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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 1, 1999)
Commuters argue merits
of Lincoln-to-Omaha train
1-80 construction, congestion top list of concerns
By Jessica Fargen
Senior staff writer
Sen. Shelley Kiel of Omaha has a
vision of riding on a train at speeds of
up to 120 mph when she commutes
from Omaha to Lincoln.
Kiel, like many Omaha-to-Lincoln
commuters, said she is sick of traffic
congestion, continual construction and
aggressive drivers on 1-80.
LB829 is the first step to making
her vision a reality. The bill, sponsored
by Kiel, would set up the Nebraska
Transit and Rail Advisory Council Act
- creating a council to assess the need,
cost and possible reality of a commuter
train between Lincoln and Omaha. And
even further in the future, Kiel would
like to see the train extend across the
The idea was sparked by a letter she
read several years ago by Sen. Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., outlining
the benefits of commuter trains. That
letter got her thinking.
Cities such as Portland, Ore.,
Denver and St. Louis have commuter
trains, Kiel said.
1 thought, Why not/ she said.
“Why not Nebraska?”
Wahoo Sen. Curt Bromm, who is
chairman of the Transportation
Committee, also thinks it is a sound
“The increased line of traffic is
nothing short of amazing,” Bromm said
of Lincoln-to-Omaha traffic on 1-80.
“We know that there is change in that
part of the state, and we need to accom
modate that change.”
Bromm said commuters on 1-80
between Lincoln and Omaha complain
of traffic congestion and perpetual con
It is not going to get much better,
Bromm said, which is why if Nebraska
wants a commuter train, now is the time
to start thinking about it.
“As development increases in that
corridor it’s going to be more and more
expensive to consider any kind of a
commuter system,” Bromm said. “I’m
glad that we’re looking at the practical
ity and need for it now.”
In the fall, an interim study found
that a traditional railroad train would be
the most cost-effective and safest mode
and assessed the potential number of
riders, Kiel said.
But Ellis Tompkins, intermodal
transportation engineer for the
Department of Roads, said before the
council is set up, legislators need to fur
ther study the probability of people
ditching their cars for a ride on a com
“If you look at society today no one
wants to leave the comfort of their
cars,” he said. “We would like to deter
mine what the feasibility is.
“Are there enough riders to justify
doing it before we get into it?”
This is what Bromm also saw as the
biggest drawback to the commuter train
“It has a lot of appeal,” Bromm
said. “I think the major stumbling
blocks will be determining whether or
not it’s cost-effective and determining
and assessing the need for it.”
lompkins saw other problems on
A viable bus route does not exist
between Lincoln and Omaha, he said.
And there’s also a dilemma for drivers
who get off at the train stop in down
town Lincoln and Omaha and don’t
have a car to get to other parts of the
city. Besides, the train could cost hun
dreds of millions of dollars.
Kiel said he envisions the train
running from the Old Market in Omaha
to the Haymarket in Lincoln. An addi
tional set of tracks could be built along
the existing Burlington Northern tracks
along Highway 6.
Unlike existing trains, the new
commuter train would not cross high
to justify doing it
get into it? ”
Department of Roads engineer
ways and would be more technological
ly advanced, with features such as “tilt
technology” allowing trains to maintain
speed around comers.
During the trains’ off hours,
Burlington Northern could use the new
tracks, she said.
Funding for the train would come
from a majority of federal and private
money, but state funds also would be
needed, she said.
A federal transportation bill passed
last year provides significant funds for
state commuter rail projects, said Kiel,
who spent the weekend in Chicago at
the High Speed Rail Conference.
Dan Lutz, president of Pro-Rail
Nebraska, snares Kiel s vision tor a
high-speed train in Nebraska.
Besides relieving traffic conges
tion, the train could accommodate the
increased visitors to the developing
entertainment complex near Mahoney
State Park and the Strategic Air
Command Museum near Ashland. But
convincing Nebraskans to jump aboard
a movement for a high-speed train is
dependent on getting the word out and
the reliability of the train, he said.
“We think that there is going to
need to be some education involved,”
“We think that if it has new, modem
equipment, and schedules are on time,
that it would win over quite a few of the
potential commuters that could use it.”
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