High-Speed Rail Midwest High-Speed Rail

Midwest Leaders Suggest They Deserve $3.5 Billion for HSR

Governors join together to sign letter to DOT Secretary LaHood seeking funds for a Midwest network, defining priorities

Midwest High Speed Rail Network Map

The Governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as the Mayor of Chicago, have come together to sign a letter (PDF) suggesting their interest in working together to implement a regional rail network shooting out from a hub in the Windy City. The first phase of the network, indicated in the image above, would include routes to St. Louis, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; and Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan. These are lines that their respective states have discussed before as priorities for development, and Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin have already begun working on preliminary engineering on their respective lines. This is the first time, however, we’ve seen these routes framed in terms of the Midwest Regional Rail Network as a whole.

The letter is addressed to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to express support for the administration’s appropriation to the Midwest of some of the stimulus legislation’s $8 billion in approved funds for high-speed rail development. The letter suggests that the lines’ upgrading to speeds of 110 mph – which is the initial goal – could be completed between 2012 and 2014 and cost about $3.4 billon, the money needed from the federal government. If approved this amount would represent almost half of the overall funds.

The governors also suggested that they needed about $130 million to continue planning on an additional number of corridors in the region that might constitute phase 2 of a regional rail network. The letter cites specifically lines from Madison, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities in Minnesota; from Chicago to Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio; and from Chicago to Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio is working on its own project to connect Cleveland and Cincinnati, via Columbus.

Though I have my doubts about whether or not the Midwest deserves so much of the stimulus funds – California’s considerably more advanced project should receive $4 billion of the money alone – it’s surprising and relieving to see so much regional cooperation between states in prioritizing corridors and in working for a common objective. To see the Governor of Ohio suggest that the first phase of expenditures in the Midwest not include a project in his state is more than surprising, and suggests that planning for a national network does not have to be done by the federal government alone if states are willing and able to make accords with one another.

The Obama Administration is expected to lay out the criteria for high-speed rail funding from the stimulus bill in the upcoming week. We’ll see then whether these big ambitions in the Midwest will get any traction from Washington. The heated competition for these limited funds is making it clear that the $8 billion is simply not enough.

Image above: First phase of Midwest High Speed Rail project, from Governors’ letter

Chicago Midwest High-Speed Rail

Illinois Begins Pushing Chicago to St. Louis Line

Chicago Business reports that Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois appeared at Chicago’s Union Station today to announce that he expected to receive $500 million of the $8 billion high-speed rail element of the stimulus package for upgrades to the Chicago to St. Louis line. Improvements along the corridor would allow trains to make the journey at 110 mph in four hours, down from 5h30 today. The Sun-Times reports that work would be completed by 2014 and that the project would be funded in part by private sources. This makes Illinois the second state after New York to announce a major corridor investment in rail dependent on the stimulus package.

Tip: Midwest High-Speed Rail Blog

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Intercity Rail in Texas, Ohio; Changes to Honolulu's Rail Plan

Ohio’s Governor Ted Strickland prioritizes new “3-C” rail connection between Cincinnati and Cleveland, through ColumbusOhio Hub Map

In yesterday’s State of the State address, Governor Ted Strickland (D) announced that he’d be working towards the development of a new rail corridor – the 3C – between Cincinnati and Cleveland, via Dayton and Columbus, connecting the states’ four largest metropolitan areas and implementing the first phase 0f the Ohio Hub plan.

This will be the first time in forty years that Ohio’s major cities have been connected by rail – and will mark the first rail service for Columbus, the state capital, in decades. According to the Toledo Blade, however, residents of the state’s fifth largest metro area were a bit dismayed by the lack of proposed service for Toledo. On the other hand, the Ohio Hub’s second phase proposes improving the existing train line between Cleveland and Chicago, which would serve Toledo. And while service to Toledo already exists, there is none to Columbus currently, so the 3C line probably makes the most sense as a first phase.

The plan Mr. Strickland wants to implement would rely on economic stimulus funds from the federal government, but it would not produce high-speed rail. Rather, it would allow for Amtrak-style service at speeds of 60 to 90 mph along the corridor. Ultimately, the Ohio Hub would form a part of the greater Midwest High-Speed Rail system. (Perhaps the system should actually be referred to as Midwest “High-Speed” Rail?)

Texan rail advocates pitch their “T-Bone” plan to the state legislatureTexas T-Bone Map

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, generator of the Texas T-Bone plan, is actively pushing its project for a true high-speed rail connection (200 mph) between Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, with a spur running from Temple to Houston.

The proposed project, whose price tag is likely to run in the $12 to $18 billion range, could be completed by 2020 and would represent the state’s second serious attempt at implementing a high-speed rail system after the early-1990s Texas TGV project failed because of its inability to receive enough funds from private sources (that proposal was supposed to be funded entirely through non-governmental money).

This time, the project won’t face opposition from now-neutral Southwest Airlines, as the Texas TGV did. And the federal government’s willingness to open its coffers to high-speed rail investment suggests that the T-Bone may in fact find the funds it needs to be implemented. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) has expressed his support of the project, though he’s been unwilling to commit state resources to the project thus far, convinced instead that as the state becomes more populated, the project will be able to pay for itself.

Let it be known that the transport politic considers it highly unlikely for a major high-speed rail investment such as this to ever be constructed with solely private funds.

Honolulu’s 20-mile proposed rail system to be re-routed via airport and Pearl Harbor

Say Yes to the Honolulu Rail System blog reports that the Honolulu City Council voted yesterday in favor of a change in the planned routing of the city’s rail system, which is currently being planned. Instead of running along Salt Lake Boulevard, the line will now be redirected via the Honolulu airport and Pearl Harbor, adding a predicted 8,000 daily riders and increasing the system’s cost by $200 million. With a total project cost of more than $5 billion, this represents chump change.

This change has been under consideration since the week after the election, when Mayor Mufi Hannemann suggested that it would make more sense to include airport access in the first phase of the project, rather than as a spur to be built in the future, as it would add significant ridership and help residents and tourists alike get to the airport, which is a huge economic generator for the region as a whole. The Salt Lake alignment now becomes a potential future extension.

Images above: Ohio Hub from Ohio DOT; Texas T-Bone corridor from THSRTC

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Midwest HSR News; Jerusalem and Virginia Beach LRT

Midwest High-Speed Rail Has Many Backers for Stimulus Funds in Wisconsin, but Controversy Abounds in Minnesota

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle wants to see federal stimulus money used for the Midwest High-Speed Rail program. Meeting in Milwaukee, the Governor suggested that a line would run from Chicago to Minneapolis, through Milwaukee and Madison, with a potential extension to Green Bay. Mr. Doyle seems to know a little something about transportation, eschewing the typical superficial arguments to point out that all forms of transportation are subsidized by the government, so a public investment in rail isn’t somehow inappropriate:

Just as we heavily subsidize our road transportation system, we subsidize heavily our air transportation system. I don’t think people should say rail is somehow not subject to subsidy when the others are.

We’re obviously happy to hear such clear language from a Governor, and we hope to see more such arguments as the push for high-speed rail advances.

But up in Minnesota, on the other end of this potential rail line, there’s a big argument brewing about how about to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul with Chicago. Some suggest that the best alignment would follow the existing Amtrak route, along the Mississippi. This is the corridor that the FRA established several years ago for high-speed service into Minnesota. But others, including the nascent Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance, would like to see the route go through relatively big Rochester, Minnesota instead, some 30 miles south.

St. Paul Representative Betty McCollum (D) has threatened to oppose the Rochester route, arguing that because the FRA already demonstrated its support for the other route, a Rochester path would make getting federal money more difficult. Her argument makes some sense in the short-term, but it would result in the unfortunate loss of service for one of Minnesota’s largest cities, quite a disappointment considering just how little the planned alignment would have to be altered to provide Rochester service.

Jerusalem LRT to be Completed More Quickly

Jerusalem’s light rail system, whose first phase is currently under construction, will be sped up for a completion later this year, ahead of the planned 2010 opening date. The 14-km system, which faces enormous opposition in the Israeli capital because of the street disruption and slow business its construction has caused, will run southwest-to-northeast through the city, with a stop just outside the Walled City at Jaffa Gate.

New mayor Nir Barkat ran as an opponent of the light rail system, suggesting that “environmentally friendly” buses would be more appropriate for the city and that rail investment was a waste of money. There’s also been a lot of discussion about the “inappropriateness” of Santiago Calatrava’s new Chords Bridge, which looms over the landscape and will allow trains to traverse a valley just beyond the Walled City. The system’s future, which was to include seven more lines, seems to be in doubt, but this initial Red Line will go into operation, as the Mayor has suggested rightfully that it’s simply too late to cancel the project. So he’s going to push ahead with 24-hour construction that will allow the project to be completed as soon as possible to avoid more disruption to life in the city center.

Jerusalem’s light rail is one of the most advanced systems currently under construction, with elevated security measures such as bullet-proof glass and hidden machinery incorporated into the trains built by Alstom. Despite vocal opposition, the light rail line will provide useful and needed alternative mobility for a city currently choked by traffic.

Norfolk’s LRT to Expand to Virginia Beach

The Tide Light Rail system, which is currently under construction along a 7.4-mile alignment in Norfolk, Virginia, is likely to be expanded into nearby Virginia Beach along a 10.6-mile corridor currently used by Norfolk-Southern freight rail operations. The city is under negotiations with the company to purchase the corridor, thereby allowing an easy expansion. It is always easier to develop a transit corridor when the right-of-way already exists, so we should see this project getting going soon, as long as the Tide’s opening goes as expected early next year.

Image above from Jerusalem Light Rail website