12 April 2013

Columbia Train Service

How I wouldn't love to hop on a train in Columbia and ride the rails to far-flung destinations. A Columbia connection with St. Louis and Kansas City would bring so many visitors to Our Fair City as well as provide an exiting mass transit option to travel from Columbia. I am not going to hold my breath awaiting a new train line from Columbia, Missouri.

One the one hand state funding for our cross-state Amtrak line seems only tentatively funded. Every year there is talk of defunding the line but then somehow miraculously the State Legislature makes the needed allocation. Money will always be an issue for expanding rail in Missouri and anywhere. People love their cars, they use then and they don't want to be limited by the inherently limited train schedule.

On the other hand, Amtrak just reported its most successful month ever in March 2013. Does demand drive service increases? Doubtful we'll see anything new coming to Missouri's rail lines anytime soon.
Columbia's Katy Station back in the train era. The structure now serves as Shiloh, a college kid watering hole.

For now the existing options for rail travel from Columbia involve a car drive to Jefferson City or LaPlata where one can catch a train to St. Louis, Kansas City or Chicago. Another option is to ride on Friday or Saturday the Columbia Star Dinner Train to Centralia and back. Once you get to Centralia there's no connecting passenger train so, well, you may as well come back to Columbia. A round trip ride on the Columbia Star Dinner Train is all they sell so far as I can tell.

Looking ahead at the 50-year or 100-year plan (is there such a thing?) there are a few scenarios that are exciting to visualize. Since tearing rebuilding train lines on the bed of our former MKT line out of town would be politically unpopular I'd like to see service on the COLT line expanded to include a line running to Centralia. At that point a new cross-state line through Moberly could get train commuters to Kansas City and St. Louis. This line could replace the line that currently operates through Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia and Lee's Summit. I'd venture to guess more people live near the rail line that parallels Interstate 70 than do the existing line that hugs the Missouri River valley. Occasionally in the debate over how to fund widening of I-70 some sane voice proposes a train line down the center of the highway only to be silenced under the voices of the fiscally conservative legislators and transportation planners at MoDOT.

In the meantime we'll keep driving to Jefferson City, LaPlata, Kansas City or St. Louis to occasionally hop the train to Chicago, New York, Albuquerque or any other number of captivating destinations.

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