KC Light Rail

Your source for news and information on Kansas City’s light rail progress

Commuter rail planning gets serious

After a lot of budget distractions and hand-wringing about oversight, county leaders are seemingly serious about at least the option of commuter rail in the metro.

Commuter rail has already been studied along all of these routes (probably more than once), but we have new players and new players need new data to take to voters. The 2002 MARC study [PDF] looked seriously at three trains each way daily on two existing rail corridors on the Missouri side: Kansas City Southern's KC-Odessa line and Union Pacific's KC-Pleasant Hill line (the latter already carries Amtrak's Missouri River Runner trains). That study also recommended that Union Station become the "center city terminal". Kansas City Southern has been the most vocal about the commuter rail concept on their tracks. Union Pacific, on the other hand, usually plays hardball and is well-known as one of the least friendly railroads to passenger rail.

The BNSF line between KC and Topeka was also considered in the 2002 study, but obviously will not be part of the Missouri-only regional discussion. That route, which currently carries Amtrak's Southwest Chief, is being studied by KDOT for expanded inter-city service to Wichita and beyond.

So how can commuter rail work in KC since the jobs are dispersed everywhere? Recent studies indicate that downtown loop's share of metro jobs is around 10% and it's about a mile from Union Station. A light rail starter line between Plaza (the other hot job spot) and the River Market (perhaps even North Kansas City) would distribute a lot more people more efficiently if they arrive at Union Station and need to make one last connection.

11 Comments so far

  1. Ron McLinden April 15th, 2009 10:19 am

    It’s good that chief elected officials of the three counties are still talking about how to improve public transit in the region. Let’s hope they quickly conclude, as nearly everybody else has already done, that the commuter rail network they are talking about isn’t feasible, and that some other approach to meeting the region’s growing need for improved public transit is both more reasonable and more cost-effective.

  2. Scott April 15th, 2009 10:22 am

    I simply cannot express how badly I want Kansas City to get on the stick with implementing Commuter and Light Rail. This city has so much potential, most of it currently sitting idly by.

  3. Eric Rogers April 15th, 2009 11:11 am

    I don’t understand why Clay and Platte Counties are so hot for commuter rail. Those two counties have the least potential because the rail lines are along fringes of the Northland, far from any population centers.

    Jackson County does have some potential for Transit Oriented Development along rail lines in places like Downtown Lee’s Summit and the Independence Square. The Northland would be much better served by high-quality BRT along major corridors, with an eye towards future conversion to light rail.

  4. northlander April 15th, 2009 4:54 pm

    To few riders and far to costly to have light rail.

  5. Jenniferwhatnot April 16th, 2009 8:40 am

    Light rail is sexier but BRT is a lot more practical in some areas. For instance in St. Louis, I-64 was just reconstructed. A lot of people complain that we didn’t run a light rail line down I-64 to Chesterfield, but if you look at the areas adjacent to the highway, they are low-density residential - not ideal for light rail. Plus the land is very, very expensive to acquire for a dedicated right of way. Instead, why not build BRT terminals in Chesterfield and have them feed into the current light rail & bus system downtown St. Louis? That connects jobs centers to job centers but precludes the expense and disruption of putting a light rail line with huge distances in between stations (or really low boarding numbers, such that the cost couldn’t be justified).

    Light rail’s nice but you gotta be practical too.

  6. Dave April 16th, 2009 9:12 am

    river to plaza:

    a) has plenty of residential density
    b) already has successful BRT
    c) contains the top 3 job nodes in the city
    d) has ample capacity for street-running LRT

    regardless, the conversation has shifted to commuter rail from a regional perspective.

  7. Kyle April 16th, 2009 10:42 am

    As much as it pains me to say… The Stimulus money for High Speed Rail possibly could have been used to add a third line or switches to all of these existing lines including the line to Topeka. Also the talk of OKC Amtrack to KC or Springfield to KC could have at least added more rail in the metro portion.

  8. Kay Schmidt April 22nd, 2009 11:27 am

    As a satisfied user of light rail in Portland OR and Denver CO, and a frustrated would-be public transit user in metro KC, I say to be “seemingly serious about at least the option of commuter rail in the metro” is certainly going right out on a limb and taking a stand and getting sleeves rolled up and starting beneficial action. (Not. “Let’s do some more studies and spend some more of their money.”)
    More nicely: I encourage county leaders to add light rail transportation to metro KC as soon as they can. And on both sides of the border, too.

  9. Woody Woodward May 4th, 2009 4:00 pm

    I was raise in KC and LOVE the city still I work for a light rail system in Charlotte, NC and we had a LOT of nay sayers to in the begining but they must be riding the trains now as first year prjections were for 9000+ ridership and we exceeded 13,000. Now I will grant high gas prices helped but super high prices are gone and the people aren’t. I’m old enough to remember the trolleys of KC, and it’s high time to to quite the petty bickering and bring back what worked, laying some track at least from UMKC to the Plaza to Union Station to Uptown would be an excellent route for workers, business people, shoppers and students usage, with tie in to bus and rail transport for a unified sustem to the rest of the city and region. This is what Charlotte has done and it works very well.
    Oh, we are in our 2nd year of operation and and active plans are under way to open a commuter rail line to the north in 2012 and more than double the light rail to the north east by 2015. Once you get it, it GROWS ON EVERY CITY IT’S IN.

  10. Brent May 14th, 2009 5:20 pm

    I still think it’s an interesting conversation when people mention the arguments that a) we can’t afford this and b) there isn’t enough density to support this

    The reality seems to be, that in every city I’ve ever been to with a fairly new light rail/commuter rail system, that the system itself creates density. Because of the rail, people have an incentive to build higher-density housing close to the line which allows it the density to succeed.

    It’s kind of a chicken and the egg thing. Does public transit in Washington DC and Chicago work because they are dense populations? Or do they have denser populations because of the accessibility to transit? There is no doubt when I see the development happening along Phoenix’s line (which has only been open a short time), that development does occur around rail in ways that would never happen around bus because the bus line could always move and there is no reason to make an investment around that.

    As for the money, it doesn’t take much driving in the far reaches of our city and adding up the costs of all of the additional infastructure we have to build because of the sprawl to realize we have the money, it just needs to be repurposed differently.

  11. […] The plan is the result of planning work that began in the spring. […]

Leave a reply