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Friday, February 19, 2010

Hardin County, Ken., looking at passenger rail

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If efforts to re-establish passenger rail service in Hardin County, Ken., were a children's story, it would be titled, "The Little Engine that Couldn't." 

Regardless of how tall that hill may be, though, two recent developments have given at least some steam to the possibility, local newsppers report.


First, the Federal Railroad Administration last month approved a $250,000 grant to investigate the possibility of high-speed passenger service along a route that may include Hardin County.

 Second, a push to establish service from Louisville, Ken., to Hardin County apparently is not dead, although a year has passed without funding for a feasibility study.

The corridor that the FRA is looking into would go from Chicago to Atlanta, passing through Louisville and Nashville, Tenn. While it's too early to say if this service would include Hardin County, rail advocate David Morse said he thinks Elizabethtown probably would be a stop along the route.

 After all, an interstate and a major rail line connecting Louisville and Nashville pass through there.

 Morse said it would be a second-tier route, though, and establishing it would come after one from Chicago to St. Louis, for instance.

Also, advocates in Georgia were disappointed to receive such a small portion of the president's $8-billion pool of rail grants, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"It is possible a funding stream could materialize in the future," Morse said. He thinks the White House was surprised at the popularity of high-speed rail.

As for the Hardin County to Louisville project, the Transit Authority of River City has asked the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency for $120,000 to fund the initial study.

 The development agency isn't sure if money will be available for the project this year, spokesman Josh Suiter said. The picture will become clearer at the end of the fiscal year when the agency finds out how much money is left over to pay for projects of outside groups.

If a rail service is established the early challenge would be getting enough riders, Morse said. If only 60 people were aboard, why not just run a bus? He said commuter rail really starts to cook once a train has 100 to 150 riders.

 About 15,000 people in 2000 commuted between Hardin, Meade and Jefferson counties, according to the Census Bureau.

Members of Morse's group met with Hardin and Jefferson county officials in 2008 for a demonstration ride between Cecilia and Louisville along the Paducah and Louisville Railway. 

The line likely would go from Louisville to Elizabethtown, according to the planning study application.

Growth at Fort Knox Army post is seen as a selling point for such an endeavor.


This is a pretty affordable project," Morse said.

There also was talk of a possible commuter train stop here about 10 years ago when Amtrak considered a Chicago to Nashville route.

 There has been no local passenger rail service since the 1970s.

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