Proponents of a metro commuter rail system offered some new details Thursday and again stressed that such a system is needed for Kansas City to keep up economically with cities from Denver to Indianapolis to Omaha.

Proponents of a metro commuter rail system offered some new details Thursday and again stressed that such a system is needed for Kansas City to keep up economically with cities from Denver to Indianapolis to Omaha.


“It’s a major issue if we’re to begin to think about how to compete the next 10, 15, 20 years,” Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said at the monthly Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon.


Sanders has been rolling out his Kansas City Regional Rapid Rail plan for elected officials and groups such as chambers of commerce for close to a year and – other than Kansas City light-rail advocate Clay Chastain – hasn’t run into any opposition.


The Blue Springs chamber is asking its members for their comments. “I think it’s a great idea,” said chamber Chairman Ryan Fry.


Sanders and Jim Terry, a principal at TransSystems in Kansas City and the principal designer of the system, outlined the plan:


Six lines in Jackson, Clay, Platte and Wyandotte counties would converge at Union Station. The system would operate 16 hours a day, mainly to get people to and from work but also to the airport, big sporting events and major shopping areas. The trains would scoot along at up to 70 mph and have amenities such as Wi-Fi. “Put your bicycle on there if you want to,” Terry said.


Terry puts the price tag at slightly more than $1 billion – less than $8 million per mile, far lower than systems in other cities – mostly because 70 percent of it uses tracks or old rail corridors that are already in place and are underused or not used at all. The line through Independence, Blue Springs and Grain Valley, for example, would use Kansas City Southern tracks that currently handle only five trains daily – four of them at night.


Running the system would cost about $30 million a year, and officials are putting together ridership estimates, a key part of winning federal funding.


Terry – described by Sanders as having “walked every mile, looked at every spike” – said the system is needed to address Kansas City’s urban and suburban sprawl.


“We have got to be able to move people from where they live to their jobs and back,” Terry said.


Commuter rail also promises cost advantages. Another lane of I-70 from Blue Springs to downtown Kansas City – the state is looking at those plans already – would cost $4.5 billion, compared with slightly more than $1 billion to build the entire four-county commuter rail system.


“We just cannot keep building highways and build our way out of this,” Terry said. The plan also is about less than one-seventh of the cost, per mile, of the most recent Kansas City light rail plan.


Sanders has repeatedly said his system would transform Kansas City, and he and Terry said the area already is losing conventions and losing young professionals to other cities, with transportation being a chief reason.


“We’re losing those market shares to Denver, Indianapolis, Omaha – Omaha of all places,” Sanders said.


“It would be nice to be able to get on the train here in Blue Springs and go to Village West,” Terry added.


Terry also held out the promise of a significant economic boost from building the system. Kansas City doesn’t just have lots of rail lines, he said, it also has companies that serve the rail industry. Terry has two options in mind for the trains themselves – one model built in Europe, one built in Arkansas. Perhaps, he said, instead of Arkansas, those could be built at a refurbished Leeds plant near the stadiums.


“All the services you need to do this are right here,” he said.