It look's like you don't have Adobe Flash Player installed. Get it now.
Some Branson city leaders say the time is now to reintroduce passenger railway travel to the Ozarks. This follows a recent meeting with the Missouri Department of Transportation. But as KSMU’s Rebekah Clark reports, state leaders say the funds may not be available.
Back in the 1960s, the piercing of passenger train whistles throughout the Ozark hills began to slowly fade until the industry died all together. The mobile public abandoned rail travel for their personal cars and the idea of the open road.
Fifty years after its decline, some Hollister and Branson city leaders feel it’s time to jump-start the rail industry again. Leadership held two different meetings about the project, according Rick Ziegenfuss, Hollister’s city administrator.
“One of them was the Taney County Transportation Advisory Board, and that is a group of seven directors that are assigned geographic locations throughout Taney County; and then there was another meeting called Partners in Progress. Partners in Progress is a public forum that is held monthly that talks about transportation in our region down here. What went on during those two meetings were dialogues about the future of rail in southwest Missouri.”
He says they invited MoDOT representative Kristi Jamison to the advisory board meeting. Jamison works as the railroad operations manager for the state, and is helping write the state’s 20 year rail plan.
“It’s good for any community to have different transportation options just for the community that they serve. It can be an option that people can use to get to their workplace, maybe to their doctor’s office. It also, especially for the Springfield and Branson area, would be a great way to bring additional tourism into the area,” Jamison says.
The amount of freight that’s carried in and through our state, she says, will also rise and create economic development.
A great hurdle in the plan comes down to the cost of the project. Jamison says a lot of research must be conducted beforehand to figure out if rail transportation can compete with trips done in the car.
“For example, if you’re looking at bringing passengers a further distance, like between St. Louis and Springfield, how does that compete with traffic that can take Interstate 44?”
These investments, she says, costs a lot of money. It takes research to make sure the project is not a huge financial waste. On average, one rail car that’s combined with passenger service costs around $3 million per car.
“You also have to look at different things, like the costs of local communities for the platforms that would need to be built in specification with what Amtrak would require, and different things like, ‘what would we project for ridership? How close does this particular system come to being able to support itself in ticket revenues?’ And just a whole wide variety of different things like that.”
Ziegenfuss and other local leaders are ready to move forward with that research. Though the initial costs might be great, he says he has faith that the project will pay off, especially since gas prices are on the rise and car travel is getting expensive.
“When you look at the figures on investment, first of all, it creates jobs. Second of all, actually when rail is established, per mile travel is a very, very cost effective way to haul people, haul freight, those types of things. The other part of all this stuff is over and above everything else, there’s kind of a romance to travelling on rail,” Ziegenfuss says.
He says that tourists and commuters alike can get another dimension of travel that they don’t have available now. And, he says, rail travel is fun.
He says they’re in the beginning phases of dialogue for this project. No real set-in-stone plans have been made yet to move forward. It’s a project, he says, that involves all of the southwest Missouri region, so more dialogue is needed with other communities in the area before anything else happens.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.