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Rail Becomes an Election Issue in Kentucky; Could it Become Important in Other Statewide Campaigns?

Mongiardo Rail Plan» Running for U.S. Senate, Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo makes a push for better rail-based transportation.

Though choices about investing in transportation frequently plays a role in mayoral and gubernatorial races, rarely do candidates lay out specific plans for new systems that have not before been suggested by state officials or transit proponents. Yet that’s exactly what Daniel Mongiardo is attempting in his effort to win one of Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seats in 2010.

A physician, Mr. Mongiardo ran for the same seat in 2004 as a Democrat, losing to Republican Jim Bunning, who is not running for reelection. In the meantime, Mr. Mongiardo became the state’s Lieutenant Governor once Steve Beshear became Governor in 2007. Though Mr. Mongiardo is the front-runner in the Democratic primary, he is behind in the general-election polls, unsurprising in this GOP-heavy state.

Despite Kentucky’s lackluster public transportation offerings and virtually no Amtrak service, Mr. Mongiardo last week presented a plan to dramatically increase intercity rail service in the state and expand transit in the Louisville area exponentially. Expanding on the federal government’s general plan for high-speed rail, the candidate envisions Kentucky as the center of the nationwide network, connecting the Midwest to the Southeast. Two major lines would be built: one from Cincinnati south through Lexington towards Atlanta and another from Louisville south through Bowling Green towards Birmingham. Slower lines would head across the state and connect to smaller destinations. These links make sense as part of a national rail plan and would be able to attract a number of passengers if neighboring states such as Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio, were to get on board with their connected corridors.

In the Louisville area, Mr. Mongiardo’s project would mean the construction of dozens of miles of new diesel light rail corridors similar to the New Jersey River Line; these would use existing freight rail infrastructure and encourage commuting by transit to downtown.

A bit more wild are the Lieutenant Governor’s plans for “Rapid Access Monorails” and “Activity Center Loops” in the urban areas that would connect with the other rail lines. Despite the candidate’s seeming enthusiasm for this idea, they are nothing more than gadgetbahn personal rapid transit he appears to have been fed by Cincinnati-based company Novitran, at least according to his own maps. Like all imaginary transit proposals, this would of course be profitable. There is no reason to expect that this project has any chance of being built; there’s little reason to waste time on the concept.

The candidate’s proposals reflect that he is a novice in matters of transportation, but there’s a larger point here.

What’s most interesting about Mr. Mongiardo’s proposed transit links is that a senator in the U.S. Congress has very little direct influence on the decision-making of local authorities when it comes to transit, nor on the choices made by the state government on intercity rail. Nevertheless, he seems to have concluded that a specific vision of where new transit might go is more palpable to voters than a simple promise of more federal money. Unfortunately, the latter is the one thing a senator actually can produce.

In fact, Mr. Mongiardo makes the very good point that his state contributes around four times as much to the mass transit trust fund as it gets back — the federal government should fund more non-automobile transportation there.

Whether Kentuckyians will pick up on the message is a different question — especially if they begin to question whether the candidate’s promises have any value. During his time as Lieutenant Governor, the state’s Transportation Cabinet — its Department of Transportation — has failed to work seriously for any new rail project in the state. Perhaps worse, the roads projects it has endorsed, including the massive and unnecessary new I-64 bridge and interchange through downtown Louisville, have often been unnecessary and detrimental to the well-being of the state’s cities.

Yet the relative specificity of the plans suggests a new interest in public transportation in areas that once seemed antithetical to the idea, like Kentucky. If Mr. Mongiardo considers it worth his time to promote a transit scheme to a primarily road-using constituency, America is rapidly evolving. When will candidates in other statewide races begin proposing new transit projects of their own?

Image above: Mongiardo’s proposed rail system, from his campaign website.

14 replies on “Rail Becomes an Election Issue in Kentucky; Could it Become Important in Other Statewide Campaigns?”

The point on the map identified as Lexington is actually Winchester, and the point identified as Frankfort in Lexington. I know Kentucky railroads pretty well and can remember these lines when they still had passenger service.

I’m wondering whether he’s read my Appalachian Hub essays – except for staying on the Kentucky side of the river in the Louisville / points west corridor, ultimately to Saint Louis, and that section to eastern Kentucky that I hadn’t looked at (the STRACNET corridor runs along the river – there is no STRACNET corridor into eastern Kentucky except for the connector from Cincinnati to Lexington, and I only sketched the southern extension in the above map, down to Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Atalanta), it looks quite familiar.

It even has the Nashville Corridor heading to Birmingham, as I discussed a month ago: Sunday Train: The Birmingham Hub.

Note how the map has zero service within urban areas – it’s all about getting people out of urban areas.

Just because it’s on rails doesn’t mean it’s not a subsidy to rural areas.

This guy is delusional. He means well but this plan isn’t realistic on any level. Frankly, the federal government is more likely to invest in places like Florida, California, and Texas — major urbanized areas that are in desperate need of public transportation and mass transit systems. And of course Alon makes the point that this primarily serves rural areas. In rural Kentucky, transportation is a real issue but its probably not feasible to make a state-wide transportation service to serve these little back-country communities.

If anything, they should be funneling their transportation funds into localized transit projects.

An Amtrak service passing through some of Kentucky’s cities and smaller towns might not be such a bad idea though.

Ok Louisville, Lexington, Ashland, Bowling Green and Northern Kentucky are not “little back-country communities.” Some of the extensions are dillusional, yes. Like to Pikeville and what not. But a connection between NKY, Louisville, and Lexington would be very feasible. Highway traffic can be ridiculous through these areas and same with traffic. THere’s lots of traffic all the time between these areas. THey’re the lifeline of KY’s economy. There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t work here. Maybe not this extensive but the larger lines, most definitely

Jake, say you want to get from Louisville to Lexington. There’s an intercity train, but there’s no transit worth mentioning in either Louisville or Lexington. Or, there’s a highway, with good connecting urban roads in both cities. Which mode of transportation do you choose to take?

Ok if you’re going to downtown Louisville where the businesses are you can walk or take TARC. TARC has a goof reputation in the state as decent. Plus, doesn’t this plan also include intra-city transportation monies? If what you said should be the case everywhere, not connecting to cities w bad public transit, then half the HSR plan for the nation should be trashed. I definitely see your points. Believe me, I live here, way too little transit, I agree. But don’t completely discredit.

TARC is a bus system with 45,000 daily riders, hardly the pinnacle of connecting transit. But even it is better than what’s proposed in the plan. The article Yonah links to says,

He’s proposed hybrid light rail lines to connect metropolitan regions and their suburbs, with electric cars that can travel up to 80 mph on existing freight train lines. He has also proposed local monorail systems with automated cars that would travel about 55 mph on elevated tracks above existing roads.

In other words, the plan’s only urban lines are driverless monorail, i.e. gadgetbahn. And either the plan or the article made the mistake of calling commuter rail “hybrid light rail.” I don’t need to completely discredit; this proposal discredits itself.

What most of us transit savvy folks need to realize is that Dr Mongiardo has been sheltered from some of these realities mentioned before. This plan is far from complete and NEEDS a lot of work. I, for one, am glad that the subject has even come up in a race for any political office in Kentucky.

To a lot of people in this state, the map looks good and the press release is full of buzzwords and generalized facts and it might strike a chord in some minds. If we want it to become a reality, then we need to quit trashing it and begin supplying corrections and finer details to the campaign. They have shown interest in gathering more information(as I have posted on my blog).

The issue is clear here Kentucky lacks good intercity transportation. Today only Ashland, South Shore, Maysville and Fulton have Amtrak service. Greyhound serves only Elizabethtown, Bowling Green, Madisonville, Paducah, Lexington, London, Berea, Louisville and Ashland. Only Ashland has both Greyhound and Amtrak. Our state capitol has NO Inter City Service no Greyhound, No Amtrak, No Airline. No scheduled transportation exists between Louisville and Frankfort or Lexington and Frankfort. The facts are clear KY transportation is broke and needs fixing. The state gets nearly 2 million to fund inter city bus services yet when both Miller Trailways and Anchor Trailways applied for this funding they were turned down by the office of transportation delivery. The routes included from Miller Trailways – Route One Evansville to Henderson, Owensboro, Cloverport, Hardinsburg, Brandenburg, Fort Knox to Louisville Route Two Louisville- Simpsonville- Shelbyville- Frankfort – Versailles- Lexington – Winchester- Mt Sterling- Morehead- Olive Hill – Grayson- Ashland- Huntington, WV Route Three: Lexington- Winchester- Mt Sterling- Frenchburg- West Liberty- Salyersville- Paintsville- Prestonsburg- Pikeville and Jenkins KY KYTC Turned down this idea in favor of on demand response service at a cost of 80 cents per mile from the rural transits. Imagine the cost at 80 cents per mile for a one way trip on demand from Pikeville to Lexington geez Anchor Trailways proposed service from Fulton to Paducah and from Paducah to Louisville over the WK Pky. It was also turned down. The Miller Trailways plan had the backing of Greyhound!!!! Ironically at the same time Miller Trailways applied for the same money in Indiana and guess what five new routes start this month from Kalamazoo MI to Elkhart to South Bend to Kokomo and Indianapolis, From Indianapolis to Bloomington to Bedford, Mitchell, Orleans, Paoli. Vincennes, to Evansville, from Seymour to Columbus to Edinburg to Indianapolis, From Indianapolis to Fortville, Pendleton, Anderson and Muncie and a final service from Louisville to Corydon, Ferdinand and Evansville. Anchor Trailways is running with the same type of funding service from Nashville Tennessee to Columbia TN and Florence Alabama, It is also going to operate service from Memphis to Union City to Paris to Nashville later this year. Tennessee has an aggressive state wide passenger rail plan and it is on the internet. So Dr Dan’s ideas have merit especially between Louisville and Nashville, Cincinnati and Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington .Busses would be better for the rest of it for now. Sadly I remember when a good part of it was in place prior to 1971 and 1979. By rail and 1989 by bus.

Dr. Dan should replace his monorail plan in Louisville with true electrified light rail. That’s what was proposed in the first place. And it is not “diesel light rail”; it’s more like commuter rail.

The idea of a “Kentucky State Railroad” serving rural areas is even more ambitious than what I myself would see.

One more thing: The rail idea is a lot better than the I-66 and I-69 crap that’s being proposed. They should both be dropped.

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