Commuter Rail Coming to Louisville?

(C-J‘s illustration of the rail route.)

Unfortunately, it’s not likely to occur very quickly, especially with the economy as it is right now. But the Courier-Journal is reporting this morning that a number of local government officials will be on board a 100-passenger train run from Louisville to Elizabethtown tomorrow, and that the ride might be a spur to push for commuter rail for the South End:

Louisville’s light-rail movement faded about four years ago, but traditional train service may be getting a fresh look.

Elected officials from Jefferson, Hardin and Meade counties are among 100 passengers who plan to take a leisurely three-hour, round-trip train ride between Louisville and Cecilia, Ky., just west of Elizabethtown, tomorrow.

Mass transit supporters view the trip on the Paducah & Louisville Railway, which runs roughly along Dixie Highway and through Fort Knox, as the first step toward establishing a passenger rail system between Louisville and the growing Army post.

“My hope is that we can build some critical mass in terms of support and possibly do some sort of analysis of what it would cost to put commuter (rail) cars on that line,” said Jim King, president of Louisville’s Metro Council.

The Transit Authority of River City and council members have been discussing commuter rail for months. Tomorrow’s excursion is intended to draw attention to the possibility of passenger service and start gauging whether local leaders want to go forward.

If they do, the next step would be a study outlining the costs — and feasibility — of the project.

While the demonstration trip is scheduled to take 90 minutes one way at 35 mph, actual commuter trains could reach speeds up to 60 mph, said A.V. “Tony” Reck, the railway’s president and CEO. The trip takes 45 minutes to an hour by car.

“We certainly have an interest in expanding rail,” said Barry Barker, TARC’s executive director. He estimates it would cost $50 million to $75 million to create a commuter rail line, with operating costs of at least $4 million annually.

Under Barker’s scenario, a commuter rail line would cost substantially less than the city’s light-rail project, which was suspended in 2004 with a price tag of $661 million…

Tomorrow’s demonstration run is the brainchild of two groups — the nonprofit Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation and the Kentucky-Indiana Rail Advocates — and has the financial backing of local governments.

Metro Council members contributed $4,000 from their discretionary accounts, and other cities and counties added $900, said John Owen, a community activist organizing the project. The money will cover liability insurance for the trip.

“If Louisville is going to be a top-notch city, $4,000 is a minimal investment for something that could be ripe for the future,” he said.

Metro Council member Vicki Aubrey Welch said using existing rail lines would avoid some of the expense of light rail, which would have required new construction and buying property.

“We’re just thinking in ways that other communities have already and emulate what they’ve done,” she said…

In the Louisville area, the expansion of Fort Knox could help the commuter rail project, supporters say. As part of the military’s national base realignment plan, the base is preparing for a $950 million construction boom and more than $300 million in new payroll.

In all, about 6,000 military and civilian employees and contractors are expected to move to the Fort Knox area by 2011, said Brad Richardson, executive director of the One Knox economic development group.

Richardson said a commuter rail line could serve new residents who want to live in Louisville, for example, and work at Fort Knox. A rail line would also give Hardin County residents new access to Louisville’s health care, shopping and other attractions.

Of course, there’s one big caveat at the end of the article:

The Paducah & Louisville Railway is supplying two cars and the engineers for tomorrow’s demonstration run, Reck said. But he said his company isn’t planning on investing in a commuter rail project.

“Let’s face it. There’s not a passenger system in the world that makes money. … All of them take some sort of government subsidy,” he said.


One Response to “Commuter Rail Coming to Louisville?”

  1. […] and points southwest of the city, including Fort Knox.” Nice follow-up from this story: Not that we’re holding our […]

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