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Study: High-speed rail could benefit Midwest

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Carol Ann Riha on December 14.)

DES MOINES, Iowa -- A high-speed rail network radiating from Chicago's Union Station through nine Midwestern states could carry 13.6 million passengers annually by 2025, according to a new report.

The Midwest Regional Rail System report released Tuesday confirms the viability of a 3,000-mile rail network stretching through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, said Mark Wandro, Iowa's transportation director.

Trains would travel at speeds of up to 110 m.p.h., cutting hours off trips between major cities.

The study, led by Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc., a Frederick, Md.-based consulting firm, said significantly reduced travel times, increased frequency of service, improved reliability and connections to other forms of transportation would be a big draw to passengers.

Wandro said the network would be phased in over a 10-year period at a cost of $7.7 billion for new equipment and track and signal improvements.

"This is an incremental and phased plan for improved passenger rail service. However, it will require significant federal funding for it to be implemented," Wandro said.

John Schwalbach, chief of the bureau of railroads for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the "hub-and-spoke" system would allow for passenger rail travel from downtown to downtown.

"You can go from downtown Chicago, to downtown St. Louis, to downtown Milwaukee," he said. "You don't have to worry so much about parking issues."

Schwalbach said some track improvements already have been made in Illinois. A stretch from Mazonia to Springfield has been upgraded to carry higher speed trains, and a new signal system is being installed, he said.

A planned route through Iowa would follow the current Iowa Interstate Railroad track through Davenport and Des Moines. Other legs are proposed to connect Chicago with the Twin Cities and Detroit.

Officials said the new report not only increases awareness of the Midwest rail plan, but also shows Congress that there has been in-depth study.

"If and when funding becomes available, the Midwest has developed a plan," Schwalbach said.

"The DOTs in the central part of the country have looked at this and think it's a viable alternative and important part of our transportation system," he said.

Hey said it also is important that the plan is ready to go.

"We have nine states that have cooperated on this and tried to bring it to fruition. Hopefully ... it will be looked at favorably compared to other states just getting started," he said.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

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