On Down the Line
Here are 10 reasons streetcars make sense in the 21st century, followed by 8 reasons to reunite ‘The Dummy’ and the Warrensburg community:
1. STREET CARS HELP BUILD A CITY. An advocacy group, Reconnecting America, notes that streetcar systems shape a city. Their fixed rails influence land use, development and growth patterns. The “streetcar effect” stimulates desirable development along the line. Investments in streetcar rails assure permanence. A bus route can disappear overnight.
2. STREET CARS HELP BUILD A COMMUNITY. Streetcars promote compact, walkable, people–friendly development. They produce streetscapes where people want to walk, bike, shop and simply hang out. Streetcars also are popular image makers for rising neighborhoods.
3. EMOTIONAL PULL. People like to ride streetcars. The ride is comfortable and somehow upscale. As Reconnecting America suggests, maybe it’s our happy association with the choo–choo trains of childhood — whatever, it works.
4. CONNECTIVITY. Streetcars put more people on other rail systems. A streetcar system delivers passengers to light–rail, subway and intercity lines (Amtrak).
5. NEW RAILS ARE ENVIRONMENTALLY SMART. The cleaner air, reduced oil dependency, and climate protection that makes public transit preferable to cars applies to streetcars. Every transit user represents one less car on the street.
6. THEY DRAW POSITIVE ATTENTION. Streetcars attract tourists but also provide a steady stream of patrons to neighborhood businesses. Neighborhoods become destinations, producing greater sales tax and hotel tax revenues.
7. THEY PROMOTE SMARTER, EFFECIENT BUILDING. Development dollars follow streetcar lines. A higher quality of development becomes more economically feasible because less land–gobbling parking is required.
8. THEY HELP THE LOCAL ECONOMY. Streetcars raise property values. The “streetcar effect” in Portland has raised values for three blocks on either side of the line. Business improves through more walk–ins and new residents.
9. THEY ARE CHEAP TO GET UP AND RUNNING. Streetcars less expensive to build than any other rail system. They’re quick and simple to construct, affecting traffic for just a couple of weeks as rails are laid. And, like mules, streetcars are tough. San Francisco operates a fleet built in the 1940s.
10. THEY CAN MORPH TO MATCH THE COMMUNITY. Streetcars can be sleek and modern—or vintage and charming. Vintage reconditioned streetcars operate in Little Rock and Seattle as well as San Francisco. Old systems with vintage cars survive in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Toronto.
Many cities are embracing their streetcar pasts with 21st century technology. St. Louis’ future streetcar line is powered by batteries and overhead electric lines, for instance. Warrensburg also can adopt 21st–century transportation technology and make the new Dummy the city’s latest vehicle of change. Eight ways the new W&PSRR will benefit the community and how to do it:
1. The new, battery–powered Dummy will be like no other transit line in the U.S. Though small, it will not be a “demonstration” project. It will provide a key—and instantly popular—transportation connection between central Warrensburg, the UCM campus and Pertle Springs.
2. The new line will be an iconic Warrensburg symbol, establishing the city as progressive and a leader in green technology. Media attention and tourism follow.
3. Passengers will ride on a quiet one– or two–car train pulled by a zero–emission, battery–powered engine. New cars resembling the early 1900's originals will be built of recycled plastics on light, aluminum frames. Salvaged rails will sit on cross–ties made of recycled plastic.
4. By using local and regional resources, construction costs can be greatly reduced, while offering hands–on educational opportunities. Local students can fabricate much of the line’s rolling stock. Local manufacturers could donate parts/services in exchange for advertising. Gomaco Corp. in Iowa sells trolley wheels and engines. Abandoned Rock Island Line track is available for salvage.
5. All but a single section of original right of way is on city or university property. The ROW remains free of structures and crosses UCM parking on the campus.
6. The new line would have six stops—one each near the original station downtown and at Pertle Springs, which also would be the location of the maintenance shop.
7. Ownership will be held by the not–for–profit Warrensburg and Pertle Springs Railroad. The W&PSRR will provide project coordination and oversight. The not–for–profit corporation will seek federal, state, and private grants to finance.
8. Additional financing for the line’s construction and operation could comefrom bonds backed by a new UCM student activity fee.