Lexington could get back passenger rail along the Town Branch Trail!


Dear friends:

In the spring of 2007 Town Branch Trail, Inc. brought together a few architects to sketch out what might be possible in the back of Rupp Arena where the Newtown Pike Extension will run across the Town Branch Creek over to to Versailles Road and beyond. As a lark we called it “NEW TOWN BRANCH” because the Newtown Extension has no real ‘newtown’ destination (it’s a wide spot in Scott County) and because it was crossing the Town Branch where we could create a new section of Downtown. We felt that this is some of the most important 10 acres of land in all of Lexington because: A) it is new road frontage on what will be our busiest urban corridor, B) it is currently an urban dead zone where Downtown can grow to connect with Town Branch Trail and the Distillery District, and C) because it is where we can create a railroad depot attached to the Lexington Center that can carry passengers into our gorgeous countryside to Midway, Frankfort, and beyond.

We pitched the urban design ideas to the Mayor, DDA, RJ Corman, and several other groups and individuals… whoever else would listen. It was not clear at the time that all the moving parts could be brought into an optimal resolution. We are thrilled that the leadership of the LFUCG, Lexington Center, RJ Corman, and the Newtown Pike Extension have been so receptive and responsive. It gives us great cause for optimism about Lexington’s future. Below is a story sketching out one component of what is still a developing plan. What is equally exciting is that the LCC will be creating a small area plan to look at all of the potential for this very important new district of downtown. Let’s hope there will be ample opportunity for public input.

For a look at the 3-D model we produced in spring of 2007 go to:


The H-L article from a few weeks ago is attached below:

Dinner train possible from Lexington to Frankfort and beyond

Lexington Herald-Leader June 19, 2009
By Beverly Fortune – bfortune@herald-leader.com

A dinner train with boarding at Lexington Center and an excursion train between Lexington and beyond Frankfort could be in operation as early as next year, with the potential for passenger service between the two cities later.

The announcement was made Thursday at the Lexington Center board meeting by Fred Mudge, chairman of the board of R.J. Corman Railroad Group, based in Nicholasville.

The railroad came seeking permission to negotiate a long-term lease with Lexington Center to extend its tracks under a new bridge that will be built over Cox Street and Town Branch and 700 feet onto Lexington Center’s Cox Street parking lot.

Corman needs the additional space for turning trains around because a portion of its rail yard — on the west side of Cox Street — will be taken by Phase 4 of the Newtown Pike extension.

Extending the track makes it possible for a passenger train to get closer to downtown, the convention center, hotels and existing parking.

And that opens the opportunity for Corman to run a dinner train and an excursion train. The railroad currently operates My Old Kentucky Dinner Train out of Bardstown.
A dinner train from Lexington would most likely go to Frankfort, turn around and come back, Mudge said. An excursion trip might extend to Bagdad, a small community west of Frankfort, then return to Lexington.

“Taking the track onto Lexington Center property would not prevent us from using the Cox Street lot for parking,” said Bill Owen, president and chief executive officer of Lexington Center.

Neither would it diminish other uses for the lot, such as the July 4 Red White & Boom concert. In recent years, an amphitheater, IMAX screen and a farmers market have been talked about for the Cox Street site.

And it creates possibilities for marketing train excursions to convention attendees.
“I don’t think this precludes anything the Lexington Center wants to do there,” said Mike W. Hancock, state highway engineer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Owen said that he “enthusiastically” supported the railroad’s request.

A dinner train could be the first step toward establishing passenger service between Lexington and Louisville. “Corman has conveyed to us their desire to start construction right away and create the opportunity for passenger train service as soon as possible,” Owen said.

An excursion train could travel the existing freight track between Winchester and Louisville. For higher-speed passenger service, the line would have to be upgraded extensively, an expensive proposition, Mudge said.

The Corman Group operates six small, private railroad lines in Kentucky.
A contract for work on Newtown Pike, including the Cox Street bridge, will be awarded in July. Construction is expected to begin shortly after that, said James E. Ballinger, chief district engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The new bridge will extend from near the Salvation Army property on West Main Street, over Town Branch, to Manchester Street, paralleling the Jefferson Street viaduct.

“It became apparent if we provided clearance under the (Cox Street) bridge for train cars, there could be benefits to the city,” Hancock said.
What opportunities might open up for regular passenger service between Lexington and other cities “we don’t even know” at this time, Hancock said. But if gas prices continue to climb and there is a limit to the number of cars on highways, there will be a future for rail traffic, he said.

High-speed rail plans in the Midwest and California appear to be frontrunners for getting $8 billion in stimulus money, according to federal criteria released on Wednesday.

Eight Midwest states have cooperated to promote a network of rail lines, with Chicago as the hub, that would join 12 metropolitan areas within 400 miles. Louisville and Cincinnati would be part of that network.

Passenger service is not part of the Lexington plans, Owen said, but the city should position itself to take advantage if an opportunity comes along.
Extending the tracks creates “some sizzle for the present, a lot of potential for the future,” Owen said.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, a Lexington Center board member, said it was important to address “current and future opportunities of integrating the railway with the downtown, the civic center, the Manchester Street Distillery District and the Town Branch Trail.”
The Lexington Center board voted to include a request for a consultant to do a small area plan for the Cox Street area; at the same time, it backed the idea of negotiating a long-term lease with R.J. Corman.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251.