Midwest Gets Taste Of High(er) Speed Rail

The speedometer on the Chicago to St. Louis train hit 110 mph - and stayed there for five minutes, but it was enough to elevate the spirits of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the other dignitaries on-board. Normal speeds top out at 79 mph.
October 22, 2012, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The Associate Press' Jason Keyser reports on a symbolic Oct. 19 Amtrak ride that served as a morale-lifter for the Midwest's high speed rail advocates. The higher speed of 110 mph will become the norm for most of the route by 2015. This was the first time that Amtrak traveled that fast on any Midwestern route. Due to shared trackage with freight trains, it is not expected that speeds will go surpass 110 mph.

While the Northeast Corridor has its high-speed Acela train (see Eric Jaffe's Oct. 19 article on the 5% increase in Amtrak ridership in September over last year in this corridor that includes the Northeast Regional train in the Atlantic Cities) and California has it's embattled San Francisco-Los Angeles project designed to reach 220 mph, the Midwest has not received as much attention as high speed rail on the coasts. In fact, most publicity arose due to the rejection of the high speed rail grants included in President Obama's 2009 Recovery Act (stimulus funding) by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

"Four years ago we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it came to high speed rail," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This is a dream come true today." Also on-board was Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and other politicians and transportation officials and rail advocates, including Richard Harnish, director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

"The improved Amtrak service in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor signals a genuine commitment to faster, safer, and cleaner travel", stated Harnish.

Not all in Illinois are advocates of the higher speed train service though. Kristina Rasmussen, vice president of the llinois Policy Institute, expressed doubts about the line's ability to break-even due in part to political pressure to keep fares low.

"We're yoking ourselves to trains that will obligate taxpayers to provide billions of dollars in future subsidies," she said.

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Published on Saturday, October 20, 2012 in The Huffington Post
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