In a political context, critical mass can often be difficult to measure. I'm increasingly confident, however, that we're approaching substantial support for high-speed long-distance passenger trains as a vital cog in both our regional and national systems of transportation.
A recent financial impact study conducted by the University of Kansas School of Business has demonstrated that increased travel, tourism and employment along a passenger-rail route will return a regional economic benefit of $3.20 for every $1 invested. Oklahoma's experience is also reassuring. Towns along the route averaged $4 million in expanded economic activity the first year after the train's arrival.
For all its rigor, the KU study did not address such benefits as reduced costs of maintenance on roads and highways. These arguments will weigh heavily in persuading the Kansas Legislature to approve subsidies for operational costs two or three years down the road. All of the startup capital costs — locomotives, passenger coaches and necessary improvements to the track — would be federally funded.
Railroads can move more people and more goods, using less energy, than other modes of transportation. According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy, Amtrak is almost 20 percent more efficient on a per-passenger-mile basis than domestic airline travel, and 28 percent more efficient than auto travel.
The arguments in favor of renewed passenger-rail service for Kansas have now reached critical mass. All aboard now for this important new initiative for our individual and collective economic well-being.
Former lieutenant governor
Keep train on same schedule
Bring the Heartland Flyer to Wichita and I'll patronize it. But it needs to match the current early morning train schedule.
If the train from Fort Worth arrives in Newton at about 2 a.m., passengers can board a fast Southwest Chief going to Chicago or Los Angeles between 3 and 3:30 a.m. Or going the other direction, passengers can detrain from a Southwest Chief and board the waiting Heartland Flyer to Wichita, Arkansas City and eventually Fort Worth.
At Fort Worth, passengers can enjoy a convenient afternoon connection on Texas Eagle to Dallas, Little Rock, etc. Or they could go on the other Eagle train to Austin and San Antonio.
But if the train schedule in Wichita and Newton was changed to the afternoon, as has been proposed, there would be no convenient connection anywhere.
For example, a train departing Wichita at about 5:30 p.m. would arrive in Kansas City at 10 p.m. If you wanted to go on to St. Louis, you would have to wait until early the next morning. Similarly, a train leaving Wichita at about 12:30 p.m. would arrive in Fort Worth at 10 p.m., but a connecting train to San Antonio wouldn't leave until 2:40 p.m. the next day — nearly 17 hours later.
Changing the train schedule also would cost Kansas more for crew pay and the use of the train tracks.
JAMES A. McCLELLAN