I have read recent articles about a shovel-ready rail spur project north of the Baton Rouge airport for needed economic development of vacant land and plans for an unrelated streetcar line on Nicholson Drive between downtown and LSU. Why not combine the two? Existing rail tracks are a tremendous asset for Baton Rouge. An extension from such an airport spur to the airport terminal should be less than the $16 million cost for the basic spur.
Buying a Bombardier, Siemens or similar light rail diesel train should cost around $20 million. Rail lines between the airport, Southern University, State Capitol, Hilton, River Center, LSU, Brightside Drive and LSU South/L’auberge Casino are already in place with crossing signals. No elaborate stations are necessary, only enhanced bus stops with computerized ticket dispensers accepting only credit cards. The traffic between the airport, universities, state, local and federal government, downtown hotels and casinos should provide ample hourly ridership weekdays during business hours.
A separate rail car could be made available for student bicyclists. I recognize there are many obstacles in negotiating access with railroad companies and getting Department of Transportation approval, which other cities have successfully overcome, but a 45 mph reliable train seems to be a much more realistic and economically viable mass transit option for this route than continuing to expand CATS, which to date has been a costly failure.
If the train route is unsuccessful, the single train can be sold or the lease canceled. If successful, service could be expanded gradually along existing rail lines to maybe St. Gabriel, Walker, Zachary, Gonzales and Plaquemine and a permanent main station built. Such an expansion in service would have the added benefit of reducing interstate commuter traffic.
I am a little intimidated making a suggestion such as this with a billion-dollar sewer project and “Alive” project and multibillion dollar “loop” project being recently in the news. However, the success of the “Green Light” piecemeal road improvement project makes me think that Baton Rouge officials should recognize we are not a big-time major metropolis like Austin and maybe they should think smaller and work on projects that will have a chance at economic success, and stop trying to mortgage our children’s future.