but proponents of this plan must realize that expanding rail service is just one piece of the transportation network that would be needed to make rail an attractive option for many travelers.
The proposed new rail route presents some intriguing possibilities for local travelers, but it will take some additional planning — and money — for cities along the route to figure out how to take full advantage of those possibilities.