I’m With The Anti-Mappers

It’s good to see Louisville getting back to its normal routines and traditions. The Kentucky Derby and Derby Festival are approaching, albeit still modified. Some are spending April days indoors not because of quarantine but, rather, because we can’t breath the pollen-infused air outdoors. Most telling, though, is that the community can once again lose its collective mind over a train map. 

To be clear, I stand with the anti-mappers… this is an outrage! (More on that in a minute.) 

But, it’s not even a real train map. It’s a hypothetical train map… a “vision” map, produced by Amtrak. The map depicts what new cities and services could be added to its existing passenger train network if the federal government invested in rail infrastructure — something along the lines of the $80 billion designated specifically for rail in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

And, guess what? Louisville made the map! We could soon be able to travel by train to other major U.S. cities! 

Then we started to look closer at the map.

OK, we barely made the map. Louisville would essentially be a standalone extension of Amtrak’s existing Midwest corridor, with the only practical connections to major cities being Indianapolis, then Chicago and on to Milwaukee. No, this train service wouldn’t help us go east, or west, or south… so Louisville is still not viewed as a major city, and Kentucky is still fly-over country. We suck. 

So it was, a good, old fashioned Louisville-spiraling sequence of emotions — from happy and optimistic to cynical, contemptuous and mad as hell. 

We’re back!

Fortunately, LEO offers more time than the Twittersphere to digest and add perspective to this outrage. So let’s relax and look at the future of rail for Louisville… and this map!

First, Louisville isn’t being selfish or self-centered by wanting to connect beyond Indiana and the Midwest. If it makes sense economically to connect Louisville to Indy and Chicago, it has to make sense for Louisville to be connected to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Nashville and on to Memphis and Atlanta. That’s not just so we are connected to those cities — making all those quick, safe, easy trips — but it’s so all of those cities are connected, as well. Without Louisville, the South and Midwest will remain regionally segregated. 

Louisville is the only city that can connect the entire South with the entire Midwest.

Fortunately, in 2009 the Georgia Department of Transportation studied the feasibility of the “Atlanta-Louisville corridor,” including three high speed rail options, each passing through Chattanooga and Nashville. The first, cheapest, high-speed option is a shared-use route, which would partially follow existing commercial CSX Transportation lines. With an average speed of 72 mph, you could be in Atlanta in just under seven hours. The second option, a dedicated high speed line, would average 122 mph and get you to Atlanta in three-and-a-half hours. The third option, a “maglev” service — using magnetic levitation to propel the train over 220 mph — would average 143 mph and get you to The ATL in three hours. 

The Georgia study led the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to conclude in a 2015 report that each of the “alternatives performed well under the operating ratio analysis, resulting in anticipated ridership versus estimated revenue ratios well above the necessary benefit-cost ratio for all three scenarios.…The operating revenue surplus could encourage investment from the private sector, reducing public financing required.…[T]he study recommended that the results be used to set priorities for future state planning and corridor development activities. In particular, this study found that high-speed passenger rail service is feasible in the Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville-Louisville Corridor.”

I’m in for the levitating train. 

And if the “Atlanta-Louisville corridor” is feasible, Louisville to Indy and the Midwest has to be feasible, as well, along with Cincinnati and St. Louis — each one multiplying the economic impact of infrastructure connectivity. 

So let’s not dwell on Amtrak’s primitive map. What we need first is the American Jobs Act, which Mitch McConnell has vowed Republicans will oppose. 

I recommend, instead of sharing your thoughts on Twitter, share your thoughts with every Republican in the state — from senators McConnell and Paul to the five House representatives and every state legislator. Let them know that you want President Biden’s American Jobs Plan passed and a real map drawn, one that makes Louisville the new high speed rail American gateway. 

Then, we can worry about the details later.