Missouri High Speed Rail: Mission Impossible? | Part III

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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  • Patrick Richmond

    The train is the most awesome way to travel. You see things like trees and are up close to nature. I am not sure who hates nature, but I love it.

  • Larry Guinn

    In my opinion:

    The fact remains there are riders to use efficient train service between STL & KC. A 2-hour trip from downtown to downtown is faster than flying (comparing door to door. The KC airport alone is a 45 minute commute from midtown KC)

    I travel from STL to Chicago by Southwest Air and by car, and flying is shorter because of a few traffic slowdowns, otherwise it’s about the same from door to door. Amtrak is only an hour longer at current, pre-upgrade speeds. Speaking from personal experience, distances shorter than 300 miles are often better served by train than flying.

    The population is getting increasing.

    Not everyone can afford to maintain vehicles for those long drives.

    Safety is a concern for every mode of travel.

    All modes of travel have an impact on the environment.

    The cheapest choice would be to upgrade the rails and bridges of the existing routes for faster passenger service, but not super-fast.
    Integrating a new line with the I-70 upgrade is a good idea, but the rails would be better beside the highway than in the median, just for equipment and maintenance room, and still share the ROW.

    • Patrick Richmond

      I like traveling on the train and since I can’t drive, I have to use public transit. I also like doing what ever it takes to clean the air. Dirty air can be dangerous. Now I am blocking Mike Raines for trolling Amtrak.

  • Mike Raines

    4 dead 63 injured riding Amtrak 12/2/2013.
    How many people must die and suffer and how much more taxpayer money are you planning on wasting before you get it through your heads that Transrapid is the best High Speed train for America?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Hi Mike – more than 700 people will die on Missouri roads this year in traffic accidents and thousands more will be injured – just in Missouri. Perhaps we stop spending on roads?

      • Patrick Richmond

        Alex, I tried to block him and it sounded like if he was trolling. But then the system wouldn’t let me block him.

    • Ted Kratschmer

      The incident you mentioned did not involve an Amtrak train, it was a Metro-North commuter train. Also happened on Dec. 1.
      Better check your information.

    • Nathan Bookhout

      So the death of four people necessitates rebuilding the entirety of rail infrastructure. That doesn’t register as taxpayer waste. Rail is still safer than auto and upgrading the current system is cheaper than transrapid, so what exactly is your argument.

    • Daniel Larabee

      Yeah and just how many traffic accidents have caused deaths compared to those 4??

    • Patrick Richmond

      Mike, if you come to my Facebook page,I will block you. Do you like nature or do you hate it? Stop your stupid trolling!

  • Guest

    Do your research; Transrapid is the High Speed train of the future.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCAz-kw6WN0

    Any high speed should have a stop in between Columbia and Jefferson Mo and keep it away from the river and known flood zones.

    Missouri cant forget about Springfield and Branson Mo

  • steve adams

    Transrapid – The Future of Ground Transportation –
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    Keep this in mind when planning your Streetcar and High Speed Train.

    A high speed train should have a stop in between Columbia and Jefferson Mo and keep it away from the river and known flood zones.

    Missouri cant forget about Springfield and Branson Mo

    Double rail Transrapid has a shelf life of 80 years

    Transrapid Maglev Trains can also carry freight

    Maglev train cars are less expensive to build and are relatively quiet in comparison to conventional trains.

    The maglev tracks take up a lot less land, because they are elevated. This also reduces the amount of collisions and accidents. No traffic!

    Maglev trains use far less energy than other types of transportation.

    Maglev trains do not pollute (since instead of using fossil fuels, magnetic fields are used to levitate and propel the trains forward).

    Maglev trains are much faster, because they float over the track eliminating rolling resistance and potentially improving the power efficiency.

    Maglev trains require Less maintenance (no wear because they float over the track).

    Unlike streetcars; Monorails are not affected by weather, dont get delayed by rush hour traffic, or stuck at accident scenes or create lawsuits.

    Double rails Monorails can remove over 50,000 vehicles from highways everyday.

  • Guest

    Transrapid – The Future of Ground Transportation –
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCAz-kw6WN0

    Save the major highways and interstates
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wU_Ib5VRDk

    Keep this in mind when planning your Streetcar and High Speed Train.

    Double rail Transrapid has a shelf life of 80 years

    Transrapid Maglev Trains can also carry freight

    Maglev train cars are less expensive to build and are relatively quiet in comparison to conventional trains.

    The maglev tracks take up a lot less land, because they are elevated. This also reduces the amount of collisions and accidents. No traffic!

    Maglev trains use far less energy than other types of transportation.

    Maglev trains do not pollute (since instead of using fossil fuels, magnetic fields are used to levitate and propel the trains forward).

    Maglev trains are much faster, because they float over the track eliminating rolling resistance and potentially improving the power efficiency.

    Maglev trains require Less maintenance (no wear because they float over the track).

    Unlike streetcars; Monorails are not affected by weather, dont get delayed by rush hour traffic, or stuck at accident scenes or create lawsuits.

    Double rails Monorails can remove over 50,000 vehicles from highways everyday.

  • Andrew
  • Eric

    “First class would offer breakfast service in the morning and dinner
    service in the evening. There would be a café in every train.”

    This wouldn’t actually happen. A kitchen is one of the biggest expenses on Amtrak trains and a primary reason why certain routes lose money. If the trip is short enough that customers will tolerate not being served a meal, then meals are a gigantic unnecessary expense and no sane railroad operator would offer them.

  • John R

    Frank, something that comes to mind is that when MODOT completed its first Final EIS on the I-70 expansion, it’s preffered alternative (approved by FHWA) was to have a very generous, landscaped median between three lanes in either direction. This median would be reserved for a “future corridor” depending upon needs that could range from more highway lanes, utility corridor or high-speed rail. Shortly after approval, however, MODOT went ahead with a Supplemental FEIS that proceeded with the 8-lane TOL vision. Now that MODOT has recently backed off that vision and is proposing a more modest six lane facility, perhaps there is an opening to re-examine the HSR possibility.

    • Between KC and Columbia, yes, the right-of-way would be nice to have. Won’t do that much good for Columbia-STL.

      New TGV lines today are built with 7km preferred curve radii. There’s no way that will fit into the great majority of the I-70 and NS right-of-ways between STL and Columbia. Also, given the large amount of urban infrastructure this alignment would have to pierce, I think $60-$100 million per mile is a much more realistic cost estimate.

      • John R

        I have no expertise whatsoever on HSR design requirements, but I just wanted to point out that the “center median” called for in the initial FEIS was the same between roughly Warrenton and Blue Springs with the exception of the Columbia area itself. I’d have to go back to the docs and see how wide it was. Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see HSR as a possibility in the documents, especially when this was before the Obama Administration.

      • FrankDeGraaf

        1. The average cost of $35 million per mile takes that fact into consideration. When you stay “inside” / along I-70, long segments could be built for as little as $10 million per mile.

        2. For this article I calculated the average speeds between Blue Springs and downtown KC at 50 MPH and between Wentzville and downtown St. Louis at 80 MPH.

        • For an argument down the middle, MidwestHSR published a study that estimated STL-CHI HSR to cost $15.9 billion, or about $51 million per mile. As for speeds, my estimates were definitely more conservative than your in the urban areas, e.g. 40mph average between the airport and downtown.

          • FrankDeGraaf

            That is for a 220 MPH system on a dedicated track, downtown to downtown. My calculations are based on a TGV-based 190 MPH system on a 191-mile rural dedicated HSR track.

            Speeds from downtown STL to Lambert airport were calculated at 50 MPH and 110 MPH from airport to Wentzville. From Blue Springs to downtown KC the speed was set at 50 MPH.

            A cost of $35 million per mile was used for the entire track, even the 57-mile of urban sections that would not be true HSR.

      • Thomas King

        You have to remember that TGV Lines regularly run trains at a 200 mph average for their longer trips. In this situation the trains will most likely run 150 mph.

        Also the cost may actually increase considering that there are no domestic high speed rail manufacturers. Because of this I see it very unlikely that the STL-KC could reach the average E.U. speeds that we would all like to have.

  • It’d be nice to have a HSR station at Lambert, but that requires a routing roughly following I-70 and the Norfolk Southern RR. Given narrow and curvy the right-of-ways, cities from here out to Warrenton abutting the highway, and a very active freight railroad, I just don’t see how this route would be feasible. You might as well build a new “greenfield” route the entire way past Columbia. Still think following the existing Amtrak route via UPRR and Jeff City is the most feasible alignment.

    • pat

      OK, but how does that affect speeds?

      • Guessing this alignment would take a 1h30m to traverse between Columbia and St Louis.

  • Andy

    I’d vote for this. It’s interesting since it’s been a topic of conversation for so long yet we (in the US) are doing little about making such improvements. Even the services we currently operate, namely the airports, are a joke in global terms. It’s certainly time to create meaningful ways to improve infrastructure while considering the future in scalable transit solutions.

  • Danny

    Is this being discussed by anyone in the Legislature at all? Is there anyone trying to make this case in front of lawmakers?

  • T-Leb

    You list the environmental benefits, but not the negatives. New tracks not following existing railways would have substantial environmental impact. There are countless streams, creeks and fens to cross other than the Missouri River from StL to KC. A whole lot of habitat and farmland would be sacrificed. It might be what is needed going into the future, but to be fair, there are negative consequences as well.

    A story I read this morning about Bluegrass Pipeline opposition in KY reminded me of what I think could be expected in Missouri. http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20130807/NEWS01/308070125/Bluegrass-Pipeline-opposition-increases-in-Kentucky?odyssey=underbox%7Ctext%7CHome&nclick_check=1

    • FrankDeGraaf

      You’re absolutely right that there will be a negative environmental impact. But only if you compare building HSR with doing nothing. You should consider what is the alternative: building new highways. A six-lane highway has a width of 110 ft. A two-track HSR line is 55 ft. wide and has 13% more capacity.

    • Thomas King

      I have traveled on many high speed trains in the E.U. Most of the trains travel through farmlands and ranches and have minimal impact on the surrounding area. It does not take up that much room on a 2 track line. In Spain, Renfe builds bridges to get from one side of the tracks to the other to help farmers get from one side to the other. They also build and improve irrigation systems near their tracks to help give back to the farmers and surrounding property owners. Now if this could happen in Missouri, it would be highly beneficial. But it is Missouri so time will tell.

      If the line is built near I-70, then the impact will be less drastic as it could be built in close proximity to the highway.

    • samizdat

      Natural gas pipeline/railroad corridor=apples/oranges.

      I am sure that the residents of these communities through which the natural gas pipeline will pass are more concerned about pipeline maintenance, the possibility of catastrophic failure (just read about the ‘dil-bit’ tar sands goo, and the hell it will wreak on the pipelines which carry this corrosive muck). Then of course there are the liability issues. As we saw in the BP crime against nature in the Gulf, ownership of the rig, the well, and sundry equipment has complicated the (weak) efforts to seek compensation for the damage done by the incompetent and criminally negligent way in which the operation was run. Who will be liable if there is a breach brought about by improper installation? Corrosion? A whole host of issues are present in the installation of this pipeline, not the least of which is the toxic brew of ‘proprietary’ (“yeah, those chemicals are really bad, so we don’t want to tell you what kinds of compounds we used, so shut up”) chemical compounds used in the fracking process. By the way, that is most likely the reason the pipeline is being built: to export LNG. Which is also why there is a great effort to build massive port facilities to handle the transfer of LNG for tanker export.

      Which is also the true reason for the heinous Keystone XL pipeline: to export the oil.

      A derailed train is not going to level an entire town in a massive explosion.

      • T-Leb

        You got to move a lot of dirt with heavy equipment to build a railroad. The route could cross critical habitat and actually have to tunnel or take another route. Pipeline construction is similar wrt the use of eminent domain, wetlands mitigation, having to deal with many landowners.

        A lot of people think of environmental impact as what the conditions are after construction. The enviro impact is everything disturbed during construction as well. I was reading about high speed rail in Israel and they are having to make multiple tunnels to protect the Judean Hills. http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/gorge-damaged-by-construction-of-high-speed-rail-to-jerusalem-israeli-environmentalists-say-1.423653

        • Eric

          This part of Missouri is completely flat farmland. There is no environmental impact.