Friday, January 22, 2010

Good news for the Northern Flyer Alliance

[Jan. 24th: Those interested in furthering the cause of the Northern Flyer Alliace should read this comment by the Alliance's Board of Directors.]

[Jan. 23rd: Edited to explain to out-of-towners the particulars of Wichita's present passenger rail service (or lack thereof).]

The proposed route for the Northern Flyer. Click image to enlarge. Image found here.

For most people in this country, trains are nostalgic, romantic. For millions and millions of people all over the world, though, trains are a vital means of moving large numbers of people efficiently and safely over long distances. I have some personal experience travelling by train. When I lived in Mexico in the mid-'80s, I made several long-distance trips by train; when time wasn't of the essence (Mexican trains are not as punctual as European ones), that was my preferred way to travel in that country. On all these trips, the trains I rode were crowded with people from every social class--for long distances, the train was cheaper than the bus. As our nation contemplates a coming future when we will be less dependent on oil, passenger rail needs to become a much larger presence in our nation's transportation system. The Obama Administration recognizes this in an admittedly modest way, having included $8 billion for high-speed passenger rail in last year's stimulus package. The recently-proposed high-speed rail system in California alone is estimated to cost $45 billion. While expensive, such systems are still far cheaper than are equivalent infrastructure investments in expanded highway and air travel needed to move the same number of people.

Wichita at present might as well not have passenger rail service. The nearest stop is in Newton, about 20 miles away. That in and of itself isn't terrible--people often drive much farther to get to an airport--but for train travellers south of Wichita, there's at present only the most indirect means of getting here. As my mother (who lives in Austin) and I learned to our dismayed surprise when she was considering taking the train here for a visit a few years back, travellers in Texas wanting to get to Newton have to go by way of Chicago before doubling back and travelling half again the distance they've already travelled. As the map above shows, the addition and upgrade of a few hundred miles of track would cut well over a thousand miles out of that journey; that connectivity should also encourage more people to consider taking the train here in the Plains states as rail travel becomes more direct.

So, very much in keeping with this blog's larger subject of alternate and mass transportation, I wanted to pass along some information about the Northern Flyer Alliance, which seeks to establish regular passenger rail service from Kansas City through Wichita and on to Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. I'd heard through the news last year that the Alliance had formed, but I confess to not having investigated further. However, the Alliance has been participating in WAMPO meetings, and it was through a WAMPO e-mail yesterday and a visit to WAMPO's website that I first visited the Alliance's website.

The Alliance has posted the results of a study conducted by the University of Kansas that determined approximate costs and benefits of regular passenger rail service through south-central Kansas and the midsection of Oklahoma. A summary of the study is here; the summary of the summary is that passenger rail would indeed be a good investment for this region, with a break-even return on investment in the first year of operation and annual revenues generated by business travel and tourism through the region. Here in Wichita, the trains would stop at the old Union Station depot downtown.

Such as this blog can offer, we support these findings and urge that passenger rail become a reality in the area. I suspect there's a strong need and desire for this service; speaking for myself, I'd dearly love one day to meet my mom at the train station--or, for that matter, take the train to Austin to visit her.


2whls3spds said...

Hear,hear! I am all for passenger (and freight) rail transport! I ride Amtrak regularly along the southeast seaboard in lieu of driving up the I-95 corridor. Quite often it is faster when I-95 gets yet another multi-hour shutdown due to an accident. Bad part is that you have to travel on their schedule. We have less need for "high speed" rail, and more need for trains that can maintain a better average speed with minimal disruption by freight traffic. I know that the freight lines own the tracks but compromises can be reached. The way CA has handled it is an excellent example. The train I ride most often (Palmetto) averages around 55mph, raise that to near 70 mph and you can out class any other form of transportation over medium distances.


John B. said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Aaron.

Here's the presemt state of things in Wichita: The nearest Amtrak stop is about 20 miles away. That in itself isn't bad, but when people in Dallas and points south want to take the train to Wichita, the present route they have to take goes through Chicago. Just nuts. The route being proposed would make the entire passenger train system in the Plains states a bit more interconnected--it's not only practical, it should also lead to a substantive increase in ridership as the system's directness makes sense as a travel option for more people.

Huh--sounds like an argument for interconnectedness for bike paths, too.

2whls3spds said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
2whls3spds said...


If they ever get enough widespread rail, I intend to take a few months off, grab a Brompton or a Bike Friday NWT and ride the rails to see the country. I as done as I can be with traveling long distances by car and planes. I will only if I am forced to by work or my bride.

The country as a whole needs to look for ways to improve rail travel between major cities and along major interstate corridors. Currently it is an uphill battle, if gas prices go up again (and they will) it might just be the tipping point needed to get more people interested in rail travel. I agree that a line from Dallas through Wichita is a no brainer, I am also hoping for the one that is being proposed from Iowa City to Chicago.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, John B. for posting this blog about passenger rail and the benefits to Wichita. If individuals following your blog would like to help with the effort to return passenger rail to Wichita, there are a few things they could do that wouldn't take much time or effort.

1) they could visit our website and become a sustaining member. We have introduced a bill, SB 409 called The Intercity Passenger Rail Act that must be supported this legislative session. This is an expensive endeavor so we definitely need more sustaining members to get this bill passed.

2) they can download the Union Station petition on our homepage, take it with them to work, meetings, etc. - collect as many signature as possible, then mail it to the address provided on the petition.

3) they can send a letter to the Governor and their legislator asking them to support SB 409.

Again, thank you for your words of encouragement. The Board of the Northern Flyer Alliance, Inc. is ready to answer any inquiries. Just visit our website - our contact information is provided.

Best Regards,
Board of Directors
Northern Flyer Alliance, Inc.