The Journal Star has a report on the latest passenger rail scheme dreamed up by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.
Essentially what’s now being pitched is a multi-stop commuter rail line running from Peoria’s airport to Bloomington’s, with stops in each city’s downtown area as well as in the bedroom communities between the cities.
And, before you object, there’s this:
Though there’s been some pushback and some doubt expressed by folks in the area, the time for laying the plans and attracting support needs to be now, [Tri-County transportation planner Kyle] Smith says.
So we all need to get behind this terrible idea, see? When faced with pushback and doubt, it’s best to make a clarion call for groupthink — especially when it involves lots of taxpayer money.
The original (and logical and good) plan for direct passenger rail service to Chicago was deemed too expensive because we’d have to fix up some existing track and it wouldn’t be high-speed. Now we’re talking about acquiring all new right of way, constructing all new track to make some of these connections, and slowing down the travel time to Bloomington/Normal by making a bunch of commuter stops. Really, what’s not to like about this slower, costlier alternative?
Peoria’s airport has free parking. Bloomington’s airport has free parking. Normal’s Amtrak station has free parking. Neither community is compact; both are sprawling metro areas. Neither community has frequent or convenient mass transit. It’s easier to drive in both communities than to take other transit alternatives. Translation: This passenger rail plan will not draw sufficient ridership to justify the cost of constructing and operating it. It will be much more convenient for people to drive.
Think about it. Pretend you live in Peoria and work at State Farm in Bloomington. You decide you’re going to take this swell new commuter train. You can catch it either at the airport or downtown, but odds are they’ll charge you to park downtown. So you opt for the free parking at the airport. Then you get on the train, and it takes you to the Bloomington airport — in about an hour and a half, maybe. You get off the train, and … how do you get to work? There’s no bus service between the airport and State Farm. You can walk (50 minutes) or bike (15 minutes). But there are no sidewalks along Empire, and it’s a four-lane highway. So, given the time and obstacles, and the fact that you can drive to work in 45 minutes door-to-door with free parking, maybe the commuter train isn’t going to be your best option.
In contrast, Chicago does not have free parking. While large, downtown Chicago is a compact urban area. It has frequent and convenient mass transit. It’s easier to take other transit alternatives than to drive. Plus, it’s a major transportation hub. And Chicago is a destination city. That’s why direct passenger rail service to Chicago would have sufficient ridership to justify its establishment and operation.
But hey, TCRPC, don’t listen to any “pushback” or “doubt” you may be hearing. It’s only taxpayer money. Let’s see if there’s anything else we can come up with to make this idea more inefficient and unlikely to succeed. What if we put the train station someplace where it can only be accessed by ferry?
For further reading: David Jordan has a little pushback and doubt of his own.