Arthur Stilwell is the man who had the original vision, eventually building the Kansas City Southern. He was born in Rochester, N.Y. in 1859, gaining an insight to railroading through his grandfather, who had been a key founder of the New York Central Railroad, as well as a builder of the Erie Canal.
Stilwell was once listening to a conversation between his grandfather and Commodore Vanderbilt, and when Vanderbilt asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said "I’m going West to build a railroad!"
Stilwell probably never imagined a train ride from Kansas City to St. Louis could take only an hour and a half. Just a couple more hours to Chicago. But it’s now that Missouri legislators have that same gleam in their eyes, and a few are working to make it a reality.
U.S. Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Claire McCaskill of Missouri are pushing for a high-speed rail corridor between St. Louis and Chicago. Obama has set aside $8 billion for rail corridors with high-speed rail a high priority. Durbin and McCaskill reportedly met with Amtrack and Union Pacific officials — in a private meeting — on Friday.
Rep. Charlie Schlottach (R-Owensville) is the chairman of Missouri’s Transportation and Economic Development Committee. He also chairs the Midwest Regional Rail Commission that comprises 13 states.
Schlottach says transportation funding has always been a matter of contention in the Capitol, but that attitudes are changing. "People are demanding choices," he says, and many of them indicate that travel by rail is among the choices they want as a viable choice.
When asked when a high-speed rail might be a reality, Schlottach says he can’t say for sure, but it would be sooner than later.
"Interest in rail is on the rise," he says.
The $8 billion Missouri is hoping will improve and expand its rail system is part of $64 billion in the stimulus package for roads, bridges, rail and transit.
The money will be awarded on a competitive basis.
Current projects are adding track to areas between Jefferson City and Kansas City that have been notorious for bottle-necking as Amtrak passenger trains and Union Pacific cargo trains vie for track space. The passenger trains typically are the ones that get put behind schedule — the cargo trains are often too long to pull off and let the passenger trains through. This has been contributing to late arrivals and unhappy customers. Amtrak has been working to improve its on-time performance, these various expansions will help.
Work on the eastern side of the state, from Jefferson City to St. Louis, involves bridge upgrades to facilitate more rail traffic. These upgrades, Schlottach says, put Missouri ahead of the game so that when high-speed rail is a reality, we’ll be ready.