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Examiner
  • Mayors seek commuter rail answers

  • Eastern Jackson County mayors are asking to meet with executives of Kansas City Southern Railways to see if the impasse over the county’s commuter rail plan can be resolved.

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  • Eastern Jackson County mayors are asking to meet with executives of Kansas City Southern Railways to see if the impasse over the county’s commuter rail plan can be resolved.
    “We want to meet with them and see how we get this train back on the tracks,” Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross said.
    A letter – signed by the mayors of Blue Springs, Independence, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, Sugar Creek, Raytown, Lee’s Summit and Grandview – was sent to the railroad late last week. The mayors are asking for a response by April 12. As of late this week, Ross said, the railroad hadn’t responded.
    “It’s not an insurmountable situation. It’s just one we’ve got to work out,” Independence Mayor Don Reimal said.
    Until a few weeks ago, it appeared that a transit plan largely based on commuter rail – starting with two lines from Kansas City into Eastern Jackson County – was headed for the ballot in August. Voters would be asked to OK a countywide sales tax.
    But Kansas City Southern and the Union Pacific, which each own tracks critical to the plan, are in a standoff over where in Kansas City the initial routes would terminate. Last month, County Executive Mike Sanders said the idea of going to the voters this year is out.
    Ross points out that area officials – Sanders and his staff, the mayors, others – have put a lot of time and effort into getting plans ready for a vote this year.
    “We want them (KCS) to explain themselves as to why there’s a change of heart,” he said.
    The standoff is over which end of the Kansas City downtown streetcar line – coming in 2015 – the first two commuter lines would meet. The original plan was to go to Union Station, the south end of the streetcar line. The UP says that idea needs lots of study, which could take years. So officials switched to Third Street and Grand Avenue in the River Market, the north end of the streetcar line.
    County officials say they’re fine with that and contend that for a commuter headed to work downtown, it makes little difference. Now KCS is insisting on Union Station, but the UP says that’s not in the cards. County officials say they can’t proceed without both railroads on board.
    “Eventually we would love to get it to Union Station, but that was not part of the plan,” Ross said.
    The first proposed commuter rail line would run east out of Kansas City on KCS tracks, making two stops in Independence, one in Blue Springs – and a second one some day, city officials hope – one in Grain Valley and one in Oak Grove. Eventually there would be several lines in the metro area. The UP owns the old Rock Island tracks from near the stadiums south and east into Lee’s Summit, and that’s the second corridor to be developed, perhaps first with express buses before commuter rail.
    Page 2 of 2 - Advocates say commuter rail would transform Kansas City and make its economy more vibrant.
    “It’s a big thing for all of Jackson County,” Reimal said.
     
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