Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Do the Locomotion with me

The Department of Commerce and Department of Public Railways are 'doin' a brand new dance now,' in possibly one of the more exciting bits of news to go unnoticed in the midlands. The Spartanburg Herald Journal reported last week that

South Carolina Public Railways and the S.C. Department of Commerce are hoping to keep the state's economy humming by reviving an old-fashioned mode of transportation - the railroad.
The agencies said Wednesday they have begun developing a new plan to review the impact of rail transit, including both passenger and freight, on economic development and its role in making the state a more attractive destination for industry.

Wilbur Smith Associates, a consulting firm based in Columbia, will conduct the study and present it to state officials in January.

"We're very excited about it," said Kara Borie, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Commerce. "We've had tremendous success in recruiting new industry in recent years, and this is a forward look and a way for us to be proactive in recruiting even more business."

Borie said upgrading the state's public railways would provide mobility to thousands of residents and visitors and improve access to parts of South Carolina that don't have a railroad spur.

On the industry side, she said the revamped railroad plan will include upgrades to the existing rail system's access from the Port of Charleston and the future Jasper Port to large industrial sites, particularly in the Upstate, that have the potential to be developed into mega sites.
"Railroad access is one of the biggest considerations when a company is deciding where to locate," Borie said. "We want to look at how we can better provide rail access to these sites and beyond."

The rail plan will be developed with the input of several other state agencies, including the S.C. Department of Transportation, Ports Authority, the Department of Commerce's Aeronautics Division, Office of Research Statistics, Public Service Commission, Department of Health and Environmental Control and Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

(emphasis added)
The first thing out of my mouth after reading this was, 'Wow! This is great news' and that was followed by, we already have a public train system?

I have to say that this is a brilliant and sound idea, especially on the industrial rail side. South Carolina is expanding it's ports system and already has a huge logistics hub being constructed in Orangeburg, and the Jasper port though in planning phases between the governments of SC and GA promises such an increase in container and material business that to not upgrade the rail system would be economic suicide.

It should be noted that independent of this new State interest, Charleston is already looking into building a light rail for commuter traffic from Summerville to downtown to relieve the bottleneck that is I-26.

To follow that up with a light commuter rail or standard passenger rail system connected The Upstate Midlands and Low Country as well as the Pee Dee and the Grand Strand would be beneficial in multiple ways (economic, and especially environmental) though this portion of the plan is doubtful to go through.

Even though SC has a registered 3.8 million cars, I fear the actual number of long distance commuters from say Columbia to Greenville and vice versa may not justify - unfortunately - that aspect of rail construction.

It should be noted that with careful planning such as the efforts to push a carpool lanes and with increased developments the outlier areas of our states three metropolitan regions that regional systems of light commuter trains with connecting spurs for the state's 'long haul' could be in the future if economic growth doesn't flounder.

The only question now as this project goes forward in the 'study' phase is how does the state plan to pay for such a huge endeavor? Would they re institute the penny grocery tax? There is after all a budget shortfall this year and it's projected to continue in the years to come as revenues don't equal or exceed expenditures. And while many say it's because of the bloat of size in government and excessive pork spending (and yes that's part of the mix), another reason is that currently we're in an economically depressed time and our low low taxes are just pulling in exponentially lower revenue.

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1 comment:

Waldo said...

Amtrak has to give way to freight traffic on every run, which is part of why its long-haul lines are so chronically late. Any state passenger line revival will probably fall prey to the same restrictions, not to mention the speed limits imposed by neglected track and grade-level crossings.

But having made my way around much of the Pacific Northwest by public rail and bus for decades (Clallam County WA, pop. 70,000, has better public transit than anywhere in SC), any positive step is a good one.