The Urban Project



PPS 493.09/ 593.09:  Sustainability and the Return to Rail (3 credits)
(CRN 16255/ 16264) Class Discussions Tuesdays 5:15-6:45 p.m.

Interdisciplinary course: For students interested in Sustainability, Business, Urban Planning, EngineeringPublic Policy Studies, Law, Political Science, American Studies, and Urban Sociology.

Nationally prominent lecturers: The lectures were specially filmed for the course by documentary film-makers James Scott and Robert Zahnweh.

Seminar format: Undergraduates and graduate students welcome. Students do readings and watch lectures on their own on SLU Global, then come to class for discussion Tuesday evenings.

For more information, contact Donald Stump (

Video overview: To watch a 2-minute video about the course, go to


The Urban Project is currently developing two video projects in association with independent filmmaker James Scott:

  1. A PBS documentary on the future of rapid rail in the Midwest:  The goal is a 1-hour special, featuring a nationally known narrator and expert commentators on issues of

    • Transportation

    • Public policy

    • Energy consumption and carbon emissions

    • Economic development

    • Legislation and politics.

  2. A Graduate Course in Public Policy Studies:  Under a $45,000 grant from the BNSF Foundation, the Urban Project is creating a 15-part on-line course for graduate students and government and rail officials around the U.S. seeking continuing education in the future of U.S. rail transportation, including high-speed passenger service and freight.

In cooperation with the Higher Education Consortium of St. Louis, and in consultation with experts from relevant disciplines, we are in the final process of editing 20 hours of High Definition documentary-style video for the course, which will first be offered in fall 2013. Illustrations will focus on the corridor between Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

The need for these projects:  By 2050, U.S. population is expected to rise by 100 million, dramatically increasing demand for transportation. At the same time, worldwide demand for carbon-based energy supplies will rise exponentially, driving costs for moving goods and people dramatically higher.

At the moment, however, innovation in energy-efficient rail transportation is dominated by other countries, leaving America in danger of being shut out of an enormous worldwide market. Under these circumstances, the need for greatly expanded research and development of rail technologies and corridors is urgent, as are initiatives to improve graduate education and public awareness.

Project oversight:

Project Director:  Donald Stump, Co-Chair of the Urban Project, Saint Louis University

Film Director and Producer:  James Scott, independent filmmaker and Director of the Film Studies Program, Saint Louis University

Project Manager:  Robert Cropf, Chair of the Department of Public Policy Studies and Co-Chair of the Urban Project, Saint Louis University

Local Broadcasting Producer:  Dennis Riggs, Executive Director, HEC TV

Public Policy Advisors:  Robert Cropf and John Hicks, Transportation Development Analyst, St. Louis County

Environmental Advisors:  John Hicks and David Crossley, Professor of Geophysics, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, Saint Louis University

Engineering Advisor:  John Woolschlager, Chair of the Civil Engineering Department, Saint Louis University

Law and Legislative Advisors:  Peter Salsich, Professor of Law;  Monica Eppinger, Assistant Professor of Law and Anthropology;  Dana Malkus, Assistant Professor of Clinical Law, Saint Louis University

Topics of the 15-week course:

The Promise of Rail 

1.  Introduction:  The role of the railways in future national development and the difficulties to be overcome. 

Lead Lecturer:  John Hicks, St. Louis County Transportation Coordinator                

2.  Economic costs and benefits:  The promise of growth;  the role of private and public partnerships in the redevelopment of rail; issues of capital investment, operating costs, and maintenance.

Lead:  John Hicks, St. Louis County Transportation Coordinator                    

3.  Rail Transportation Efficiency:  The fundamental principle of rail transport; implications for economics, energy and the environment.

Lead:  Christopher Barkan (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Rail Transportation Center)

4.  Environmental costs and benefits:  Advantages for sustainable energy use and reduced greenhouse emissions; the perceived hazards of environmental degradation such as noise, spills, and disruption of animal habitats. 

Lead:  David Crossley (SLU Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department)  

5.  Challenges and Opportunities of High Speed Rail in US: The history of the development of high-speed rail worldwide with particular emphasis on the lecturer’s participation in the construction of the Taiwan High Speed Rail project and the change in mindset after the inauguration of this high-speed rail. Review of the history of high-speed rail development in the US since 1965, its current status, and challenges and opportunities for the future.

Lead:  T.C. Kao (former lead administrator, Korean high-speed rail network; UIUC Rail Transportation Center)    

Challenges in Rail Redevelopment and Urban Planning

6.  Engineering and development challenges:  From riches, to rags, to riches: Railroads' decline due to economic regulation and the development of modal competition, and the subsequent railroad renaissance due to more economies of scale: technology, mergers and deregulation.

Lead: Christopher Barkan (UIUC Rail Transportation Center)                        

7.  Public regulation of land use:  Techniques to protect rail corridors from encroachment by commercial and residential development, and adjacent property from harmful effects of trains; approaches to zoning, setbacks, and permits; negotiating different local zoning laws; models of uniform state and regional regulation.

Lead:  Monica Eppinger and Dana Malkus (SLU School of Law)                        

9.  Light Rail:  Retrofitting cities with surface and/or subway rail transportation; advantages of mass transit in an era of increasing congestion and diminishing energy supplies; interplay of auto and rail systems.

Lead:  Mark Vogl (intermodal transportation specialist, HOK International)     

8. Shared Rail Corridor Challenges: Understanding the most critical infrastructure, rolling stock, traffic control, operations, line capacity and institutional requirements and challenges of operating higher-speed passenger trains on infrastructure shared with heavy-axle-load freight trains.

Lead:  Rapik Saat (UIUC Rail Transportation Center)                                

10.  Private regulation of land use:  Devices such as easements and covenants to minimize hazards of collisions with other trains, vehicles, and pedestrians, as well as toxic spills, diesel emissions and other environmental impacts; private nuisance laws and mitigation and their role in the planning process.

Lead:  Yvette Liebsman (SLU School of Law)       

Politics of Rail Redevelopment and Implications for Public Policy

11.  Competing sites of authority:  Mechanisms for negotiating new or expanded rights of way and allocating land for hubs in sequential and overlapping jurisdictions.

Lead:  Peter Salsich (SLU School of Law)                                                  

12.  Political issues:  Difficulties in arranging municipal, state, regional, and federal cooperation and overcoming popular resistance to spending for a large public-works project.

Lead:  Kenneth Warren (SLU Political Science Department)                         

13.  Competing demographics:  Urban, suburban, and rural populations and their differing political and economic interests; environmental impacts involving light, noise, spills, diesel emissions, and the segmentation of property and animal habitats.

Lead:  Kenneth Warren (SLU Political Science Department)      

14.  Exercise in legal negotiation:  The law faculty will design a problem involving the location of a new rail transportation right of way and hub. Students will be asked to represent interest groups including a railroad company, private landowners, local government entities (central city, suburban, rural), and private advocacy groups representing environmental interests. Students will be given confidential statements describing some of the interests and concerns of the individuals/groups they are representing and will receive a critique on their performance at the end.

Lead Designers:  Peter Salsich, Monica Eppinger, Yvette Libesmann, Dana Malkus (SLU School of Law)            

15.  Conclusion:  The redevelopment of rail in the corridor between St. Louis and Chicago as a case study in the principles covered in the course.

Lead Lecturer:  John Hicks (St. Louis County Transportation Coordinator, Lead Instructor)