Proposal for East St. Louis Amtrak Station a Redundant Make-Work Project

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ESTL Amtrak Station Location{Red = Proposed East St. Louis Station Location. Green = Amtrak route, Blue = MetroLink route}

The Belleville News Democrat (note the picture is of an Acela engine which won’t be running here) reports that St. Clair County is considering chipping in $500,000 for an Amtrak station in East St. Louis. There is no estimate of the total cost of a new station. For reference the new station in Alton could cost up to $20M. The East St. Louis station would be a wasteful make-work project.

“We are the only county with MetroLink (in Illinois) so that will allow … all the communities in St. Clair County to be attached to high speed rail,” said (St. Claire County Board Chairman) Mark Kern. You already are connected!

The proposed station’s site at Riverpark Dr. isn’t close enough to either the East Riverfront MetroLink station (3,000ft) nor the 5th and Missouri station (2,100ft) to serve a practical connection. Whereas the downtown City of St. Louis Amtrak station is adjacent to the Civic Center MetroLink station. East side patrons already have easy MetroLink access to Amtrak.

“If you have to travel to St. Louis, you will be leaving your home to cross the bridge to get on a train that will then backtrack just where you were. Then when you are coming back, the train will pass your home on its way to St. Louis.” – Mark Kern. Not really, the Amtrak route through St. Clair County is less than 4 miles long. It’s only a couple miles further for a driver to get to the St. Louis station, made all that easier with the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

A better place for an additional station on the STL-CHI route, which I wager would have much more bang for the buck, would be at I-270. With easy access from the highway and a big parking lot, it would attract riders from both north St. Louis County and Madison County.

Better still would be using this money to push forward STL-Indy service with a stop in Collinsville or STL-MEM service with a stop in Belleville. Or clearing up another bottleneck on the route.

STL from Train

{Flickr user – chi_cowboy}

St. Clair County already has an Amtrak station; it’s in downtown St. Louis made easily accessible by MetroLink and the numerous toll-free bridges. When there are greater needs elsewhere (including those beyond transportation) with greater payoffs, this would become yet another example of misplaced infrastructure spending.

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  • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie Markwort

    Courtesy of Mark Kern, the same person who brought us the controversy regarding the Poplar Street Bridge ramp modifications back in 2012.

  • John R

    I could see some merit in investing in a viable multi-modal station that includes a new Metrolink station; the idea of being able to hop on the Metrolink in Belleville and then transferring to Amtrak in ESL is pretty cool and likely would save residents a half hour or so… a nice reward for the residents of a county that supports light rail.

    Of course this discussion would all be moot if the Merchants is chosen as the crossing.

    • rgbose

      Yes, one silver lining is that it would keep traffic on the MacArthur. The view pictured is from the approach to the MacArthur. At the same time it leaves out the Merchants as a backup if there is congestion to the MacArthur, which they can take advantage of now. If Lincoln Service goes to eight a day, they’d ask for four to stop in Alton and four to stop in ESTL so it shouldn’t add any time to the schedule

  • STLEnginerd

    Who pays for the line? If I was IL I probably wouldn’t want it to cross the river at all. The economic benefit comes to the final destination. Why would I invest so much to have Missouri claim much of the benefit? Are there a lot of transfers to the River Runner? Does the bridge require significant upgrades to accommodate HSR.

    ESTL could easily turn your words around and say ‘Why does it matter where the line ends’ you can just get there on metro or by driving across the new bridge IL mostly paid for’.

    Of course to make ESTL the terminus would require moving the proposed station closer to a metro link station and probably enclosing the whole thing under one roof.

    I realize there is a fancy new amtrack station in downtown, but I could definitely see their point. Besides, who is hurting more for a boost STL or ESTL.

    • rgbose

      Illinois is paying for 20% for construction and the Feds the rest, IL is paying for all the operating subsidies ex Texas Eagle. St. Louis County is paying a lot for Metrolink, does that mean the Westport line is preferred over N-S line? I’m saying their money would be better spent elsewhere. If people don’t want to cross the river, why did we spend $700M for a new bridge? No matter what all the trains will go to downtown St. Louis. There are transfers to the River Runner; I don’t know how many. In fact the actual trainset continues on as the River Runner for one of the runs. Metrlolink won’t be close to the ESTL Amtrak station unless lots more money is spent; again money better spent elsewhere. The proposed ESTL station site is across the highway from downtown ESTL. It won’t achieve any place making for ESTL.

      • STLEnginerd

        OK The station site is poor especially if there is no coordinated development around it. That is a given. If there was significant investment paired with the proposal it could be a different story. And obviously 0.5M is a drop in the bucket in terms of what would be needed to make it worth it. But still…

        The bridge argument doesn’t really hold up to me. You can drive both ways on a bridge. If they had decided to build the Gateway Transit Center in ESTL in the first place instead of at the current location it would function about as well as the current location.

        The N-S line comparison isn’t exactly the same situation. A fully built N-S line does add service to North and South counties so they definitely get something from it, and those are the largest undeserved, and transit dependent communities in the county so it’d be logical to serve them before us Olivetters. I think the County could legitimately argue for complete build out of North, or South before starting the other direction, as an issue of fairness.

        My point was there are legitimate reasons for their proposal, it’s not just a vanity make-work project. They aren’t truly wanting a HSR connection just because they are worried about crossing
        the river. They want to be a credible part of the region rather than the whipping boy.

        They apparently have 0.5M dollars to spend. Where should spend their money, if not HSR connection, to get more bang for their buck? Riverfront Park with massive Geyser didn’t get them there. Metrolink hasn’t gotten them very far. Casino, nope. New bridge probably not.

        • John R

          Just want to point out that this would be an investment from Saint Clair County, which while it has trouble spots like any other county it is far from a regional whipping boy. Essentially the way I look at it is that with 250,000+ citizens connected to Metrolink, its leadership should pursue whether a station is viable when it could easily shave 30 minutes to an hour in travel time to Chicago for residents.

        • rgbose

          Beyond the things I suggested already (I realize an I-270 station wouldn’t be in St. Clair County), how about encouraging some TOD around the East Riverfront or 5th and Missouri Station? They could add some bus service. Also it’s not just $500k from the county; it’ll be many millions more form the state and Feds to build this station. And beyond transportation there’s trying to do more to end the lawlessness in ESTL and nearby communities.

  • kuan

    That is a bizarre location proposition. Given its location, it might not (likely not at all) be attractive to the very riders that the Amtrak would likely be targeting (suburban commuters), given its proximity to the core of East St. Louis. Also, if someone has $20 million lying around, the Amtrak station in St. Louis is a hot mess.