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Tailor-made rail service (column)
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        Posted on Mon, Mar. 17, 2003      <
Locally tailored rail service

Special to The Star

While funding has been found to maintain railroad passenger service in Missouri for the immediate future, several alternatives to Amtrak as the service provider have been proposed.

The Department of Transportation has started soliciting proposals from private companies to operate passenger rail service after one provider, Herzog Transit Services of St. Joseph, said it could operate the trains at a lower cost than Amtrak.

However, another approach is already being used in some states, including Texas.

The duty of the legislature should be to establish regional transportation authorities, complete with taxing powers that can be tailored to the areas involved. These regional authorities could rely on sales taxes for funding.

Each authority then would make the necessary contract with the owners of the railroad for its use -- or in some cases it would buy the right-of-way -- and then would contract the operation of the trains to the private sector. Any federal funds should come as competitive, discretionary grants.

This would create an accurate match between the region that would be served and the public that would pay for it.

This is a pattern developing in Texas with several transportation authorities now operating or being created, starting with Dallas in 1983. Fort Worth and Dallas bought the former Rock Island line between the two cities and turned it over to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Fort Worth Transit. The two authorities engaged Herzog to operate the line and integrated it with their other light rail and bus lines. More than 50 commuter trains and 14 freight trains now use the line daily. Other cities are following suit.

Missouri officials might do well to examine this approach, because any transportation system needs an established and dependable source of funds. Direct federal funding should be limited to the national interstate routes where costs and benefits are well distributed, and the operation of such routes should be Amtrak's only role in the future.

M.D. "Dan" Monaghan is a former Dallas Area Rapid Transit board member and a member of the Texas Association of Rail Passengers. He lives in Garland, Texas.

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