Archive for Sunday, October 30, 2011

Increasing Amtrak use in Lawrence cited as good reason for city to buy depot

October 30, 2011


The number of people using Lawrence’s Amtrak depot is on the rise, according to new numbers.

But whether the prospect of the city buying the east Lawrence building is headed in the same direction is still an open question.

Members of a grassroots group who are urging city leaders to take over ownership of the Santa Fe Depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets are pointing to new numbers that show Amtrak ridership at the station soared well above the national average during the past 12 months.

“Word is getting out that Lawrence’s depot is no longer considered the ‘Stephen King station,’” said Carey Maynard-Moody, a leader of the Depot Redux group. “Now that we have caretakers for the depot, it is not a scary place.”

Ridership at the Lawrence depot increased by 26 percent during fiscal year 2011, which ended in September, according to numbers from Amtrak. The Lawrence increase was well above the 5.1 percent increase in overall Amtrak ridership nationwide. Lawrence’s numbers also outpaced the ridership gains made on the Southwest Chief, the lone Amtrak route that travels through Lawrence. The Southwest Chief posted a ridership gain of 3.7 percent.

Overall, ridership at the Lawrence station stood at 6,410. That’s up about 70 percent from the 3,700 riders who used the depot in fiscal year 2007.

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Maynard-Moody attributes the increase, in part, to better upkeep at the station and her group’s efforts to increase the visibility of the station. At the urging of Depot Redux, Amtrak has hired two caretakers for the station who open and close the depot 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after departure of the two trains that stop at the depot. The Depot Redux group uses volunteers to handle the duties on the weekends. Before the new arrangement, the unstaffed depot was left unlocked for long periods each night.

“It had kind of become the homeless hotel,” Maynard-Moody said. “You can ask any Amtrak conductor, and they would tell you that they would shoo people out of there each night.”

But questions still remain about what the long-term future holds for the depot. Burlington Northern Santa Fe continues to own the depot, and city officials are still struggling with whether to strike a deal with the railroad to take over ownership of the building.

As previously reported, Amtrak also has made an offer to the city to pay for about $130,000 worth of interior improvements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act — such as bathrooms, entrances and other renovations — if the city takes over ownership of the building.

The city, however, hasn’t yet struck a deal with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and hasn’t formally responded to the Amtrak offer that is now about four months old.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard, though, said the city is continuing to work on the project. But she said two broad issues continue to create questions: the terms that the city would assume ownership from the railway and the amount of money the city would need to spend on station improvements once it owns the building.

Originally, the city had told BNSF that it wanted a transfer to be done on a contingency basis. The city did not want to assume ownership of the building until it had a received a grant to undertake station improvements.

Stoddard said the railroad has expressed concern with that type of arrangement.

That leaves the City Commission with a decision on whether it is comfortable taking ownership of the building, given that a Lawrence architect hired by the city has identified about $400,000 worth of improvements that are needed to the roof, the heating and cooling systems and other high priority items.

But commissioners previously had expressed the most concern about the necessary ADA improvements, because those improvements likely could not be delayed by the city.

Stoddard said she is preparing a memo to present to city commissioners in November.

“We’re hoping to get some information from the commission that will allow us to communicate our position to BNSF and Amtrak,” Stoddard said.


tbaker 6 years, 5 months ago

The author doesn't explain 1) What happens if nothing is done and the station isn't bought and, 2) why it is in the interest of tax payers to foot the bill for this. If anything, a consortium of private investors should be found if keeping the station open is the collective goal of the city of Lawrence.

Name one good or service besides police, courts, and military that ANY echelon of government delivers to the customer that is better, faster, and cheaper than can be done by the private sector. Amtrak costs taxpayers $210.31 per passenger per 1,000 miles (DoT). Amtrak has operated at a loss and cost tax payer money since it's inception in 1970. Aside from the Postal Service, a more egregious example of government failure is hard to find.

awelles 6 years, 5 months ago

National parks, foster care, adoptions, health and education for the disabled and elderly, rural health services, Center for Disease control, public education, public radio and TV (Do you really enjoy those ads and the editorializing presented as "news?") And by the way, the post office was not a failure until the greedy deregulating politicians rewarded their moneyed friends and destroyed the airlines, the housing market and our financial services.

itwasthedukes 6 years, 5 months ago

What lack of regulation cause the post office failure? Airlines, housing and , financial institutions are also heavily regulated. Anti trust was (is) ignored with financial institutions and the housing market is a direct result of government interference in a market, college is the next thing they are going to destroy. (if the have't already) The free market regulates its self ie no such thing as bail outs in a free market.

chootspa 6 years, 5 months ago

Actually, the post office isn't a failure now. They were forced to pay for 75 years of pension funding in advance in a law passed in 2006. Without that law, they 'd be solvent. So it wasn't deregulation in their case but rather more regulation - regulation which the post office competitors don't face.

tbaker 6 years, 5 months ago

awelles: Given the limits of this blog, let me address just one of your mistaken points. Take federally-owned land for example. 1/3 of the land in the US is owned by the federal government. Ever wonder why 79% of Nevada is owned by the Feds. Ever wonder how well the feds are doing when it comes to managing all this land with the US Park Service, The US Forrest Service, and the BLM? See for yourself:

As you can see, the federal government loses billions of dollars every year. In 1995 alone, they lost $150B. When it comes to land management - they suck. No question about it. They clearly do not do a better job than the private sector could. Not even close. Ever heard of the Homestead Act of 1862? The feds have divested themselves of land before. The American West (288 million acres, or 13 percent of the United States), was all transferred to private owners. They should do it again.

50YearResident 6 years, 5 months ago

A more egregious example, The City of Lawrence, comes to mind.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 5 months ago

Not sure about that cost. My ticket was $310 for round-trip to New York. It could have been cheaper if I hadn't waited til the last 30 days before buying it.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

He's talking about the tax subsidies, not ticket prices.

JustNoticed 6 years, 5 months ago

You are a bane to the English language.

Steve Stucky 6 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, there you go, Amtrak. Another great government success. Hey Lawrence. Here's your sign.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

What the heck, Lawrence is rolling in dough, buy it and pave the street with gold.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 5 months ago

I think that the last enterprise I would want operating the train depot is the City of Lawrence.

In their operating scenario, it will take 6 people to man the desk, 10 people to clean the toilets (once a day), 4 people to sweep the floor, 10 people to lean on their shovels (like all the road construction projects that have been going on for the last 4 years) and no one to assist passengers with their luggage or handicap.

I would not urge any sort of operation that involves the City of Lawrence in running a train depot, it is not likely they even know what a passenger train even looks like.

Richie Kennedy 6 years, 5 months ago

Fred, I highly doubt that the city would actually operate the depot. I would presume the same arrangement would continue.

/ one of the depot volunteers

Tgill 6 years, 5 months ago

I really have my doubts that the train conductor bothered to "shoo" the homeless folks from the depot. First of all the conductor could care less and second that could be dangerous situation to place yourself in. The homeless don't always "shoo" easily.

irvan moore 6 years, 5 months ago

so we want to privatize trash pick up and replace it with a train station?

Lawrence_Pilot 6 years, 5 months ago

Wow no posts yet that read, "I don't use it, so why should I pay for it?"

Like the T and the airport, whether you use them or not, Amtrak and the depot are part of a transportation SYSTEM in our town. A modern transportation system for 100,000 people has to include ALL elements, not just cars.

Bobo Fleming 6 years, 5 months ago

I take Amtrack to Chicago several times a year. I get on the train at KC because the Lawrence Station is closed. I can remember when it was open and lots of KU students from the Chicago area used it.Right now its an eye soar

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 5 months ago

Closed? It used to be open for a couple of hours a day. At least long enough for whatever train came through.

chootspa 6 years, 5 months ago

What are you talking about? I've taken the train from Lawrence to Chicago plenty of times. You can't buy a ticket from the station, but that's why the invented the Internet.

chootspa 6 years, 5 months ago

They let you inside the building. They open it up 30 minutes prior to departure and let you stay as long as it takes for the train to arrive. Otherwise, you could just wait in your car, since the parking lot is really close to the platform.

It does lack hot coffee, a diner, and Science City. I'll give you that.

pace 6 years, 5 months ago

I always thought it would be a great place for a cafe.

gccs14r 6 years, 5 months ago

If we'd hurry up and fix the station, we might finally get the KC-Houston route opened up and there would be four trains per day. Then it'd be worth having a cafe there, at least for limited hours.

pace 6 years, 5 months ago

I think a good cafe would draw people from downtown and the neighborhood. Salads, sandwiches, soup and PIE.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 5 months ago

Heading to Chicago would not be bad, getting back to Lawrence, at least last year, includes a 2 hour layover in KC for maintenance.

mr_right_wing 6 years, 5 months ago

I checked out taking Greyhound from here to Omaha...there's a 5 hour layover in KC. You could do a round-trip in your own car in that time! Not to mention spending 5 hours in some tiny terminal in a bad part of KC!

That makes Amtrak sound delightful.

gccs14r 6 years, 5 months ago

That's assuming someone owns a car. For those who do not, for whatever reason, thank goodness there is an option.

pace 6 years, 5 months ago

Oneeye has been kicked off this forum under another name and kicked off other forums. This bum once posted that my 9 year old daughter played outside in our yard when she came home from school, and gave our address. That was a long time ago, but it made her afraid. Creepy guy, no character.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years, 5 months ago

I have said it before, if it was worth having, BNSF would not be trying to get rid of it.

50YearResident 6 years, 5 months ago

The real reason the city wants to buy the train station: Two of the commissioners never had a train set when they were kids so now if they buy the station they are going to purchase their own train. It's a life long dream. Whoo Hoo! Toot! Toot! Chugga! Chugga! Choo! Choo!

mr_right_wing 6 years, 5 months ago

Do they sell tickets at this station? Add on (at least) a $2 'user fee' to each ticket sold. I'd prefer $5, but I doubt that would go over well. As a taxpayer it's bad enough I have to pay for empty buses and a basically re-built (what hardly even passes as a) 'library’ that I'd prefer to see torn to the ground. I don't want to pay for this building as well!!

George Lippencott 6 years, 5 months ago

Anybody know how many stations out of the total on Amtrak that are owned by someone other than a railroad?

How many people used our depot out of our population. The fact that it went up some percent could easily be hiding that it went from 20 to 25.

Put it on the ballot and let the people speak

Steve Stucky 6 years, 5 months ago

Instead of a train depot, let's turn it into a used book store/government grant writing training site/coffee shop. Hey Lawrence; kill three birds with one stone.

pace 6 years, 5 months ago

Hey if it can hold a book store, coffee shop, cafe, great. It has a fairly good location. Not only should they sell tickets for train, we have needed a better greyhound bus pickup site, we could sell those tickets and improve contact for public transport. The more business the better. I all for small businesses and a working terminal.

gccs14r 6 years, 5 months ago

Yes, it would be nice if it were also an interstate bus terminal and a transfer point for the T. Having a cab or two swing by during bus and train arrivals would be good, too.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

In other choo-choo news: "SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The new business plan for California's high-speed rail system shows the nation's most ambitious state rail project could cost nearly $100 billion in inflation-adjusted funding over a 20-year construction period, far above the amount originally projected. The plan, which was shared late Monday with The Associated Press, also shows the system would be profitable even at the lowest ridership estimates and would not require public subsidies to operate. The report estimates the actual cost at $98.5 billion if the route between San Francisco and Anaheim is completed in 2033. It assumes private investment will account for roughly 20 percent of the final cost. The initial estimate to build the system when voters approved bond funding for it in 2008 was $43 billion in non-adjusted dollars." So the project has more than doubled in cost in three years & they're thinking it will be totally self-supporting? I want some of what they're smoking.

pace 6 years, 5 months ago

Snap, good for you, making a comment with a somewhat related topic. Good for you.

gccs14r 6 years, 5 months ago

$43 billion non-adjusted $100 billion inflation-adjusted.

See a difference, other than in the raw number? What do you think 20 years of inflation will do to the value of the dollar, and how much do you think the equivalent of $43 billion will be in 2033?

signoflife 6 years, 5 months ago

The problem I see with this Amtrak station is the train passes through at midnight. Add a commuter train between Topeka, Lawrence and KC in the morning and in the evening and it will have it made. Throw in some service to OKC and/or Omaha or STL and it would be profitable.

gccs14r 6 years, 5 months ago

Install dedicated rails for Amtrak, instead of making them piggyback on freight rail that's ill-suited to the task and that gives priority passage to freight, and maybe commuter runs would work.

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