High Speed Rail

The Star’s article this morning woke me from my post-holiday doldrums better than my cup of coffee. I learned about high-speed rail last year, and thought it sounded too good to be true. But there has been progress on this issue. A bill is pending in Congess for funding. Here’s the mandatory block-quote:

A bill pending in Congress would provide millions of dollars to Indiana and other states to improve high-speed train service. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved the bill in April; it now heads to the Senate floor for debate, quite possibly by the end of July, prior to the summer recess. President Bush also has proposed $100 million for state rail grants in his budget for 2008.

Included on the list of proposed routes that would benefit: a stretch running from Chicago to Indianapolis to Cincinnati. It would mean quicker routes for Hoosier travelers seeking alternatives to driving or flying. With trains operating at speeds up to 110 mph at various spots along the corridor, travel times on the proposed routes would be clipped in half from typical rail. Total travel time between Chicago and Cincinnati would be about four hours, including stops in Indianapolis, Gary and Lafayette, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“This could be a godsend to both the tourism industry and the business community,” said Dennis Hodges, founder and executive director of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association. Hodges, Merrillville, has lobbied for 15 years to bring high-speed rail service to Indiana. “It would make Indiana and Midwest destinations more affordable and more accommodating.”

According to the Midwest Regional Rail System, a cooperative effort involving Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration and nine states including Indiana, the investment could be lucrative in Indiana. The organization’s 2003 study shows that Cincinnati to Chicago by way of Indianapolis would be one of the more profitable of all high-speed rail lines in the country. “Among the top 10,” said Alex Metcalf, president of Transportation Economics & Management Systems in Frederick, Md. Each state is responsible for footing the bill for its own rails. With Indiana accountable for a 319-mile stretch in the route linking Chicago to Cincinnati, the state’s participation is needed to link those cities.

But, as always, there is a snag:

The state has yet to do an environmental impact study. Without it, the funds will be on hold. Those Midwest Regional Rail System states that have already done the study — such as Illinois and Wisconsin — will be first in line for the resources, said Metcalf. Others will have to play catch-up. “It’s a money thing,” said Andrew Dietrick, INDOT communications director. “It’s an expensive and time-consuming proposition to do an entire environmental impact study for a corridor of that size.”

A bill approved this year by the Indiana General Assembly, could aid the process. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Terri J. Austin, D-Anderson, asks the state to devote more time and resources to mass transit by establishing a joint study committee on mass transit and transportation alternatives. INDOT estimates that corridor development through Indiana would cost slightly more than $1 million per mile.

So, it looks like high-speed rail isn’t going to come any time soon.

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