Archive for Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rail route

Kansas officials need to start thinking now about how to provide the funding needed to preserve passenger rail service across the state.

April 17, 2012


At a time when travelers across the nation should be looking at options to private automobiles, Kansas is in danger of losing a big chunk of its last remaining passenger rail service.

A meeting in Garden City last week brought Amtrak officials together with local government officials from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to talk about the future of the Southwest Chief, which currently runs through Lawrence and across western Kansas. The meeting amounted to an early warning that if money isn’t found to maintain the track currently used by the Southwest Chief west of Newton, Amtrak may be forced to change its route, turning south near Newton and bypassing all of western Kansas, including stops in Hutchinson, Dodge City and Garden City.

The problem is that Amtrak operates on tracks owned and maintained by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway. The BNSF already has shifted most of its freight traffic to the southern route and maintains the Kansas tracks used by Amtrak only enough to allow freight trains to travel 30 to 40 mph. The poor condition of the 60-year-old tracks means that Amtrak also has to slow its trains way down to safely travel between Hutchinson and Garden City.

The BNSF’s contract to maintain the tracks runs through 2016. After that, Amtrak likely will be required to pick up that responsibility. Even though that deadline is nearly four years away, an Amtrak representative told those who attended the Garden City meeting that they should start thinking now about how future maintenance might be funded. He estimated it will cost about $100 million to upgrade the Kansas tracks and another $10 million per year to maintain the tracks to accommodate Amtrak trains at desired speed. Without some funding from state or local governments, Amtrak may be forced to move its route south onto BNSF-maintained tracks.

That would be too bad for Kansas. It not only would eliminate the state’s last remaining passenger rail line west of Wichita, but could endanger hopes of creating a Kansas link to Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer which runs south through Oklahoma City to Dallas. Even if the Southwest Chief maintains its route through eastern Kansas cities, it raises doubts that could affect projects such as the city’s proposed takeover of the historic Santa Fe Depot in east Lawrence.

Another Amtrak official told the Garden City meeting that Amtrak ridership has increased in nine out of the last 10 years. It would be nice if revenues grew enough that Amtrak could afford to make its own investment to maintain the Kansas tracks, but that seems unlikely. It won’t be easy for Kansas to pick up the maintenance tab, but, as Amtrak officials advised, state officials need to start now looking at funding that will preserve passenger rail service across Kansas.


Mike Ford 6 years ago

the state of kansas stole lands from Indians 150 years ago for railroads across kansas and Indian Territory. You'd think if a state went to that much trouble to steal for railroad barons they'd keep the rails going....

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

That's funny. Hadn't thought about that perspective. Good one.

puddleglum 6 years ago

yeah but y'all got all those casinos and stuff

nativeson 6 years ago

Why should the state subsidize passenger rail that is not able to support itsefl? Passenger traffic may have grown 9 out of the last 10 years, but freight hauling pays the bills. It would be great to see passenger rail become a reality as it is in Europe. But, Americans are still in love with the open road. This is a money pit that can never be filled.

gccs14r 6 years ago

Because the state subsidizes all transportation, not just rail. And if freight paid the bills, BNSF wouldn't be looking to abandon its tracks.

I don't like the idea of shared rail. I would much prefer dedicated passenger rail, because it would be easier to keep to a set schedule and the trains wouldn't tear up the tracks as much. And I sure wish we had spent the $3 trillion we wasted on Iraq on our own infrastructure.

Frightwig 6 years ago

Kansas City to Denver: United Airlines- $118 - 1.75 hours travel time. Amtrak- $267 - 23 hours travel time.

'Nuff said.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

That says more about the subsidies given to air travel than it does the true costs. And when you factor in the externalized costs of the much greater carbon footprint of flying, the real costs aren't even close.

gccs14r 6 years ago

Exactly. There was a story earlier this year about annual subsidies to Mid-Continent airport being in the $8 million range or so. And what's KDOT's budget for highway maintenance?

kancan5 6 years ago

not quite 'nuff said . . . Amtrak does not go from Kansas City To Denver; from KC you go to Lamar and points south; Omaha will you get to Denver.

orbiter 6 years ago

here, here kancan5! not quite 'nuff said in deed.

orbiter 6 years ago

come on, dude, seriously? look at the routes. or are you just trying to be disingenuous?

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

In 2010, round trip for five from Lawrence to Michigan, $700. Are you sure your fare is correct?

George Lippencott 6 years ago

dear ljw,

Where does this fit in our priorities?? Is it before support for the hungry or after historic preservation for the county? It certainly is not free!!

JayhawkFan1985 6 years ago

Maybe we should invest in our state rather than just cutting taxes as the GOP is pursuing. Rail might even complement Brownback's ecotourism in the flint hills.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

Nice thought but we could not pay for this if we did not cut taxes. Any monies we do not cut will go to the hole in K-12 and Social Services. I wonder if anything ( but a symbolic cut) will actually happen

pace 6 years ago

There is no interest or will for most right radical republicans to protect or even create an infrastructure that serves anyone but major corporations. They discount the people and resources of western Kansas, unless it is oil or gas. They will invest tax money in social law and corporate welfare. Kansas is be impoverished by their greed and short sightedness. At no point does the discussion talk about how the freight needs of the people who know b will suffer if the route is lost. The entire line is being thrown away. I am sure a committee will be formed to look into it. As they skim the profit before they desert the line and commerce.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

wow you really do hate those corporations. Does that hate extend to "green corporations"

pace 6 years ago

No I don't hate corporations. I love business, if you read that into my posts you must equate corporation with corporate welfare and political favoritism. If you don't understand that most of the damage to losing this line, which is what is going to happen for both freight and passenger will be to corporations and businesses then you should think more. The only way for this line to continue is some stimulus to encourage business and rail to happen. So your conclusion that I hate corporations is false. I do concede I don't think coorporations are persons, and like any culture If they are corrupt or cheats i do hate them. Please note the IF they are corrupt or cheats. If you don't hate corruption and fraudsters, you have a right to your view.

George Lippencott 6 years ago


Let us look more deeply at the system.

BNSF will maintain a line to western Kansas as long as it is profitable. The fact that it may be limited to 40 mph vs. 70 mph is not a driver. Passenger service will still function at the limited level it does operate at if it moves south and west rather than west through Kansas. “The times they are a changing”.

The only way I see to maintain the west Kansas route is through direct government subsidy (owning the track) or indirect government subsidy to BNSF. Kind of like us picking up the cost of the station and relieving BNSF (or who ever owns the local tracks) of those costs and paying them with tax money.

Profit drives. Is that your real problem with corporations?

pace 6 years ago

If you wish to be narrow in solution I hope you aren't in business. The fact that you can only see one path of stimulating freight and no benefit of building infrastructure does not mean anything about how I feel about business. I was clear what I felt. Your lack of solution only means how you feel and think. I don't think anyone in their right mind thinks how you think reflects my attitude. With personal remarks out of the way. Lack of maintenance on the tracks will kill that line. There should be some understanding of the value, even to the most short sighted , that transportation can effect commerce and quality of life all along that line.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

Where did you get lack of maintenance? The railroads use different standards for different track and reflect that in part with speed restrictions - or so I have been told.

And I guess your answer is , yes, spend tax money to upgrade the line to handle passenger service.

pace 6 years ago

I guess you just can't let go of making up what I really meant if I had said what you imagined. Hallucinate a lot do you? Where in my fevered anti corporate hate did I come up with the crazy part about lack of maintenance "The meeting amounted to an early warning that if money isn’t found to maintain the track " "maintains the Kansas tracks used by Amtrak only enough to allow freight trains to travel 30 to 40 mph. The poor condition of the 60-year-old tracks "

And contrary to your claim that my answer was 'upgrade the line to handle passenger service" I was more concerned with what I saw was an eventual loss of the line itself. While I like passenger service, I am more concerned with freight. My suggestions are to look at ways to encourage increased business freight along this corridor. Yes I could see the government investing in this transportation option, but not to the exclusion of alternative stimulus to increasing freight traffic. I also support rural road and highway maintenance. You can interpret that to be anti corporate, but not if you are rational. There is a lot of commerce through that corridor,
I can only assume you have severe disconnect with what you read and then comprehend. Since my words and opinions didn't jibe with your rather hate filled and silly accusation that I hated all businesses and corporation, you made up these ridiculous remarks and concluded that no matter the information provided , your feelings on the subject were justified by reality. Not so much.

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

The increasing safety risks on highways may come into play. That's why we changed to train travel.

blindrabbit 6 years ago

Would be too bad to loose the Kansas route; we used to ride the Chief and Super Chief from Lawrence to L,A. back in the 1940's! Much of the ride followed the old Santa Fe Trail route through Kansas, Colorado, over Raton Pass and into New Mexico. More recently, I've ridden the Southwest Chief, the current train, from Lawrence to Santa Fe and return and a couple round trips to L.A! Great way to travel, too bad train travel has become marginalized in the U.S..

George Lippencott 6 years ago

Truckers have way to much power to ever see this change

pace 6 years ago

Truck driver don't have that much power, Truck freight companies are using the rails a lot. It is cheaper some times to load the trailer on the rails, to be picked up by a truck for regional delivery.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

I hope you are right. I see things differently!

George Lippencott 6 years ago


Your wrote: here is no interest or will for most right radical republicans to protect or even create an infrastructure that serves anyone but major corporations. They discount the people and resources of western Kansas, unless it is oil or gas.

I raead an anti-corporate bias there. You have clarified that for me.

The article stated that the BNSF already has shifted most of its freight traffic to the southern route and maintains the Kansas tracks used by Amtrak only enough to allow freight trains to travel 30 to 40 mph. The poor condition of the 60-year-old tracks means that Amtrak also has to slow its trains way down to safely travel between Hutchinson and Garden City.

I did not view that to say BNSF was abandoning the track only not maintaining it to a standard for passenger service.

Either case am I not correct in a profit motive fo0r BNSF with the options I offered as alternatives to have the track maintained to a higher standard.

If BNSF will not maintain it at whatever standard what alternatives do you see?

pace 6 years ago

Thank you for reasonable response. I do feel BNSF will abandon the track, as they aren't making what they need to make. they will feel no responsibility for what that will do to the economies of the corridor. If that happens the losses will rebound all along the corridor. I think we need to encourage transportation options and business, be it agriculture, small manufacturing, or other. I think increased rail is a good long term plan. Railroads have sold off assets granted them , they have reduced maintenance. I do not propose the same stimulus where we grant support and do not hold them to a standard. Millions of acres for them laying track days are gone. We are losing what we have invested, We support rural road and highways, I think an investment in rebuilding the rail infrastructure with a combined strategy of support of how business and communities could be enriched by not just continued access to rail but to improved rail. Rail sure could use a boost of business along that corridor.

George Lippencott 6 years ago

You know that all these issue on here are interrelated. If we make living in rural areas more expensive as a consequence of government policy , fewer will live there and the spiral plays down.

I see little of any system approaches to all our many problems. Fixing track while raising the costs of power seems to me to be at odds???

gccs14r 5 years, 12 months ago

Maybe part of the reason that line isn't profitable for BNSF is because they can run only 40 mph on it. Why spend extra time loading freight on a railcar only to subject it to a rougher ride and a lower speed? If the tracks were in good condition such that the trains could run 70, then perhaps they'd see higher usage. And at 60 years old, the old rails have long since paid for themselves and their replacements.

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