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Support grows in Indiana for high-speed rail

(The Associated Press circulated the following on June 21, 2009.)

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — High-speed rail supporters are hoping Indiana gets a share of federal stimulus funding intended to expand passenger rail service to the state as part of a Midwestern high-speed rail network.

Federal criteria released last week show that high-speed rail plans in California and the Midwest appear to be front-runners in the race for $8 billion in stimulus cash.

The criteria favor projects with established revenue sources and multistate cooperation.

Eight Midwestern states, including Indiana, are cooperating closely to promote a network, with Chicago as its hub. That network would join 12 metropolitan areas within 400 miles and include the line that runs from Chicago through Indianapolis, with a stop in Lafayette.

The total capital cost of upgrading the 3,000-mile network would be about $7.7 billion, according to the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative group.

Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said he's pleased Indiana is taking steps to participate with its neighbors in potential rail projects.

During a visit last week to Fort Wayne he said public support of those projects is critical to making them a reality.

"If you want service in Fort Wayne, you have to make it clear to the governor and legislators today," Harnish said.

Recently released federal train-route maps do not include Fort Wayne as a stop, but Harnish said those maps were completed hastily and should not be considered accurate.

Geoff Paddock, of Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, said studies have shown it would be quicker for train routes from Chicago to eastern cities to travel through Fort Wayne than through more northern cities like South Bend.

Harnish said Indiana must submit a "pre-application" for stimulus funding next month. In August, he said the state needs to follow through with a full application for a share of $8 billion in rail funding included in the $787 billion stimulus bill.

The Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission will consider a resolution in July that urges state officials to apply for funding from the stimulus pot or from a new stream of federal transportation funding becoming available.

Commission executive director Sallie Fahey said the service would offer a direct benefit to the Lafayette area if the existing Amtrak line running from Indianapolis to Chicago were upgraded.

"It adds an additional safe, clean and efficient mode of transportation for our residents that we don't have now," she said. "The emphasis (on high-speed rail) has pretty much always been on the East Coast corridors. So this is the first time there is at least a glimmer of hope that there might be money available in the Midwest."

Improvements would need to be made to tracks and equipment on the existing routes to enable Amtrak trains to reach top speeds of 110 mph.

Baudilio Tejerina, a native of Spain who works for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., travels to Lafayette regularly to work with faculty at Purdue.

He always makes the trip on an Amtrak train and said that it would be "fantastic" to see the line upgraded to a higher speed service.

"It would be something that belongs to this century," said Tejerina, who is used to the high-speed trains throughout Europe and wonders why there isn't a similar system in the U.S.

Monday, June 22, 2009

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