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Michigan blows its whistle for high-speed rail

(The following editorial appeared on The Bay City Times website on May 4, 2009.)

High-speed rail's time has come.

And, we're glad to say, it very well may zip right through Michigan.

It's the result of 15 years of Midwest states planning together, a president from the nation's railroad hub of Chicago and Barack Obama's insistence on a federal economic stimulus plan that includes $8 billion for high-speed rail development.

Well, rooty, toot-toot!

Last month, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and seven other Midwestern governors signed a letter asking Washington for a share of that stimulus money to breathe life into a long-dormant dream of high-speed rail service connecting Detroit, Chicago Cleveland, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Louis and all points between.

The states' plan is called the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. They first got together in the mid-1990s to promote and design a better way of quickly moving people around the industrial heartland.

Fast, clean, efficient and affordable transportation can help tighten the "Rust Belt" into a region knitted tightly together with high-speed rail service.

How does this grab you? Downtown Detroit to downtown Chicago in three hours and 46 minutes: Around $57, according to a 2004 Rail Initiative report. And you arrive fresh and ready for a day of doing business or a Saturday of just wandering down the Miracle Mile.

The reverse also would be true: Whether for leisure or business, high-speed rail erases the obstacles for travel to Detroit from points across the Midwest.

Just as exciting is a Midwest Regional Rail Initiative proposal to run a line from Port Huron though Pontiac to hook up with the Detroit-to-Chicago express at Kalamazoo. That places rail service within an easy drive or cheap bus ride of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Or, ideally, a short rail run from here to catch the high-speed train just south of us.

With the $4-a-gallon gasoline memory of last summer fresh in our minds, and fears of pollution and global warming staring us in the eye, high-speed rail service makes enormous sense.

Whether the trains run on conventional diesel-electric motors or are all-electric, they'd use less energy and require the burning of far less fossil fuel than traditional automobiles making the same trip. Much less of that global warming gas, carbon dioxide, would spew into the atmosphere.

Couple electric trains to the cleanest, greenest technologies of solar and wind power that we are developing in the Great Lakes Bay Region, and we'd set an example for the rest of an energy-starved world that is choking on the fumes of burning dead dinosaurs.

At a proposed 110 mph, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative wouldn't be the fastest system in the world. But it would be a huge leap ahead for the U.S., which has not pursued the promise of high-speed rail on a large scale.

It would be a giant step forward for a region that the rest of the nation has largely ignored during our economic decline.

In outlining his high-speed rail plans last month, the president said the stimulus money would upgrade existing rail lines to increase speeds in areas where people could be quickly put to work.

Bingo! It's exactly what the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative has proposed since the 1990s.

Climb aboard the Midwest express, and blow the whistle for those federal dollars to pull into our stations.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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