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Riders want high-speed rail on fast track

(The following story by Barrett Newkirk appeared on The Battle Creek Enquirer website on June 10, 2009.)

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — A Chicago getaway for Jennifer Johnston and Mandi Foth began Tuesday around 3:30 a.m., when the two friends left their homes in Mackinaw City.

Before 9 a.m. they were in Battle Creek, waiting for a train at the downtown Amtrak terminal. They still had a three-hour train ride ahead of them.

The women said a high-speed train that would shave more than an hour off the journey between the Cereal and Windy cities would be a small but welcomed convenience. It might also encourage them and others to take the train more often, they said.

"I think it'd be awesome," Foth, 33, said. "For people who have to work in Chicago, that would be awesome."

State lawmakers and transportation officials are hoping Michigan sees a portion of $8 billion in federal economic recovery aid designated for high-speed and intercity passenger rail upgrades.

Passengers would be able to travel on a train going 110 miles per hour and make it from Detroit to Chicago in three hours and forty-six minutes, about two hours less than Amtrak's present service.

A faster, more frequent train could also give a boost to the local economy.

"I wouldn't say it's critical to economic development, but certainly it's a tremendous quality of life issue," said Jan Burland Frantz, director of corporate projects for Battle Creek Unlimited.

Being closer to major urban centers will make Battle Creek more attractive to residents and businesses, Frantz said.

"To some companies an airport is important, to some companies a foreign trade zone is important," she said. "Now we have the opportunity to have high-speed rail added to our options."

She added that upgrades to the local passenger rail line could support thousands of construction jobs over the course of many years.

Battle Creek resident Wanda Burbank also waited for a train Tuesday morning. Her final destination was Denver.

Burbank, 50, hadn't traveled by train in 31 years, but she liked that it's cheaper than flying and more comfortable than taking a bus.

She said a quicker trip to Chicago would probably motivate her to make the journey more often.

"That would be sweet," she said.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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