Missouri to apply for high-speed rail funds

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | 9:30 a.m. CDT; updated 3:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ST. LOUIS — The state of Missouri will apply for federal funding to construct high-speed rail service between the state's two metropolitan areas.

Gov. Jay Nixon is scheduled to announce details of the application during a 10 a.m. news conference at the Kirkwood Amtrak station in suburban St. Louis.

Nixon's office says the application will include a proposal for immediate upgrades to improve speeds on existing lines between St. Louis and Kansas City. Meanwhile, a longer-term proposal will call for planning and engineering to prepare for construction of a separate rail line dedicated to high-speed passenger service.

Nixon's office says the immediate upgrades to existing lines would create more than 1,300 construction and design jobs.


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Jack Hamm March 29, 2011 | 12:29 p.m.

We should have been doing this years ago.

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Paul Allaire March 29, 2011 | 12:52 p.m.

A lot of states will also be applying for the same. At this point things would probably gain momentum faster if several states could agree on ONE standard design for the tracks so that they could become joined. Otherwise the result will likely be that we wait for another hundred years to get a passenger system that we can actually use. For instance I am fairly sure that it will be impossible to link up the subways in New York to the light rail system that is in Chicago, Saint Louis, or San Francisco. I know that this was also a problem in the 1800's.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 29, 2011 | 1:05 p.m.

And how much will the government subsidize it since Amtrak loses money everywhere except the Acela line in the NE corridor?

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Paul Allaire March 29, 2011 | 1:26 p.m.

Not as much as they subsidize the airport and the airline and the street that runs in front of your house. Probably less than the schools you graduated from.

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John Schultz March 29, 2011 | 2:52 p.m.

Funny you should mention the street in front of my house Paul, seeing as the previous resident of my house and the neighbors around here paid to have it paved by the county and paid for that upgrade with assessed property taxes. Nice guy that he was, he paid off the remaining taxes when I bought the house from him.

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Ellis Smith March 29, 2011 | 4:11 p.m.

Rail passenger traffic shouldn't be the only thing looked at: there are some definite advantages to increasing rail freight where we can. That 100-car freight train pulled by several, coupled diesel-electric locomotives hauls freight at a lower cost per ton than motor freight, and while the locomotives are exhausting a fair amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere it is considerably less than would be exhausted by the number of trucks it would take to take to haul the SAME amount of freight. Any truck traffic that would be eliminated would reduce highway traffic.

But...but...but... you can't bring railroad trains to people's front doors! Correct, but that problem was solved back in the 1950s: you put the cargo in vans or onto flatbed trailers and put the vans and/or trailers on flatbed rail cars. At the other end of the run you hitch the trailers to trucks for final delivery. You can do the same with cargo containers used for ocean freight (it's done every day).

No waiting period is needed; the technology is there. Watch out for the trucking lobby.

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frank christian March 29, 2011 | 9:18 p.m.

Ellis - Quite right. The passenger fast rail for MO was and has been considered long before BO came into office. I recall reading about stl to kc some years ago. Can't find any info now,but, money was the issue then and it will be now even with this spendthrift(most polite word I can now come up with)providing the start up money in the hope of putting some to work to reduce unempl., so that he may be re-elected.

If, somehow, even with republicans to stop it, we would be forced into a fast rail program, freight is the only way it could benefit the American public. The "piggy back" rail with semi beds loaded four to a flat bed car at higher speed ETAs would benefit all four corners of our country greatly. Far fewer trucks on them, would help with highway maintenance.

This, however, to my knowledge, has never been mentioned by any Democrat that is looking for the billions offered by this Obama administration to start this boondagle across our country.

I note that Chicago to St. Louis would at present be expected to cost over 20M$ per mile. Can any among us, now doubt that the intent of this Administration is to destroy our economy? Our Governor claims 1300 new construction jobs? Florida studies, long ago determined that fast rail there, would destroy as many or more jobs than it creates.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 29, 2011 | 10:38 p.m.

The big problem with freight-by-rail is "time".

Freight must be loaded into a rail-car (not a big deal...same with trucks), then the rail-car waits for a train to get made up. The train then travels to a variety of destinations, stopping at each place to disconnect/reconnect cars. Ofttimes, a rail-car will need to be disconnected, wait for a while, then get reconnected to another train....since the destination is not on the original rail line. Eventually, the freight arrives at the final destination.....probably more than a week after it was loaded. The problem is similar for containers and/or trucks loaded onto rail cars.

For a truck, it gets loaded and arrives at its destination in less than a week anywhere in the continental US.

In a world of just-in-time inventory, who wants to carry that kind of warehouse note for any longer than necessary? Not me. The value of cargo in a single rail car can amount to many 10's of thousands or even a couple of million dollars. One additional week of transit time expense can add up.

I certainly admit rail works just fine for many types of freight....mainly the very high volume stuff with few destinations. Things like coal, chemicals, automobiles, and the like that simply are not suitable for trucks. Clothing, food, lumber, steel, and things that sell rather slow, or is perishable, for a large order simply won't cut the mustard with rail.

But there's a reason trucks have increased and rail decreased; a minor reason is fewer tracks. The major reason is the money value of time.

PS: It would be good, however, for someone who purchases by rail or truck to chime in here.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm March 30, 2011 | 8:38 a.m.

I assume that the few of you concerned over freight rail are unaware that the US has the highest rated, most productive and best cost-benefit freight rail system in the world? Not to mention that rail is the #1 method for freight in the United States.

Mike Williams says
"But there's a reason trucks have increased and rail decreased; a minor reason is fewer tracks. The major reason is the money value of time."

This is factually incorrect. Since 1981 freight rail productivity has gone up 172% and prices have dropped 55% over the same time period. Rail holds 43% of the freight market in the US which is the highest of any first world nation and our #1 method of freight in the United States ahead of trucking, air and barge/shipping.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 30, 2011 | 9:16 a.m.


I accept your correction about my statement that rail has decreased, but I really don't think all those additional trucks on the road are a product of my imagination. Perhaps rail has increased but trucks have increased more????? Hmmm. I'm unsure whether to discuss this topic in terms of shipped tonnage, number of transport vehicles, or....what?

Any comments on the time-differential issue? Also, if I had 10 tons of inventory to ship to Chicago from KCMO, what is the cost difference ($$$ per ton?) by truck versus train.....not considering time?

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm March 30, 2011 | 9:34 a.m.

@ Mike

Your observations about trucks are correct; they have increased in number and productivity over the same time span. In fact, all major methods of freight have increased over the past 30 years but rail has increased the most (1981-2011).

However, most forms of freight but sea/barge freight have remained roughly stagnant or declined over the past 7 -10 years; especially trucking. Part of this is due to the economy slowing down and part is due to rising fuel costs. Fuel costs do not impact rail and barge as heavily as they do truck and air so the recent regression is to be expected.

2003-2008 was particularly bad for trucking in the US; it is a dieing industry for cross country freight.

Time differential is not as much of an issue currently for two reasons. First, truckers are limited on the amount of time and miles that they can travel which is a limitation that rail does not share. This helps even the gap.

Second and most importantly, rail is still mostly used for raw materials in the US (iron, steel, raw food products and of course coal is the biggest). These things simply cannot be shipped by truck as it would either take thousands of trucks or a long time. Trucks on the other hand are mostly used to ship manufactured, retail and processed goods. I would imagine this trend will continue and you will see less and less interstate trucks in the US, however they will still be the primary mode of freight for intrastate shipping.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 30, 2011 | 10:09 a.m.


Yes, as stated in my original post, some products simply are not conducive to shipment by trucks. "Bulk raw materials" is the best classification I can think of for these products. In the contest between trucks versus rails, I'm not trying to argue trucks would be better for these commodities.

I'm arguing more from a "time is money" point of view. Even with drivers needing downtime, it simply takes more (lots) time to get a loaded rail car moving on the tracks than it does for a truck to get going. Trains have to be planned and formed. Rail cars have to be disconnected/reconnected if a particular train does not go directly to the desired destination. No matter how you cut it, 10 tons of inventory sitting on the loading dock of a company with an adjacent rail line is gonna get from Denver to Memphis by truck faster than by rail. That "time in transit" has monetary value associated with it, and that value can be substantial. Either the buyer or the seller is going to be holding a note while that inventory is in transit.

I do agree that intrastate freight will remain mainly with trucks. I also agree that driver downtime favors rail more than trucks. But getting product from Seattle to Miami is going to be more advantageous by truck than rail in a just-in-time-inventory environment.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 30, 2011 | 10:19 a.m.

Jack: Of course, time-spent-by-truck-drivers-at-the-gentlemen's-club-and/or-bar does tend to favor rail.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 30, 2011 | 10:24 a.m.

Thanks, Jack.

Reduction in trucks would be almost entirely trucks now running long distances; local and regional trucking would be less affected or hardly affected at all. Certain cargoes now being trucked across country would, due to their nature, remain hauled by trucks. This is NOT an all or nothing proposition. We're discussing proportions.

Any change would be gradual. Is there presently an excess of flatbed rail cars? Do some existing cars need upgrading? What about bad track sections on lines? Locations and condition of transfer points? Discarding lines in recent decades has allowed railroads to put more effort into the remaining lines, but more double track segments might be useful.

Years ago when computers first started to be employed by businesses it was noted that IF THERE IS ONE BUSINESS WHERE COMPUTERIZED AUTOMATION COULD BE EMPLOYED TO GOOD EFFECT IT SHOULD BE RAILROADS.

An historic problem with rail freight has been time and energy spent switching cars. For bulk hauling this is been sharply decreased by resorting to "unit trains:" same, cargo, same type car, same destination. The next best situation is mixed cargoes, mixed cars, same destination. You don't have to leave Missouri to see such trains barreling through.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 30, 2011 | 10:47 a.m.

Ellis: I wonder how many rail rights-of-way have been abandoned, never to return?

My guess is that new rights-of-way would be a rather tough nut to crack.

No one should misunderstand me....I certainly favor rail if for no other reason than to get more trucks off the road. I just don't see it happening so long as business folks go the just-in-time-inventory route. No one wants to hold inventory or tap a line of credit any more than necessary.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm March 30, 2011 | 11:34 a.m.

"it simply takes more (lots) time to get a loaded rail car moving on the tracks than it does for a truck to get going. Trains have to be planned and formed. Rail cars have to be disconnected/reconnected if a particular train does not go directly to the desired destination."

This is very true and it as major hindrance for using rail as means to transport retail goods. At the same time the rail industry is making improvements in this area due to advances in computer driven logistics and major interest from investors like Warren Buffet. It will never reach the level of ease of which you can ship something quickly in a truck but on a cost benefit level I think rail will surpass trucks for interstate commerce in the next decade if it already hasn't for most American corporations.

Time in transit is not a major issue for the bulk of the US economy either. As end users it seems important to us because it is the way we typically ship. However, most large retail corporations have a typical average inventory period of about 2 months and manufacturers have longer periods (for reference Wal-Mart's is 34 days, Target's is 79 days days, and GE's is 80 days). Very few products need to be shipped very quickly across country.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 30, 2011 | 1:38 p.m.

Jack: It's my long-term hope that rail will find ways to improve efficiency such that interstate trucks go the way of the horse/buggy. I still disagree with you about time-of-travel costs but no matter which of us is right, a continuing improved efficiency by rail would go a long ways to correct any problems. To get there from here, I see lots of pending infrastructure costs. As with that article you posted, some rail lines have 100-200 trains per day on them. Wow! I didn't know that. More lines will be needed and we'll need all those tracks that were dismantled/covered over with asphalt. That article map clearly showed the relative dearth of freight tracks across the US.

It will be interesting to see what the western US thinks about this....the parts between the Mississippi River and California (not inclusive). Those folks still hold grudges against rail dating from the late 1800s. Long memories, I guess.

Will be have to give back the Katy?
Where to put new lines? Your house or mine?
Gonna be as difficult as putting in a new interstate.
Concrete or tree ties?
How many locomotive plants do we have?

I have a headache.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 30, 2011 | 4:46 p.m.

How many abandoned lines would be reactivated? NONE. How much "blue sky" rail line would need to be constructed? VERY LITTLE.

The presently reduced rail net is essentially satisfactory, which is why it IS what - and where - it is. Start by double tracking all main lines that aren't already double tracked. Typically the railroad owns land along existing trackage, so land aquisition isn't an issue.

Why double track? Because in many instances that's all that's standing in the way of being able to considerably increase traffic volume. And it's safer, because all west-bound traffic goes down one track and all eastbound traffic goes down the other (same for north and south).

Piece of cake to construct? No. Inexpensive to construct? No. Impossible to do? Not at all.

[Somewhere here I have an engineer's (not the guy that operates the locomotive) handbook on the basics of railroad construction that my father game me years ago. All those grades (slopes) and turning radii. Who says geometry and trig have no practical value.]

(Report Comment)

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