Missouri High Speed Rail: Mission Impossible? | Part III

In part one of this three-part series we looked at the state’s infrastructure and decided to build a high speed rail line between Kansas City and St. Louis. In part two, we looked at operating the line and concluded that high speed rail could effectively compete with airlines. Now let’s finish our HSR adventure.

The next question about HSR in Missouri:

How many temporary and permanent jobs would an HSR line create?

{HSR construction, operation and maintenance would create temporary and permanent jobs}

Based on actual numbers in Europe, estimated numbers from the California high-speed rail project, and projected numbers for next generation Acela service, construction of a Missouri line would create at least 20,000 full-time construction jobs annually over the ten-year construction term of the dedicated high speed track.

Once service commences, the new HSR line would initially support 700-1,000 permanent operational- and maintenance jobs.

This brings us to the last and perhaps most important question:

What are the economic, environmental and safety advantages for the State of Missouri?

A new HSR line between Kansas City and St. Louis would significantly cut travel times between Missouri’s economic hubs, increasing connectivity and productivity. Other public transportation – such as St. Louis’ MetroLink and the future Kansas City Streetcar – would experience an increase in ridership, carrying HSR passengers to and from the downtown stations. Tourist destinations such as KC’s Power & Light District and STL’s Ballpark Village would see an influx of visitors who now have fast and easy access to either downtown.

Crossing Missouri would become convenient, reliable, and comfortable: HSR trains would be outfitted with comfortable seats, desks, and wifi – so work can be done while underway. First class would offer breakfast service in the morning and dinner service in the evening. There would be a café in every train.

{Concept Lambert Airport HSR Station, consolidated Rental Car-, and Park + Ride facilities}

When passenger numbers increase and more HSR comes on line – such as a Chicago –St. Louis track – capacity could be doubled to 800 passengers per train and the number of trains increased to up to 15 trains per hour. Theoretically, capacity could be increased 60 times without having to invest in new infrastructure. [Compare this to a highway.]

This ample sufficiency allows for a number of trains to make a stop in Columbia, from where either downtown KC or STL could be reached in about an hour or Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in 45 minutes.

{Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport HSR station and park + ride facilities}

In a later phase, HSR stations, park + ride-, and rental car facilities could be built in the Wentzville/St. Peters and Blue Springs/Independence areas, from which local commuters could reach their downtown office in ~30 minutes, thereby avoiding – and alleviating – the busy urban sections of I-70.

Speeds could be increased on the segments Blue Springs-downtown KC and Wentzville-downtown St. Louis, which would cut total travel time to about one hour and 45 minutes between the two downtowns.

The city of Columbia would benefit greatly from being only an hour (commute) away from either downtown Kansas City or St. Louis. The downtowns of Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis, as well as the Blue Springs/Independence and Wentzville/St. Peters areas would see an increase in residents who want to live nearby an HSR station.

In Kansas City, an extension to the airport could be built, and additional fast freight trains – each capable of carrying 6 semi-truck loads – could be operated on the high speed track.

Kansas City and St. Louis could now be positioned – nationwide and globally – as a high speed corridor with a population of 5 million people; connected downtown to downtown in less than two hours; suburb to suburb in one hour. Call it Missouri’s Metro Corridor.

[To compare: driving from the North San Fernando Valley to San Bernardino in the Los Angeles metro area can easily take two hours during rush hour. Dallas to Fort Worth is close to an hour-drive most of the day and the same goes for Miami to Fort Lauderdale.]

The environmental benefits are clear: an electric high-speed train uses less energy per passenger per mile than an airplane or a car and therefore has a lower carbon footprint. It produces no (direct) harmful emissions and it would immediately take 1,400 daily cars off the road, which would help improve Missouri’s air quality and alleviate traffic on I-70.

Traveling on a high speed train is about ten times safer than driving a car – comparable to the safety level of air travel. By taking cars off the road, the number of accidents on our highways would decrease.


Building a high speed rail line is an expensive undertaking, just as is building and maintaining our highway system, our nation’s air traffic control, air navigational aids, and airport infrastructure. Private and public transport – whether it is flying on a commercial airliner, driving a car or a truck, or riding a train or a metro – would not be (as) commercially viable without the federal, state, and/or local government’s upfront and often ongoing investment and subsidies.

To give some perspective: If the US would decide to build a 12,800-mile nationwide HSR network, at a cost of $35 million per mile the total cost would be $446 billion. If 30-year bonds were issued at 5% interest, the (nominal, fixed) yearly interest + principal would be 28.7 billion, which is less than 4.5 % of the annual defense budget. [Basically: if we could find a way to run our military 4.5% more efficiently we could use the savings to fund HSR nationwide.]

The conclusion should be that high speed rail can be operated at the break-even point – even at a profit – in the State of Missouri, but only if federal, state and/or local governments would assume the cost of building the infrastructure.

The real benefits of HSR lie in the reliability, efficacy, and capacity of a fast connection between Missouri’s two commercial centers, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Future HSR entrants like Denver would want to connect to existing high speed lines – in this case in Kansas City. A Chicago-Dallas line would almost certainly be planned through St. Louis if an East-West HSR line was already in place.

Missouri could choose to be first in a future HSR network, or it can watch from the sidelines what others are accomplishing.

Building the first true high speed rail line in the nation might be the most important message Missouri could send: Kansas City, St. Louis, and the State of Missouri are now teamed up and ready to compete in a national and global economy.

This would put Missouri on the global map, instantly.

It would be a much more powerful, productive, and forward-thinking message than lowering corporate taxes in an attempt to compete with Kansas or Arkansas. That is a race to the bottom. Let’s choose for a race to the top.

And remember: the cost of doing nothing is not zero.