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Jul 282009

From Green Right Now Reports:

Eight Midwestern states have agreed to work toward the common goal of developing high speed rail in the Midwest, and hope to access $8 billion in earmarked federal dollars to fund the new services.

Governors from those states — Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin — signed an agreement on Monday, saying they support each other in seeking federal dollars to build a high speed rail network. The hub of the network would be in the Windy City, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley along with five of the governors attended the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit to solidify the agreement.

Chicago already serves as a hub for Amtrak and many freight lines. The new plan would bring high speed rail into the mix, which advocates say could transform and green transportation in the the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions.

(Photo: Midwest High Speed Rail Association)

High speed rail would effectively shrink distances between several Midwest cities, including Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Des Moines, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati, by dramatically reducing passenger train route times. The plan could make passenger rail competitive with air travel, timewise, and also a more attractive option for people comparing mass transit with driving by automobile.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has allocated $8 billion for high speed rail. The Midwest group is likely to find competition for that money from California which has passed the initial bonds for a planned high speed rail that would run from Sacramento to San Diego.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) told the group gathered on Monday that the Midwest wanted to be “in front of the rest of the nation” with it’s high speed proposal, according to news reports.

High speed passenger trains can go 110 mph to over 200 mph, cutting trip times in half or more on Midwestern routes between cities in neighboring states, such as Chicago to Minneapolis; Chicago to St. Louis; Chicago to Detroit. Routes between neighboring cities, like Milwaukee and Madison, could become an easy daily commute.

For more on routes envisioned for a high-speed Midwest network, see the Midwestern High Speed Rail Association website.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents freight trains and Amtrak, announced its support of the Midwest plan on Monday.  In an address to the summit, AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger said the national rail network is “critical to meeting the mobility needs of the 21 century.”

“America’s freight railroads support the goal of increased passenger rail investment,” he said . “It’s good for our economy and the environment when more people and goods move faster by rail.”

Hamberger pointed out that the country’s privately owned freight rail network will provide the initial foundational infrastructure for high speed rail in America and noted that railroads are already greener than other types of transportation or freight shipping.

Railroads account for 43 percent of the freight moved between cities, more than trucks or any other type of transportation, and can move a ton of freight more than 400 miles on a single gallon of fuel, according to the AAR.