Seven years ago I outlined a passenger rail network for St. Louis. Little progress has been made. St. Louis to Chicago 110 mph service still hasn’t begun. Service to the Quad Cities and Rockford from Chicago hasn’t happened. On the bright side the STL-CHI line has mostly been rebuilt with long sections of double track, New locomotives have been running for a few years now and new passenger cars are being delivered. Still the timetables have not gotten shorter.
Nextstl – A Passenger Rail Network for St. Louis
With Amtrak Joe now president and Mayor Pete expected to be Transportation Secretary, it’s time to do it for real! We need to create a network connecting city pairs directly as the interstates do, not an “all trains go to Chicago” hub scheme. The Amtrak route map should (at a minimum) look like the red lined map below.
Increasingly airlines aren’t interested in short routes especially if both destinations are not a hub. Driving cannot be productive time. Passenger rail can fill the gap for both business and leisure travelers. We’re better off with more travel choices and stronger connections between cities. Riders are showing up. Amtrak ridership increased steadily until the pandemic.
First let’s go to four a day St. Louis to Kansas City. Union Pacific would insist on double-tracking the route west of Jefferson City. MoDOT estimates this plus train sets would cost $400M. I’m skeptical that that’s really necessary, but let’s go with that. Currently Missouri spends $8M to operate the route, so double that for $16M. Before you scream subsidy just think we’re talking about $2B+ to rebuild and many more millions to maintain I-70. The subsidy may end up being less as Illinois saw a more than one-to-one increase in ridership after adding two new dailies to the STL-CHI service. The upgrades west of Jeff City would save some time with some of the route being class 5, 90 mph capable. The two new trains could be limited, that is skipping stations, to save more time (STL, KWD, JEF, LEE, IDP, KCY).
Also extend the Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr (rename it the Mark Twain Zephyr) from Quincy to St. Louis via St. Charles. The Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau had been lobbying for service to extend from Quincy across the river. I say run it all the way to St. Louis. This allows for riders to connect with the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief in Galesburg, as well as riders originating in between, a route to St. Louis. At first it could run through West Alton, but with about 5 miles of new track it could serve St. Charles and Lambert Airport. This also sets up nicely for commuter rail from St. Charles County, which I prefer over extending Metrolink.
So that’s 117 miles of track to upgrade to class 4, 79 mph at about $2M per mile plus 5 miles of new right-of-way at $10M per mile it comes out to $284M for track and crossing upgrades, and stations. No new rolling stock needed. I’m excluding any big bridge replacements, the trains already cross the Mississippi to turn around. Operating subsidies I figure would be about $2M a year as Illinois already pays for Chicago to Quincy. With Quincy and Hannibal connected to Lambert Airport, we can end the Essential Air Service subsidy and use the $2M per year in lieu of MO’s contribution.
Two a day to Indianapolis (Call them the Brickyard Zephyr and the Gateway City Express) with a suburban station in Collinsville. CSX is taking good care of the route to Indy so I’m estimating $1M per mile for track and crossing upgrades, and stations; 236 miles or $236M. Stops in Collinsville, Highland, Vandalia, Effingham (connects with City of New Orleans, Saluki, and Illinois Service), Terre Haute, Green Castle, Indianapolis Int’l Airport, and Downtown Indy. This would also make it possible to reroute the Cardinal providing a one-seat route to Washington DC. Two train sets, $30M. Operating subsidy $8M. I propose $1M from MO, $5M from Il, and $3M from Indiana.
Two a day to Memphis (call them the Memphis Belle and Spirit of St. Louis) with a suburban station in Belleville. This would run on the Canadian National line from St. Louis to Du Quoin with a stop in Marisa. The tracks look rough so I’ll estimate $2M per mile for class 4 rails for 70 miles, $140M. After Du Quoin it would run on the same tracks as the City of New Orleans. The CoNO averages 44 mph from Carbondale to Memphis, so I’m guessing the tracks could use some upgrading at $1M per mile, or $220M. Two new trains sets, $30M. Operating subsidy $8M, split $1M MO, $4M IL, $2M TN.
Ten a day STL-CHI. The huge investment already made should be followed with more service.
STL-Springfield MO, STL-Louisville, STL-Nashville. All should be studied.
Let’s get on it!
Rail maps so you can play the game at home!