Sunday, January 16, 2011

Regional Rail Topic Comes Up Again

I am quite unsure just why this has not made an appearance on the site yet, but the State Journal in Frankfort reported last week on a proposal for commuter service between Lexington and Louisville. Two trains, each running in three times a day, from Winchester to Louisville with stops in Lexington and Frankfort and (get this) in place by October of 2012.

Wow, with a blockbuster announcement like this one would think that the Herald-Leader would be all over this. Passenger service to the state capital and Louisville three times a day. Estimated cost to Frankfort is a low, low $8 one way. R. J. Corman and CSX would make a bundle on this and add in the stop proposed at Keeneland and there would be nothing stopping these guys.

There is nothing more that I would love to see than passenger rail to both Louisville and Cincinnati on a regular basis, but I see this path being fraught with delays and legal trouble. I think that we are too late in beginning this effort and that the advocate pushing it is dreaming about the eventual cost of start up.

To date route to be used has been known as the “Old Road” to many of Kentucky rail buffs and the majority of it is now leased and used by Corman as a freight route. From what have read of the agreement approved by the Surface Transportation Board, CSX has limited Corman to basically the weekly aluminum ingot trains and sand, cement and some general merchandise runs. The latest addendum, I believe is the ability to haul material for the repair and maintenance of the railroad so that they can facilitate their side of the federal “TIGER” grant of $17,551,028. This project is known as the Appalachian Regional Shortline Project. CSX has not allowed any revenue passenger service over this line and has shown reluctance to even talk about it.

The trackage from Winchester to Anchorage, Ky. Is outside the normally defined Appalachian Region, so I wonder if it is the focus of the grant work as the intent is to refurbish roads in Ky., Tenn. and W. Va.

The person behind this proposal, is the new industrial recruiter in Frankfort. A local position for the city, not a state position. It is noted that he has extensive background in rail planning, both stateside and in Iraq, but there seems to be major gaps in his gathering of fundamental existing conditions.

The article states that a stop is intended to be placed at Keeneland which currently has no rail spur. The closest rail line crosses the Van Meter Rd., about a mile from the back gate of Keeneland and surrounded by horse farms. This line is owned by Corman, but it is the line which goes to Versailles, not Frankfort The “Old Road” crosses S. Yarnallton Rd nearly 5 miles distant and although there used to be a flag stop there, it has long since been transferred to private ownership.

This hindrance will also plague the announced intention of the owner of Greenbrier Resort to run a special trainset from the resort to Keeneland, and back, as part of their strategic partnership to pull in the high rollers of gambling. Theirs may be larger in scope as there is no direct route from Huntington, W. VA to Lexington and they will have to route through Cincinnati. A time consuming trip, nearly 10 hours, as I have recounted here before.

The price tag and time frame are also a question in most folks mind. Those knowledgeable rail fans, from whom I have heard, all question the validity of $40 million to upgrade the track and build stations. Then there is the cost of personnel and operations. Many larger cities which have regional rail, still have to have subsidies which run into the millions, and they have much larger commuting populations. 80 to 90 mile an hour travel between Lexington and Louisville is a possible goal and one that we should have reached long before now. (Wait, we did. Back in the ‘70s when they completed the Interstate.)

80 to 90 mile an hour rail travel between Lexington and Louisville is still a ways off.

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