The importance of being connected (Grid and Gateway, part 5)


Two of the vital parts of my Grid and Gateway idea involve the individual routes which criss-cross the continent (the grid) and the points at which those lines intersect (the gateways). [Makes sense, doesn't it?!] Together, they create a matrix where, ideally, between the various through services and direct connections, one might efficiently travel between any two sites found along the system.

There would be a few exceptions, of course. Some locations may feel shortchanged because of geography or their relative level of unimportance during the day when most of our railway lines were being constructed. Las Vegas, Nevada is a good example.

Still, with Barstow, California acting as a secondary gateway (or perhaps Victorville, given some of the new-and-improved H.S.R. proposals), southern Nevada can eventually become a convenient destination area.

Of course, new infrastructure could be built, including main lines across virgin territory, but the sheer cost combined with low projected return may doom any such effort from the outset. Personally, I'm able to envision a cut-off northwest out of Kingman to Boulder City, but even my ability to fantasise is overly taxed when confronted with Las Vegas to San Francisco via Death Valley!

Yes, I get the feeling that UP's old Los Angeles and Salt Lake subsidiary (today's Caliente and Lynndyl Subdivisions) will remain Las Vegas' sole railroad connection to the outside world for some time to come. Therefore, Barstow (or the effective equivalent) would continue to serve as a regional gateway.

"Regional" being the operative word.

You see, the gateways in my plans come in three flavours: continental, regional and local.

Continental gateways - arguably most important in the scheme of things - are the traditional, major, multi-route connection points: cities with names like Chicago and Saint Louis and Memphis and New Orleans.

Today, Chicago seems a bit overwhelmed, but improvement proposals abound. On the freight side, CN opted for their EJ&E by-pass project. CREATE, of course, offers something for everyone. Even Union Station - the sole terminal facility hosting Amtrak service - is the target of yet another master planning effort. Regrettably, substantive changes often get lost in the shuffle, replaced by insignificant ones (such as the rechristening of its general waiting room, now the "Great Hall").

[Note to planners: Want to make C.U.S. considerably more efficient overnight, with minimal investment? Direct waiting passengers back toward the "Great Hall" and remove some of the concourse floor clutter to aid free movement of pedestrian traffic. Why must there be seating adjacent to the platform gates, anyway? Union Station isn't an airport; it's a railroad terminal - and it was built with a waiting room for a reason.]

Something which would dramatically help Chicago is for St. Louis - the "Gateway City" - to regain some of its prominence as a passenger terminal. Just one train eastbound along the CSX (former Conrail, nee PRR) through Indianapolis to Pittsburgh would work wonders and take some pressure off Chicago by offering an option for east/west traffic. [Isn't it interesting how often that route comes up in conversation?]

Something else restoration of through service due east out of St. Louis would accomplish is the resurrection of a few classic regional gateways: those stations serving markets of secondary importance at various junction points throughout the national network.

Surely, both Pittsburgh and Indianapolis must serve as regional focal points; however, to me, such cities don't actually offer our greatest hope for the future. Rather, it's places like Effingham, Illinois (the "Crossroads of Opportunity"), situated along that same line, where the synergy of train and town could really shine through. Effingham, a county seat of about 12,500 residents, is 30 miles away from the nearest commercial airfield and 90 miles from an international facility. It's a great example of the type of community which stands to gain the most from expanded intercity passenger train service.

Effingham is blessed with a true Union Station structure, placed right at the diamonds where CSX's old Pennsy route and CN's IC main intersect. Already host to six daily north/south Amtrak trains, Effingham (the depot and the city) remain ideally situated for exponential growth. Just imagine what a single "crossroad" extending from the Mississippi to the Ohio might do when considering the potential combinations of city pairs. The permutations are impressive - and Effingham, the connection point, rests squarely in the middle.

Finally, it will be the local gateways which offer travelers convenient means to leave primary network runs and reach final destinations. Commuter and regional and transit services present reasonable alternatives to the rent-a-car and make intercity train travel that much more marketable.

Certainly, most larger cities and their stations carry dual (or multiple) roles. Dallas' Union Terminal, for example, serves Amtrak - as well as the Trinity Railway Express and DART's Red and Blue line light rail routes. When I think of local gateways, however, I picture outlying locations where interconnections between independent carriers give one an opportunity to travel, if I may, "off the grid."

In the Dallas area, one example would be the Trinity Mills Station on the north side of Carrollton (a DART member city and Dallas suburb). Cross-platform connections are available there, linking DART's Green line and the Denton County Transit Authority's A-train to the city of Denton. By way of that transfer, the D.C.T.A. is able to advertise service between the county's major schools (including North Texas and Texas Women's Universities) and downtown Dallas.

In the future, the city of Carrollton itself should serve (no; let's be positive: will serve!) as a distinct local gateway of import, due to the town centre's location at the junction of three lines: the DART Green line/D.C.T.A. A-train (using the former Katy right-of-way), the Cotton Belt corridor (which has recently been its own topic of conversation here) and the BNSF Madill sub (ex-Frisco, through its namesake town). All three routes are highlighted in current regional passenger transportation planning documents.

Practically untapped sources of potential traffic can be found amongst recreational and excursion carriers. No greater set of opportunities exist for the establishment of new local gateways than in conjunction with the underrated and generally unacknowledged tourist railroads. Thankfully, there are now isolated instances of such operations encouraging "real" transportation business on their trains, making hope for meaningful systemic change seem reasonable.

The Grand Canyon Railway is a great example of this idea. They offer scheduled connections at Williams (with the GCRX located downtown, adjacent to the Fray Marcos [Harvey House] Hotel and Amtrak using the Williams Junction depot along BNSF's Transcon), joining the National Park to the national network. Everything from individual transfers to complete vacation packages are advertised. It's wonderful to know that, even in 2012, one can travel from places like Los Angeles and Kansas City to the South Rim with but one change of trains en route.

The Saratoga & North Creek Railway (a division of Iowa Pacific Holdings) began passenger operations between its two namesake towns in July of last year. Trains currently run daily except Tuesday and Wednesday, offer two classes of seating, include amenities such as dining/lounge and checked baggage service, and connect with Amtrak trains in Saratoga Springs. Now, all that's needed is through ticketing!

Many other lines exist on my wish list. The Strasburg Rail Road, the oldest railroad in the U.S. still operating under its original charter, runs through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. A oft' proposed but never funded stop along Amtrak's Keystone Corridor at Leaman Place (a.k.a. "Paradise") could provide direct connections, giving an instant boost to the tourist trade and making transportation that much more convenient for the local Amish population.

Of course, for every excursion service that takes its role as a transportation provider seriously, there are a multitude of others which seem contentedly oblivious to the benefits of cooperation. I see no need to mention names, but the litany is exhaustive. Just in my own personal experience, I can think of six roads off-hand whose management staff and/or boards have laughed me off the property. Literally.

We'll see what the future holds. Often, success may require little more than a desire to work together, combined with an A.D.A.-approved platform and a bit of marketing savvy.

In the meantime, I'll continue fine-tuning this aspect of my Grid and Gateway proposal.

You know, I'm even debating changing the names of the three types of gateways. When it comes to specific designations, terms such as "continental," "regional" and "local" may be somewhat confusing due to the various stations' multiple, overlapping roles. It might be more descriptive to speak of "primary," "secondary" and "tertiary" gateways. I'm honestly finding myself leaning toward those classifications - in part because I love the word "tertiary" and I really want to use it!

Keep the faith, y'all!



  • Too bad California who has done such a great job with their intrastate Amtrak service & excellent bus connections is falling for HSR. Too bad their Governor can't pick & choose as Governor Scott of Florida did Scott saw the benefits of SunRail and the boondoggle of the I-4 bullet train . Give the Class 1's the extra capacity they need for additional incremental service using railroad employees that pay into Railroad Retirement. Don't reinvent the wheel .  

  • Garl -

    Honestly! Being an Aging Coot, such as myself, I remain alert enough to recall when we had this sort of "hub and spoke" as a National Network, albeit all by rent seeking private operators.

    To which I pose the problems (as I see it): Wherever the "critical mass" of revenue, so as to make many of the schedules possible? Back in the Old Days, most all used to cheat with multiple loads of Mail and Express forward on the trains. As a practical matter, it was neither here nor there if any paying travel riders in Coach and First Class spaces.

    Do we have some Marketing Geniuses out there who can turn out mobs of possible riders? Beats me. A difficulty, evolved over now decades, in that so much travel is (in many cases) "deep" suburb to "deep" suburb. So, total door to door time of much importance.


  • Hi Garl,

    Barstow (or Victorville) is an interesting example.  It's hard for me to see that as a major gateway with passengers changing trains.  The reason is I would see through trains running to Las Vegas from LA, San Diego and the Bay area.  The only passengers changing would be coming from Arizona off the old Santa Fe and heading up to Las Vegas.  I don't think that will be a big market and the train will be the long way around until someone builds a Las Vegas - Pheonix high speed rail line (not on the top of anyone's list).  Maybe the word for Barstow is "junction," a term with a fine and honored pedigree.  

    In my observations planners like to promote changing trains, but passengers hate it.  The old rule of thumb is you loose 50% of your riders, especially those traveling shorter distances.  

    But all the advantages of the grid and gateway hold, even if you have separate trains covering the three major markets to Las Vegas.  They share tracks, stations, servicing, overhead and public consciousness and (in the words of the internet generation) create a network effect.

  • On a national scale, what would be the top 10 most important Gateways?

  • I don't know whether this answer will be to the satisfaction of BruceMcF, but I'm also certain that others may well have different thoughts.  The national rail system now has four principal gateways between east and west.  They are Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, aned New Orleans.  All of the four major Cloass 1 railroads meet at those four locations. There are some other "gateways," but for the most part they are only places where two east-west railroads meet.  By definition, I don't consider the latter to be "gateways."  Nor do I consider any locations to be gateways for north-south movement through the system, for the very simple reason that each of the four principal systems today operate from the Canadian to Mexican borders.  The need for north-south gateways, never all that significant, was ended when Conrail was acquired and divided between CSX and NS, eliminating the need for any gateway.  Note, I comment only in terms of moving freight, not passengers, although the physical reason for having gateways applies to both.  So, BruceMcF, I don't think there are 10 most important gateways in the U.S.  Four, yes, ten, no.  Anyone else got any thoughts on this one?

  • As I understand it, this series is about "the individual routes which criss-cross the continent (the grid) and the points at which those lines intersect (the gateways)."

    So the term as used is not limited to gateways between different RAILWAYS, but rather gateways between different ROUTES.

    And for multi-modal freight, the routes could well be different modes, so the CSX gateway in NW Ohio south of Toledo would be a "gateway", whether or not the intersection of a N/S and E/W route there sees any freight turning the corner there.

  • Your definition seems just fine, Bruce.  You don't need any help from me.