Tapping Into Transit: High Speed Rail in the Midwest Sheraton St Louis

This video was taken during the Tapping Into Transit: High Speed Rail in the Midwest event at the Sheraton Hotel St Louis ( Wednesday, November 14, 2012 ). The featured speaker was Rick Harnish executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. This presentation was part of the Citizens for Modern Transit and the Vanguard Cabinet’s Transportation Committee education initiative.

St Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay made an appearance at this event. However he didn’t stick around for Rick Harnish’s presentation. But he was thanked for stopping by countless times as he was leaving. Guess the Mayor was busy and had other places to make an appearance. Or he just likes meet and greets – which was what was taking place for the first hour.

I’ve missed several events this year I wanted to attend where Rick Harnish was speaking. The St Louis presentation just happened to work out perfectly. Even though it was somewhat last minute.

While I didn’t learn a whole lot more than I already knew on the subject. It was well worth attending and definitely not a waste of an hour. I’d venture a guess that other than Mr. Harnish – I was one of the only people in attendance that rode Amtrak to get there. That day I was a passenger on Amtrak’s Lincoln Service in business class. The next day I took Train 304 business class home.

A good number of hands went in the air when asked who had been an Amtrak passenger. When asked about what riders would like to see added or improved on Amtrak routes – the wishlist had some variety.

I’d disagree that clean restrooms exist on Amtrak routes. In some cases bathroom doors still don’t lock properly for passengers. Wi-Fi ( wireless internet ) was on the list. Mr. Harnish didn’t seem aware that Amtrak had enabled this service on some trains running between Chicago & St Louis. On all my round trips this month wireless was available on Lincoln Service.

If I remember correctly Mr. Harnish made mention of a train excursion I wanted to attend but couldn’t afford to do so. The Illinois Railway Museum ( Galesburg, IL ) in cooperation with Amtrak and BNSF Railway ran the Nebraska Zephyr between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois a few months ago. This was the first time it had operated on this route since 1968. Unfortunately a very rare trip that I missed. All proceeds went towards continued restoration of the Nebraska Zephyr.

One thing I did learn during this presentation is that the 220MPH route being considered WILL NOT include Springfield, IL. ( although the map makes it seem like it would head that way at some point ). For some reason I was thinking one plan had a 220 line going from Chicago to Champaign then heading to Decatur from there to Springfield. It sounds like any 220 plans now have trains heading to Champaign then onto Indianapolis, Indiana. Maybe with an offshoot line to Decatur – but no plans for a Springfield connection. A link to Decatur might seem pointless to many taxpayers. Sending a state of the art high speed train to an economically depressed city might not seem logical. Especially considering most Archer Daniel Midland ( ADM ) executives most likely fly. But this is a key example of shortsighted thought.

High speed train service to Decatur could be a key element to creating new economic opportunities. Decatur Illinois many years ago had Amtrak service from it’s city to Champaign. I rode that route as a young child. The old station is located downtown and now is known as Wabash Depot Antique Center. Two of my family members in years past worked in the surrounding rail yard. The building has a St Louis connection.

Interestingly enough during the presentation there was no mention about the rumor of a private company bringing passenger rail service back to St Louis Union Station. This property has declined in popularity over the years and is now being renovated and re-purposed. There has been talk that part of that process might involve passenger rail.

“Amtrak pulled out of St Louis Union Station in 1978”

“St Louis Union Station, a national historic landmark, has had no passenger trains since 2007, when a private rail excursion business departed.”

The video above is a combination of several I took that evening. It’s a good example of why I need to invest in a lightweight tripod. If I had that piece of equipment I would have tried to record all of the event from the back of the room. I apologize to those whose heads were recorded. Shooting video from a seated position is not an optimal way to do things. Hopefully the disjointed segments won’t annoy viewers.

Speaking of the room – kind of an odd place to hold a presentation. Look like a closed restaurant or bar inside the St Louis Sheraton. Could have used a bit more light. Even with the low light I think the video came out decent. And the space works for what was needed – was just expecting something a bit different.

A somewhat related note – I hate websites that kill links to useful content. Even if the event has taken place you should always leave that content up for future reference. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association always seems to lead to dead links or has older events / articles that are no longer live on the site. This makes it hard for people like me to promote that content and get my readers viewing your message. Even if the “article” is just announcing a planned speaking engagement – it’s worth leaving it up and running for future reference.

Disclaimer – I am a Midwest High Speed Rail Association member. My renewal date is coming up soon.

Readers should keep in mind that Amtrak service from Chicago to St Louis is one of the most well used in the United States. Ridership has continued to increase enormously the past five years. We need to reward this momentum faster than we are now – with increased speeds, newer trains and passenger compartments.

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