Monday, March 31, 2008

Potemkin City

Potemkin City

Note: For some reason I thought "Potemkin village" was a slur against native Americans; turns out, it dates to 18th Century Russia.

Lately, I've spent a lot of my weekend time visiting model train shows and searching out places to watch real trains pass.

Something that strikes me is that our railroad corridors, historically central to the development of industry, are not just marginalized today -- they are decimated. Sure, the trains still run, and almost constantly past places such as Grand Avenue Interlocking immediately south of the Grand MetroLink station, where Amtrak, TRRA, BNSF, UP, and Respondek (overnight only) pass by almost constantly.

But the industrial areas adjacent to the rails are almost dead, especially on weekends. Some buildings are still active, to be sure, but many of the side streets through the industrial areas have so many potholes they are almost impassable. One particularly bad stretch is behind the old National Guard Armory -- an amazing building where my 6th grade classes went to play softball inside about 1990-91 or so. Anyway, Bernard Street and "lower" Spring Avenue behind and alongside the Armory are in atrocious condition, and it seems like nobody cares about that area despite its location right next to the SLU campus. (Then again, maybe it's best that SLU not get its hands on that property!)

And for that matter, some of the streets east of North Broadway are similarly depressing. Up there, it seems like more buildings may be partially occupied than it looks like, but still there are vast areas of vacant ground.

Sure, we still have massive railroad yards, but even those don't necessarily serve that much active local industry. They are instead remnants of an earlier era. Since 1978, Kansas City has been the 2nd-largest railway center in the US, surpassing St. Louis. KC has placed itself as a logistics center both in rail (as headquarters of "the NAFTA railroad, Kansas City Southern) and in underground storage (Subtropolis).

Indeed, many of the trains you see pass through St. Louis are either coal trains heading from the Powder River Basin in Montana, or container trains stacked with ISO containers mostly from China and elsewhere in East Asia.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Megabus to Columbia MO!

Megabus to Columbia MO!

Starting March 13, 2008, the Megabus express intercity bus service route between St. Louis and Kansas City adds a stop at the newly renovated historic Wabash depot (now the hub of Columbia Transit service) in downtown Columbia, MO.

This location is considerably more convenient to the Columbia College, Stephens College and University of Missouri-Columbia campuses than either the Greyhound station or the MO-X office.

The Greyhound station in Columbia is really funky; it's in an industrial park north of I-70, a bit of a hike up to Range Line, where you then catch the Orange Line bus, to make a huge loop through town before eventually getting to the Wabash terminal.

MO-X is a shuttle service between Columbia and Lambert Airport. The office is located on the I-70 Business Loop in the Parkade Center, a strange combination of strip mall and offices, including a large USDA office. You can pay extra for MO-X to take you directly to your destination in Columbia, but it's definitely more of a premium service geared specifically toward airport passengers.

Anyway, the Wabash terminal is an eminently sensible place for an intercity bus stop.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis the Megabus stop is still on 20th Street alongside Union Station. It would make sense to me for this stop to be located at the new Gateway Transportation Center once it opens, although Greyhound may not approve of that.

Amtrak, of course, does not serve Columbia MO. Megabus does compete against Amtrak on some routes, and its Midwest hub is -- like Amtrak -- Chicago Union Station.

Megabus directly competes against Greyhound, although it caters to a very different market inasmuch as you can only book Megabus online, and pricing varies considerably depending on when you book. I think it's a fascinating concept, and makes perfect sense for college towns. Bloomington-Normal IL (home of ISU and Illinois Wesleyan) has already been added to the Megabus route between St Louis and Chicago.

Of course, I have mixed feelings about that service and the service to Champaign-Urbana (on the Chicago-Memphis route) also being added by Megabus, as those directly compete against State of Illinois subsidized Amtrak service on those corridors.

But Amtrak could not realistically serve Columbia, anyway; that same Wabash depot there closed for passenger service in 1964. Columbia is not on a main-line like Jefferson City; the only freight rail service into Columbia is COLT, a short-line owned and operated by the City of Columbia that hooks into the Norfolk Southern at Centralia, MO, about 25 miles northeast of Columbia.