With so many benefits to train travel, you might be wondering what could be our challenges? Overcoming myths is our number one challenge, and these myths happen to be the subjects of the majority of the questions that we hear…
1) Why aren’t trains profitable? Virtually no highways or airports are profitable in this country. But for some reason, some people think that passenger trains should be profitable. Saying that passenger trains should be profitable at the fare box is like saying highways should be profitable or the toll booth, or that airlines should be profitable after paying for air traffic control, security and the airports themselves.
Passenger trains are just another form of mass transportation and the purpose of mass transportation is to connect people and communities for commerce and economic development. That’s it. That’s why we have them. And they’re paid for through the enrichment of society. In other words, income is generated as a result of the commerce and economic development, which generates taxes that more than pays for the highways, the airports and passenger trains. It should be noted that all three forms of transportation, highways, airports and rail require both federal and state funding.
If anyone tells you highways are profitable, let them know that if there were such a thing then we wouldn’t have tax-supported Departments of Transportation. Which, by the way used to be called Highway Departments. You can’t say something is profitable if tax dollars support it.
2) Why are there late trains? Most trains in this part of the country are actually on time or early. Moreover, with the upgrades that are expected, trains will approach 100% on time performance.
3) Who will ride the train? Business people that want to remain productive during travel time. College students going to and from home and school. Young families that want a safer alternative to driving. The elderly that can no longer drive but can still travel. Persons with disabilities that cannot drive but can still travel. Tourists that want to get to an event in a larger community without risk of a car wreck, or vandalism to their car while it’s parked somewhere. People that need medical attention, especially conditions that require a prone or near prone position. Car travel and air travel is virtually not an option in these circumstances. People that want a cheaper, more convenient way to get to the closest airport.
4) Why do we think a train will work in the midwest? We don’t have the population to support a train. This corridor is home to more than 14 million people. With that kind of population density, this train would have the ridership to justify a passenger train.
150,000 to 200,000 people a year travel by train from KC to St. Louis. 80,000 people a year travel the stub end Heartland flyer route from OKC to Fort Worth. By connecting these large metropolitan areas, the Amtrak Feasibility Study projects ridership between Kansas City and Fort Worth to be at least 174,000 per year. According to Amtrak not only is this number very, very positive but that kind of ridership means a very successful train.
5) Is there enough capacity to handle passenger trains? I’ve heard there is no extra capacity on the rails. Upgrading the tracks along the corridor includes funding for congestion mitigation which essentially creates the appropriate number of sidings to handle the increased traffic. Funding would also be used for equipment upgrades and double tracking where necessary.
6) Would business travelers really ride the trains? Aren’t trains just for tourists? Would a business be interested in getting their employees off the road to increase their productivity and reduce their travel expenses? You bet they would. At the IRS rate of $.50/mile, a 400 mile round trip from Wichita to KC would cost $200 by car. By train it would be closer to $50, as that is the cost of a similar 400 mile round trip from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth. Plus, employees can remain productive traveling by train – they are no longer stuck behind the wheel of a car.