Stimulus Spurs Hopes for High-Speed Rail
By Mikel Chavers, CSG Associate Editor
The federal government is forking out $8 billion in stimulus funding for high-speed rail in the hopes that the idea will catch on like it has in Europe. And 11 proposed high-speed rail corridors on the West coast, Texas, the Great Lakes region, the Southeast, Florida and the Northeast will be competing for their piece of that stimulus money, USA Today reports.
“Fast trains reduce the cost of doing business; they facilitate better collaboration between individuals and they make it possible to visit friends and family more often,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.
And the competition—and cooperation—for high-speed rail is especially heating up in Midwestern states.
In Illinois, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is pushing for billions of that funding for high-speed rail in his home state.
According to a press release from Durbin’s office, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included the largest investment in high-speed passenger rail in U.S. history: $8 billion—that’s 17 times more funding than the federal government has invested in passenger rail over the last decade.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also wants the state to compete for some of the high-speed rail funds, and he is focused on a proposed rail line from Chicago to St. Louis.
"I am committed to ensuring Illinois takes full advantage of the stimulus package, including competing for and winning stimulus dollars to bring high-speed rail to Illinois," Quinn said in a statement to State News. "The approximately $8 billion in competitive funds for intercity rail would allow us to reduce the travel time from Chicago to St. Louis, the fastest growing train route in the state, from more than five hours to less than four."
“Gov. Quinn and I agree: Illinois is poised to be a central part of our nation’s next round of rail innovation and, by working as a team, we will be well-positioned to win the funding needed to create a true high-speed rail corridor from Chicago to St. Louis in the next five years,” Durbin said in the press release.
And these high-speed rail lines aren’t your average Amtrak. Just ask Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. He recently went on a trip to Spain to check out high-speed rail lines there. Spanish high-speed trains that are a part of the Talgo system travel at 180 miles per hour, and Doyle told USA Today that the ride “is as smooth as riding in an airplane without any turbulence.”
By comparison, Amtrak's Acela trains run on an electrified track and travel at 135 miles per hour, according to USA Today.
Doyle traveled to Spain in late February where he reviewed Spain’s passenger rail system and met with officials from Spain’s Talgo, a company that manufactures passenger trains, according to a press release from Doyle’s office. The Spanish government funded the trip, the release reports.
“With money coming in from the federal stimulus package and renewed interest from the new administration, there is a real opportunity for Wisconsin and the Midwest to become a leader in high-speed passenger rail,” Doyle said in the release.
Doyle hopes to claim part of the Recovery Act funding to move forward on the Midwest Rail Initiative, a plan for high-speed trains possibly linking major cities in the Midwest, according to the release. The plan calls for using Chicago as a hub.
According to the release, Doyle plans to strengthen the corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago, and build tracks from Milwaukee to Madison.
Minnesota also hopes to get in on the high-speed rail action.
A plan to run high-speed trains from the Chicago to Minnesota could get millions for an environmental study as part of a bonding bill approved March 16 in the Minnesota Senate, according to the Winona Daily News.
If approved by the Minnesota House and signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the bill, Minnesota Senate File 101, could position the state for federal stimulus funds to link the Twin Cities to Chicago with high-speed trains, the Winona Daily News reports.
A Pawlenty spokesman told the Winona Daily News the governor “intends to aggressively position Minnesota to compete for stimulus funds for one or more rail lines, including high-speed rail to Chicago.”