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St. Louis Needs True High-Speed Rail To Chicago

January 31, 2013 Featured, Planning & Design, Transportation 26 Comments

Earlier this month we learned of a St. Louis firm moving to Chicago:

St. Louis-based construction firm Clayco Inc. is moving its headquarters to Chicago, attracted by ease of air travel, proximity to clients, access to young professionals and the potential to land city business as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes ahead with public-private partnerships for infrastructureimprovements, its top executive said Thursday. (Chicago Tribune)

ABOVE: MidwestHigh Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish speaking in St. Louis in November.
ABOVE: Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish speaking in St. Louis in November.

Clayco is keeping their St. Louis building and many employees:

Clayco’s founder Bob Clark moved to Chicago in 2010. He’s close with hard-charging Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Privately held Clayco will retain its large office on Interstate 170 but Clark and the company bosses will operate from their new HQ in a Wacker Drive skyscraper. (stltoday.com – Chicago lures Clayco with air connections and young professionals

Ah the consolation prize, for now.

Lambert airport just can’t compete with the number of flights from Chicago’s two airports. But we don’t have to just sit back and watch company after company leave St. Louis. Nor do we have to just sit back and do nothing as young talent graduating from our higher ed institutions leave the St. Louis region to work in more vibrant cities like Chicago.

We need a vibrant and urban city of St. Louis — not just a few urban blocks scattered about.

Transportation wise we’re not going to get Lambert on par with Chicago, but we can support efforts to connect to Chicago by high-speed rail:

Right now, it takes five-and-a-half hours to get from St. Louis to Chicago by train but the director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association says a two-and-a-half hour ride should be the goal, arguing that it is critical to economic development. (KMOX)

A 2.5 hour train ride from downtown St. Louis to downtown Chicago with wifi the entire time would be a game changer, we’d be better connected to the Great Lakes Megalopolis.  Many are working to make this a reality, including:

I look forward to being able to quickly get to many cities via rail through Chicago. This connection will make St. Louis more attractive to young workers as a place to live and those seeking to hire them.

— Steve Patterson




Currently there are "26 comments" on this Article:

  1. Scott Jones says:

    “We need a vibrant and urban city of St. Louis — not just a few urban blocks scattered about.” — well said.

    I wouldn’t read too much into this though. It sounds like the main reason for moving is $. He sees an opportunity with city contracts in Chicago and it will be much easier to get those contracts politically if his company is based *in* Chicago.

  2. Eric says:

    A 2.5 hour train ride to Chicago would be great, but why 2.5 hours? Wouldn’t 2 or 1.5 hours be even better? You will tell me that those are more expensive. But how much more expensive? And how expensive would a 2.5 hour line be to build? Someone has to provide numbers to back the proposals up.

    What you CAN say is that a 2.5 hour ride will be faster (security, arrival at airport, etc.), more comfortable, and more reliable (weather) than flying. And based on the experience of other countries, this line will probably be priced about the same as flying, and it won’t make a big profit but will almost certainly break even. So it will probably be worth it. But my vague calculations here are not enough, a real study is needed.

  3. JZ71 says:

    Instead of rail, why not frequent, air-based shuttle service, similar to what is offered on the east coast? High-speed rail assumes that downtown-to-downtown travel is what most people want. With many businesses (including Clayco) located in suburban areas, as well as having employees traveling to and from homes across the region, getting downtown may be more of a hassle than getting to the airport. And what about both premium and discount bus services? Both modes (air and bus) rely on existing infrastructure and would not require the massive federal investment that high-speed rail requires. As you note, Amtrak takes 5.5 hours ($26+), the same as Megabus (for less than $20) or simply driving ($150 @ $0.50/mile). Southwest makes the trip in a little over an hour ($140+), plus another hour to get thru security. Timewise, high-speed rail falls in between; the real kicker is what will the fare be? The same as Southwest? Higher? The same as Amtrak or Megabus? Will you need a rental car, once you get to Chicago? Or will a taxi and/or public transit work? Total Travel Time / Proximity to Origin & Destination + Total Cost + Schedule / Frequency / Convenience = Best Choice. Yes, high-speed rail would offer one more option. The question is how many customers will it actually be able to attract from its competition? Or will it appeal to just a small subset of the traveling public?





    • Travelers in the NE corridor have found rail to be an increasingly preferred method of travel. Arriving in Chicago’s Union Station is very different than arriving at either airport.

      • JZ71 says:

        And that presumes that Homeland Security will not implement the same level of intrusive screening procedures that the TSA requires for airline travel. The biggest negative for domestic air travel these days, especially for trips of less than 500 miles, is the having to arrive at the airport 1-2 hours before the flight leaves just to clear security, getting partially undressed, having your stuff searched and potentially being groped by some government employee, negating much of the attraction of saving time. As we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, surface transportation is just as vulnerable to terrorist attack as air transportation. Should we ever see an attack on Amtrak, I fully expect metal detectors and wanding will be added at every train station, negatively affecting the currently “better” rail travel experience.

        As for the “arriving” part, I agree that it’s different, but I’d also argue that it’s pretty irrelevant. Most travelers simply want to collect their luggage and get out, they’re more worried about the weather and the traffic outside than they are about the grandness (Chicago’s Union Station) or the dumpiness (Chicago’s old Midway Airport Terminal) of wherever they’ve arrived. The biggest facilities issue is probably the most mundane – where’s the restroom? Is it clean? Do I have to wait? Where do I get a cab? My rental car? Public transit? Terminals aren’t places arriving passengers linger unless a) they’re meeting other people, b) waiting to be picked up, c) waiting to make a connection, or d) are up to no good. (Terminals make a much bigger impression when you’re leaving, when you invariably have to wait, and have plenty of time to contemplate the architectural nuances . . . .)

        • No, if you’re a St. Louis business person and you’ve got a lunch meeting with a Chicago business person, flying requires you get to our airport by car or MetroLink then get from Midway to say Chicago’s Loop (rent a car?). Flying would take longer even if additional security is added at the train station.

          • Greg says:

            There is CTA rail service (Orange line) from Midway directly to the loop. Takes about 25 minutes.

  4. Guesty says:

    Clayco didn’t leave because they needed to be in the Chicago market. They left because Chicago provides easy cheap access to the rest of the country and many corporate headquarters. The company makes its money through large projects around the country, not by projects here in St. Louis. If St. Louis can once again be a transportation hub, maybe we can retain more of these companies that are fleeing the region.

  5. RyleyinSTL says:

    While I’d LOVE a 90min train ride to Chicago I don’t see that keeping large National/International companies. Lambert needs more direct flights to the cities these companies do business in… particularly with airlines that offer business class and/or regular boarding policies. Additionally something as basic as a direct London, UK flight is impossible due to nonexistent International connections (save a crop-duster run to YYZ and a handful of sun destinations). You can fly direct to Europe from Raleigh–Durham but not STL…what’s up with that?

    • Greg says:

      There are two reasons RDU has service to Europe and St. Louis does not.

      1) There is a strong pharmaceutical industry in both the RDU area and near London. At least one pharmaceutical company subsidizes AA’s RDU-LHR flight.

      2) STL-LHR is just out of range of a 757 which would be the only airplane which is the right size for the route (160-180 seats).
      757s allow a number of smaller eastern cities (PIT, RDU) non-stop service to Europe where larger planes would not be economically viable.

  6. tpekren says:

    Steve, I think referencing Clayco HQ moving to Chicago lacks some context in large part due to the CEO wanting to live and has been increasingly spending most of his time in Chicago (believe he is a widow). Not too mention his connections to the Mayor Emmaneul and the board of a private company obviously smitten to keep him. Very much like Charter being purchased and the incoming executive had no intention to move to St. Louis from the Northeast. CEO and their Executives desires still matter.
    The reality is that HOK, McCarthy and Alberici are doing fine very much being St. Louis but with significant national and international markets. Heck, I see a McCarthy pickups often in my commute to my new home in the San Fran Bay. Why? these companies like Clayco and my own work don’t really on great airport connections for a large mass of its employees. I would say they rely a whole lot more on a great IT department and project managers who often work a project on the ground.

  7. Ben says:

    Shouldn’t the real call be to expand rail service to and from saint louis? The focus should be on bridging Saint Louis with growing economies; OK City, Omaha, Des Moines, high speed to Wallyworld down in Arkansas, connecting to Nashville and reinstating an all rail route to Memphis/New Orleans. Faster connections to Chicago is a huge step but Saint Louis needs to become its own regional hub. There is a lot of potential to be the vital connection between the south, the plains, and the midwest. Riding on Chicago’s coattails can only get Saint Louis so far.

  8. moe says:

    Highspeed Rail = $$$$$. Also, I seriously doubt that any executives for Clayco and many of the area’s top companies use public transportation (one ex.http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/local-construction-firm-s-jet-has-close-call-at-chicago/article_1b634e7c-3cc4-11e1-ac6c-001a4bcf6878.html )

    • Eric says:

      High speed rail is not public transport any more than an airplane is. Who do you think pays to build the airport, and to bail out the airlines when they go bankrupt?

      • JZ71 says:

        Landing fees pay for airports, ticket surcharges pay for the TSA, the FAA provides safety in the skies, just like police provide safety on the ground. Who bails out bankrupt airlines? Hedge funds, investors and other airlines. Freight rail is essentially self supporting, while passenger rail fails to attract customers (compared to other modes) and “needs” to be heavily subsidized, either because it’s too expensive, too slow, too infrequent or all of the above. We support local public transit with tax dollars because some citizens don’t have the option of driving. I fail to see the parallel “need” for subsidizing intercity travel. We have a solid airline industry, a solid intercity bus system and a web of highways open to everyone with their own vehicles. High speed rail would add a fourth(!) option on how to make the trip between St. Louis and a few, select destinations, with absolutely no cost savings to the end users. IF a private company, or even a public-private partnership, could make a valid financial argument for building HSR, I’d be “on board” (pun intended), but the current plan does little to meet any unmet demands and does a lot to stroke some politicians egos!

        HSR is cool technology. If/when it’s built, I might ride it, once or twice, just to check it out, much like the Loop Trolley. I equate it to the Concorde – it was cool technology, but it was simply not sustainable financially. Besides high fares, high fuel costs killed it. HSR faces the same challenges (the basic laws of physics), where fuel efficiency drops as speeds increase. For the same reason, we don’t see jumbo jets serving Lambert – there simply isn’t enough demand to fill them – the vast majority of people will choose to take a smaller plane that meets their schedule than wait hours or days for that “special” plane. The Midwest is low density, we don’t have the density found along the east coast, and few origins or destinations are truly close, by choice, to train stations, bus stations or airports. Getting to Union Station gets you close to the Loop in Chicago, but nowhere near any of the suburbs, nor close to Wrigley Field, McCormick Place or any University. Which raises the real specter of “needing” to add more stops to “serve” those “deserving” communities, much like how Amtrak stops in Kirkwood every day here. I’ll repeat, HSR ain’t high speed if it’s stopped at a station – the more stops, the slower the trip.

        • Eric says:

          1. Landing fees do not come close to paying for airports.

          2. A “bailout” is by definition the use of government money when the private investors are not willing to provide enough money. Government airline bailouts have happened in the past, for example $19 billion (!) in 2001.

          3. Intercity passenger rail makes an operating profit everywhere in the world where it owns the rail corridors, including the Northeast Corridor in the US.

          4. HSR uses much less fuel that airplanes, since it doesn’t have to fight gravity. Also less fuel than driving, since so many people fit in one train. Unlike the Concorde, HSR is more efficient than its competition.

          5. HSR works in Europe, even though most cities there are smaller than Chicago or St Louis. The Midwest as a whole is not “low density” – the urban areas are low density, but since it is expected that many people drive to HSR stations, that is not an issue.

          • JZ71 says:

            1. Are you just wishing that “landing fees don’t come close to paying for airports” or are you disputing that “Lambert derives its income from a combination of fixed-rate passenger fees, concessions, parking, gate leases, and landing fees.” (http://nextstl.com/transportation/save-lambert-kill-concourse-c . . ) or that DIA is self-sustaining (Page 5, http://www.denvergov.org/sirepub/cache/2/a115d5vcgvuxj045kzprroe1/4752802042013045405158.PDF . . .) Heck, even the Midwest High Speed Rail folks agree: “Ticket tax receipts now cover airport construction costs” (http://www.midwesthsr.org/fact-vs-fiction . . .)

            2. I’ve never said that HSR is not an appropriate solution in appropriate corridors. I just don’t agree that St. Louis – Chicago would generate the same ridership numbers as Acela sees along the much-denser-than-the Midwest Washington-New York-Boston corridor. (http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/04/13/high.speed.rail.fact.check/index.html . . . ) Similarly, HSR in Japan benefits from huge population densities: “T?kaid? Shinkansen . . . is the world’s busiest high-speed rail line, carrying 151 million passengers a year between Tokyo (Population 35 million) and Osaka (Population 18 million), the two largest metropolises in Japan. They are 550 km apart and ten trains per hour with 16 cars each (1,300 seats capacity) run in each direction with as little as 3 minutes between trains.” (http://www.transportation.northwestern.edu/docs/2011/2011.01.27.Burns_Paper.pdf . . . ) Compare that to the SMSA’s for St. Louis (2.9M) and Chicago (9.5M), a population that is less than a quarter of that and only slightly less far apart (480 km vs. 550 km).

            3. Everything I’ve read says subsidies are necessary, worldwide, with the exception of the train system serving Mumbai, India.

            4. Yes a train uses less fuel per person WHEN FULL. However, except on holidays and during blizzards, most trains in the Midwest run at far below their potential capacity. Heck, a Suburban carrying a full load of 9 gets the same mileage per person as a Prius driven solo.

            5. The population of London is 8 million,the population of Paris is 2.2 million; the population of St. Louis is 320,000, the population of Chicago is 2.7 million, the population of St. Louis is 0.32 million. Both city pairs are the approximately same distance apart; however driving between London and Paris involves both changing the side of the road you drive on AND paying a steep toll to cross the English Channel. Again, the math speaks for itself.

          • Eric says:

            1. Interesting, but the Lambert expansion was certainly paid for partly by the government, and I assumed that was the case in general.

            2. HSR works in smaller city pairings in Europe, for example Madrid (6M)-Seville (1.5M), distance 530km. From Wikipedia: “On the Madrid–Sevilla link, the AVE connection [=train] increased share from 16 to 52%; air traffic shrunk from 40 to 13%; road traffic from 44 to 36%, hence the rail market amounted to 80% of combined rail and air traffic.[33] This figure increased to 89% in 2009”

            3. Profitable rail lines include “the entire Japanese rail network, the entire French intercity rail network, the entire German intercity rail network, the entire Korean intercity and maybe also commuter rail network, the Spanish AVE network, and now that interest rates have been lowered to reasonable levels THSR.” See the discussion in the comments section of http://www.cahsrblog.com/2012/10/investors-line-up-for-hsr-profits/

            4. Airplanes are also not always full. Trains in the Midwest nowadays are not full, because they are the worst possible mode by any consideration (slower and more expensive than both cars and buses, not to mention slower than planes). With HSR that won’t be the case.

            5. As mentioned in #2, HSR mainly takes from air traffic, not cars. And STL-CHI HSR does not need the ridership or frequency of London-Paris to be profitable.

  9. JZ71 says:

    OK, let’s run with your assumption, that there’s a (small) market to connect Clayco’s two offices, the one at 2199 Innerbelt Business Center Dr.? and the one at 35 E. Wacker Drive. Using your example, a Clayco employee could use Metro and get to the Civic Center Transit in 66 minutes, using the 94 bus, while driving would take only 16 minutes. (They could also use Metrolink, but that would actually take longer.) High-speed rail promises a 150 minute train ride. Walking the 1.1 miles/14-15 blocks from Union Station to the Wacker Ave. offices would take 22 minutes; a taxi would take 5-10 minutes. Total travel time, door-to-door, would be between 180 and 240 minutes / 3-4 hours. In contrast, the same employee could use Metro to get to Lambert (60 minutes) or drive (15 minutes), fly Southwest to Midway (70 minutes) and take the CTA Brown Line to a station that is a half block from the front door (25 minutes). Total travel time, door-to-door, would be 120-165 minutes / 2-3 hours, or an hour quicker than the “high-speed” train. Total trip time would obviously take longer, with time required for parking, checking-in, waiting for the various modes of transit, and, in the case with flying, clearing security. The two big variables would be predictability/reliability (flying can be more affected by bad weather) and frequency (Southwest has 9 flights a day) – Amtrak currently has 5 trains a day, 4 dedicated and one that continues on to Texas; the number of trips with high-speed rail is unknown. The final variable, but less so for business travelers, is price. We still don’t know what a ticket on high-speed rail will cost, and until that is identified, the value of high-speed rail can’t be truly assessed – remember, in business, time IS money!

    • You’re being way too literal. Many companies exist near MetroLink stations that could easily reach a HSR station. The bigger point is we’re perceived as being on our own but with a quick HSR connection to Chicago we would be perceived as part of a much larger region. That can only help St. Louis.

      • JZ71 says:

        My point was that both Union Station and our Civic Center Multi-Modal station are both located several blocks away from the main business core of both cities, while local rail transit does a better job of penetrating the business core. Yes, “many companies exist near Metrolink stations”, much like many companies exist near Chicago’s El, but many, many more exist nowhere near frequent public transit options – many of them focus on being close to airports or freeways, not train stations. Yes, with “a quick HSR connection to Chicago” we might “be perceived as part of a much larger region.” The question remains one of frequency – it’s as big, if not a bigger part, of the equation. Will there be two round trips a day or ten? Hourly service or one trip in the morning and one in the afternoon? And how many stops will be between here and there? HSR ain’t high-speed if it’s stopped at a station boarding and deboarding passengers!

        We bemoan the loss of our status as a hub airport for precisely that reason – the hub is the center, the spokes serve the fringes. In business, time is money, people don’t want to waste several hours waiting for connections, for the next departure, and they sure don’t want to have to plan on an overnight stay, if they can avoid it. At this point, we don’t know what the HSR frequency will be, nor do we know the fares, we just know that it will be faster than the current Amtrak service and faster than driving or taking the bus (and we know that it will still be slower than flying). And if more than one person is making the trip, requiring multiple fares, doubling or tripling the cost, can easily make driving the more-attractive option – we’re in a region where driving 3-4-5 hours gets you to many regional destinations (Chicago, Cincinnati, Nashville, Little Rock, Bentonville, Kansas City, Omaha)

        HSR is interesting technology and it works well elsewhere in the world, but will enough people embrace it here to justify the investment? It’s also kind of like the post office – people that like trains, really, really like trains, while more people have moved onto quicker, cheaper, “better” solutions (the internet, airlines, Megabus). Do we keep investing in improving obsolete technology? Or do we work on encouraging improvements for modes that people are willing to pay market rates for?! We’ve given up on using Clydesdales for moving freight, just like we’ve given up on the stagecoach and the covered wagon for moving people. So, no, just because it “can only help St. Louis” is, alone, not enough justification to invest billions of dollars in something that will only serve a small percentage of interstate travelers, there needs to be a solid business case made that “real” people will actually use it, and frequently!

        • There are already numerous train trips offered between Chicago & St. Louis on a daily basis, the backers are talking like many more than that to justify the infrastructure investment.

        • Eric says:

          I assume you take a hovercraft to work, because wheels are much older than trains, and therefore obsolete, and who would ever use an obsolete technology? It doesn’t matter if it works perfectly well everywhere else in the world (and even in the northeast US), we Midwesterners are “special” so it will surely fail here.

  10. 2.5 hour train ride from downtown St. Louis to Chicago would be true HSR. That would be great, not what we’re being courted with now…


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