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Michigan seeks grants for rail from Detroit to Chicago

(The following story by Chris Christoff and Todd Spangler appeared on the Detroit Free Press website on August 25, 2009.)

DETROIT, Mich. Michigan made a pitch Monday for a 10% share of the nation's $8-billion stimulus for high-speed -- or at least a higher speed -- passenger trains, with Gov. Jennifer Granholm saying the job of upgrading train stations and improving tracks could create 10,000 jobs.

The $830 million Michigan wants would allow trains to hit maximum speeds of up to 110 m.p.h. between Detroit and Chicago and reduce the Michigan part of the six-hour trip to Chicago by about an hour. Improvements in Indiana and Illinois could cut travel time another hour, officials said.

While trains can travel up to 95 m.p.h. on some parts of the existing track west of Kalamazoo, speeds are slower to the east, especially on the west side of Detroit, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Though the improvements wouldn't allow trains to approach speeds common in Europe and Japan, the change could have a dramatic effect, Granholm said.

"For Michigan, this is so significant because it means clearly there will be a quick line from Pontiac to Detroit over to Chicago," she said.

The Michigan grant proposal is part of an eight-state Midwest plan sent to the U.S. government to create a high-speed rail network around the Great Lakes and down to St. Louis. Chicago is also among the partners.

Monday was the deadline for states to submit proposals. If the number of pre-applications for the competitive funding is any guide, Michigan could face a tough fight: In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation reported it had requests from 40 states for $102 billion -- more than 12 times the money available.

A Government Accountability Office report this year raised questions as to whether the costs outweighed any possible benefit from the rail grants.

Granholm's budget proposes a 22% cut in spending for Amtrak service in the state.

She said she has to "make the case" to restore the cuts to convince federal officials the state is committed to high-speed rail. "If it leverages $833 million, I think it's worth the investment," she told the Associated Press.

Michigan improvements would include moving the Dearborn stop to a new station at Greenfield Village. Mayor Jack O'Reilly said that would make the trains more accessible from Dearborn's business district.

Monday's high-speed rail plan is unrelated to a proposed privately funded high-tech rail that would send magnetically powered cars at 200 m.p.h. along an elevated track.

The firm, Interstate Traveler Inc., wants to build a prototype from Detroit to Lansing on a track beside I-96.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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