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Now or never for light rail in NWA, study concludes.

If work begins soon, a light-rail transit system could be financially feasible for northwest Arkansas. If we wait four years, it won't.

That was the conclusion of Ron Goforth, president of Beta Rubicon Inc. of Fayetteville, a firm that specializes in independent technology assessment, management and due-diligence services.

With land prices soaring and much of the countryside being paved over, it would be too expensive to build a light-rail system for the region in four years, he said. The cost of right-of-way property in the area has been doubling every two years.

"Normally, in Arkansas, we wait until there's a problem and we respond reactively," Goforth said. "Here's a chance with some forethought to get ahead of the curve and do it when it's more cost-effective ... The rime is right. The window of opportunity is fairly short."

Goforth conducted a two-month, $15,000 "pre-feasibility" study for Greenway LLC, which consists of John Bradley, Ed Love and Rolland McKinney.

Now that he has determined that it can work, Gofforth is ready to hand the idea off to someone else for a long-term action plan that he said could cost another $50,000 to $60,000. A thorough feasibility study would run $250,000 to $350,000.

Goforth studied the possibility of a 41-mile train route from Greenland to Bentonville. The proposed route included a loop by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at Highfill that reconnected with the main line near Lowell.

Most of the route would use either existing track or right of way owned by Arkansas-Missouri Railroad, which is interested in the proposal. The proposed route would have 10 stops and use between 10 and 22 railway cars.

Gorforth broadly estimated the cost of building such a railway system to be between $550 million and $1.24 billion. By comparison, Arkansas plans to spend $232 million on highway construction between 2005 and 2007.

Goforth said an electric train would help relieve traffic congestion in the area and improve air quality by emitting less pollution. He said a Siemans-Duewag hybrid diesel/electric train made in Germany was used as the basis for cost estimates in the study.

"They're not carrying 500 tons of stuff in the body," he said, comparing it to a freight train.

Gorforth said a diesel/electric train would produce 2 percent of the air pollutants of a single automobile.

"We're not talking about something that is pie-in-the-sky here. Other people are adopting it," he said, referring to a magnetic train system in Atlanta.
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Title Annotation:Transportation & Shipping; northwest Arkansas
Comment:Now or never for light rail in NWA, study concludes.(Transportation & Shipping)( northwest Arkansas)
Author:Bowden, Bill
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jun 20, 2005
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