As I See It

Get on board, Kansas City, or wave goodbye to Amtrak

Updated: 2013-12-11T00:19:06Z

By Deborah Fischer-Stout

Special to The Star

New polling shows that Americans across the ideological spectrum support more public funding of Amtrak passenger rail service, according to surveys conducted by DFM Research. This is a big deal.

Why? Because many would have you believe otherwise.

Because 70 percent of constituents polled believe that government funding of Amtrak should continue at current levels or be increased.

Because if you’ve read recent Kansas City Star articles on passenger rail you would believe Amtrak support is anemic, at best.

Because Middle America should not be satisfied with the vast majority of federal dollars going to the east and west coasts.

If the Southwest Chief is eliminated it would be because money is spent elsewhere, and/or Congress is starving Amtrak while it bails out the Highway Trust Fund.

Either way, we’re not getting our fair share.

It’s time to set the record straight.

DFM Research out of St Paul, Minn., conducted surveys in eight districts in the states of Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Colorado, Kansas, and Iowa. Results clearly showed very strong support levels for more Amtrak funding.

So, what can saving the Southwest Chief and potentially expanding passenger rail service do for this region?

Connecting cities by passenger rail will promote economic development and create high quality jobs.

Study after study shows that investment in rail infrastructure increases GDP output.

By upgrading existing freight tracks to handle higher speed passenger trains, freight would travel at faster speeds. Farmers, ranchers, oil and gas suppliers and manufacturers will get their goods to market faster and more efficiently.

Business travelers could remain productive while on the train. Try working from your laptop or tablet while driving. Or not!

Cheap, convenient transportation connecting communities will also increase commerce and tourism. Recent Return on Investment Studies conducted by the University of Kansas and Texas A&M show a 3.2 to 1 to as high as 4.5 to 1 return on investment.

The backbone industries of oil and gas, manufacturing, wind energy and agriculture all use rail as a primary means of transport and would benefit significantly from improvement in rail infrastructure.

The biggest concern is that if the Southwest Chief goes away, any hope for a future direct connection from Kansas City to Dallas would fade and St. Louis could strengthen its position on the tracks between Chicago and Dallas (and beyond).

Moreover, St. Louis now has high speed rail over a segment of the route to Chicago.

If Kansas City does nothing to save the Southwest Chief, high speed rail could be developed from St. Louis to Dallas through Springfield and Tulsa, while here in Kansas City we’ve fallen asleep in our Cheerios.

The question begs to be asked. Do we really think the Kansas City area is less important than St. Louis?

Why is St. Louis investing in itself this way? Do they know something we don’t?

Maybe. Or, maybe St. Louis interests are paying closer attention to the rail investment happening around them and realize there is sound economic reason for it.

It’s time for locals to step up to the plate.

Kansas Citians, help save the Southwest Chief or be prepared to be left behind.

Deborah Fischer-Stout is the president of Northern Flyer Alliance Inc. She lives in Overland Park.

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