Demand for passenger rail picks up steam

Published 12:40 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

Although it has been decades since passenger trains have stopped at Danville’s Union Depot, demand for passenger rail service running through Central Kentucky is growing.

Bluegrass Passenger Rail is a Facebook group that supports rail service through the region. The group was created on July 30 and already has more than 1,000 members. Lifelong public transportation enthusiast and advocate, Spencer Stelzer-Weise of Lexington is the founder of the group and the visionary behind the rail plan. He has created a proposal for a passenger rail system that he said eventually could stretch from the Toyota plant in Georgetown south to Danville.

“I have loved public transportation ever since I was a little kid,” Stelzer-Weise said. “The idea of being able to sit somewhere, get taken where you want to go and not worry about traffic is a great feeling.”

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His proposal features a starter rail that would begin service between Lexington and Nicholasville. If the rail is successful it eventually would expand to run from Danville to the Toyota. The full rail, which ideally would take advantage of an existing Norfolk-Southern line, would be about 51 miles long with a one way trip being estimated at 45 to 90 minutes depending on the speed of the train.

“If Norfolk-Southern thinks they have enough rail to spare, they could run it on commercial lines like in many existing cities,” Stelzer-Weise said. “It all depends though. There are some places that would benefit from being double railed, but the tracks are already graded for that, so it wouldn’t be that expensive.”

In his proposal, he gave a high estimate of $5 million for a modernized passenger station and trains. He projected a tab of $80 million for five trains and 11 stations. The expanded route would include stops in Georgetown, Lexington, Nicholasville, Wilmore, Burgin and Danville.

The idea for commuter rail picked up steam after a proposal Stelzer-Weise presented to the public recently at the Lexington public library. He says the plan would not be out of line with the cost of road infrastructure projects such as the East Nicholasville Bypass that has an estimated cost of $77.6 million and the widening of Interstate 75 and I-64 costing an estimated $90 million.

With the subject in the preliminary discussion stage, there has been no talk at a governmental level that such a project is even feasible or how it could be funded.

“Rail has become increasingly popular in the last couple years,” Stelzer-Weise said. “Businesses may be willing to take note and sponsor some railways. Anywhere that has a factory might find it an advantage to say you can take a train to work and not have to drive.”

Stelzer-Weise urged anyone interested in the rail line to reach out to their local and state representatives and let them know about the demand. More information about the rail line can be found on the Bluegrass Passenger Rail Facebook page.