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Politics Derail High Speed Trains and Economic Growth

November 16, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Bejing Bullet TrainPortage Indiana Transportation experts have long sought a network of high-speed rail routes connecting major metro areas and Midwest cities of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin with trains capable of reaching 200 miles per hour.

Japan had the first “bullet train”, way back in 1982. Spain, France, Germany, and even China have gotten on-board. South American countries have ambitious programs on the drawing board as well. Americans, with few alternatives, are stuck in our cars. According to the Midwest Regional Rail System the Chicago region currently loses $6.8 Billion annually to idling cars due to traffic congestion.

But  the light-in-the-tunnel for high-speed rail alternatives remain just a glimmer. The Obama Administration has offered states $8 Billion in stimulus grants to kick-start high speed rail projects. But several state governors are so far in the red, or are simply unwilling to find in their budgets, the state matching funds that such projects need to ante-up in order to take advantage of the stimulus money.

The states not partaking of the rail funds do not get to re-allocate those funds to other transportation projects such as highways. Instead the money may be re-divided among the states who ARE fully committed to the railroad initiatives. But according to National Public Radio the new political climate is negative against any new rail infrastructure. According to NPR Representative “John Mica (R-FL), who is in line to be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, says he wants to re-examine all $10 billion worth of high-speed-rail grants already awarded around the country”. So this flight may be canceled.

Northwest Indiana would be a winner in any high-speed rail initiative. As outlined so far by the Indiana High Speed Rail Association, a train terminal would be built linking the rail line to the Gary Chicago Airport. And the rail would proceed through Porter County cities and towns of: Portage, Indiana Burns Harbor, Chesterton, and on through Michigan City and New Buffalo; the same route that the current Amtrak trains travel. As the speeds are raised from the current maximum of 79 MPH to the projected 110, and then up to 150 MPH and beyond, designers will want to build new rails so that freight and passenger traffic occupy separate tracks. Don Itzkoff, a Washington lawyer who was deputy railroad administrator under President Bill Clinton, told, lawmakers should focus on trip time as opposed to rail speed and on improving service to destinations that lie within three hours of one another.

There are already new  jobs from this project. Caterpillar has a locomotive division, Progress Rail, based downstate. Wisconsin has a coach building firm called Talgo, based in Milwaukee area, plus construction jobs. And advocates of of rail travel refer to some of the long term benefits that the system would contribute to local quality of life and regional economic development:

  • Energy conservation (trains are more efficient per passenger mile than cars)
  • Environmental issues (electric trains don’t use gas or diesel, improving our air quality)
  • Cost Effective (trains take thousands of cars off the highways)
  • Social Cost-Benefits (corporate expansion and economic development along the rail corridors)
  • Safety (the Asian and European trains have excellent safety records, while highway deaths remain significantly high)
  • Convenience and comfort

Advocates say that bold 21st Century transportation initiatives should not be tossed aside over Tea Party extremists and partisan bickering. The Asian and European models show us that both the technology and the business model lives up to the promises. The Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors has made contributions on the grounds that such a rail system will be good for the economy and good for home values as well. Indiana Governor Daniels has been focused more on downstate matters than going to bat for Calumet region, as witnessed by his inaction on the Cline Ave. bridge.

“That train is dead,” state Ohio’s governor-elect John Kasich during election-night victory speech. But if you believe that economic and social benefits will result from high speed rail, let Indiana Governor Daniels and your local legislative representatives know that we need to go forward at full throttle on the Midwest Regional Rail System.

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Steve Cardwell

Steve Cardwell is an Indiana Realtor working with residential buyers and sellers throughout Northwest Indiana. He likes to stay current on the housing market by analyzing real estate trends with a focus on the towns of Highland and Munster Indiana. His broker affiliation is Red Key Realty Leaders in St John, Indiana. Learn more about Steve and visit

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3 Responses to “Politics Derail High Speed Trains and Economic Growth”
  1. I look forward to the day that we will have a real choice in transporation to get us around the Northwest Indiana and greater Chicagoland region with speed. As-is, the Amtrack and South Shore train service is inadequate to support the urban sprawl that exists in the region. Besides, the new money that would flow into the region from high speed train projects would be great for the local economy and consequently great for real estate.

  2. Wall Street Journal had article this week about Japanese locomotive-maker Kawasaki claiming that Chinese partners ripped-off their intellectual property, and incorporated their technology into Chinese train sets. With a fledgling global market for high speed rail, the Chinese seem to be on track for dominance of this industry. Is the US in this game, or not, I wonder.

    If American officials cannot even fund trial domestic development projects for high-speed rail, how will US industries play a role as global equipment and infrastructure providers? Am I just paranoid, or are we abdicating this entire transport sector to the Chinese, being so many years behind the curve,


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