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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

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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.

Comments

gccs14r 1 year, 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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George Lippencott 1 year, 12 months 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???

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George Lippencott 2 years ago

Pace

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?

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pace 2 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.

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George Lippencott 2 years ago

Truckers have way to much power to ever see this change

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blindrabbit 2 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..

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none2 2 years ago

One of my concerns is that they may forget western Kansas yet fund improvements for the rail lines between Oklahoma City and Newton. Then if the rail lines are good between OK City and Amarillo, they theoretically could migrate the Southwest Chief from Newton to Wichita to OK City to Amarillo. There would be no need for a Northern Flyer then as they could simply get off in OK City and wait for the next Heartland Flyer train down to DFW. The only thing left out of the Northern Flyer desires would be a link from OKC to Tulsa.

If the Southwest Chief added Wichita, OKC, and Amarillo stops, it may be too time consuming for the added itenary. However, if they did go this way, it would kill any hope for rail in western Kansas, southeastern Colorado, and northeastern New Mexico. The existing route is more scenic, but there isn't a lot of population. compared to Wichita, OKC, and Amarillo. They might stand a better chance of saving the western Kansas route if there was some way to have transportation from the La Juanta, Colorado stop to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Denver. Currently Pueblo & Colorado Springs are not served by Amtrak at all. While Denver is served, to get their from Kansas City, you have to go to Omaha to catch the California Zephyr. Such a route from La Juanta to Denver would connect the Southwest Chief to the California Zephyr.

Again, these are all nice dreams, but the reality is we cannot afford any of this. If money were no object, then sure build it all. People voted with their money decades ago to prefer driving over rail transportation. One can drive from point a to point b and stop where ever and whenever. The only way to get people to take rail would be to make petroleum unaffordable -- and I don't mean just $4.00 gasoline. By the time petroleum was high enough to make people consider rail, our economy would collapse and we probably couldn't even afford the cheap stuff to be shipped over here from China.

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pace 2 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.

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JayhawkFan1985 2 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.

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George Lippencott 2 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!!

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Carol Bowen 2 years ago

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

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Frightwig 2 years ago

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

'Nuff said.

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MacHeath 2 years ago

Like I said before: Freight! Forget passenger rail except in heavy populated urban areas. Get some of the big trucks off the road, and maybe we can actually enjoy driving again. We would also have the added advantage of not having as many heavy trucks pound the heck out of the interstate roads. I don't think most folks even think about how much money that costs.

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nativeson 2 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.

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Mike Ford 2 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....

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