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Ill. high-speed rail supporters ask for public's lobbying help

(The Bloomington Pantagraph posted the following story by Kelly Josephsen on its website on May 28.)

NORMAL, Ill. -- High-speed rail supporters want residents to push for adding two Amtrak routes in Normal starting in July 2004 -- a step they say is good for train travel in the long- and short-term.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition held a town hall meeting Tuesday at the Normal Theater. Executive Director Rick Harnish updated a small crowd on his group's plans for the future.

"We know this can be successful if we just get it going," Harnish said. "It's just a matter of making a commitment to go ahead and do it."

He urged community members to write their legislators, mayors and the governor.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition, a nonprofit group, was founded by Chicago businessmen to promote high-speed passenger rail service in nine Midwest states.

In Illinois, the coalition wants eight daily trips between St. Louis and Chicago -- including stops in Normal.

That remains the ultimate goal: "We'd still like to see that, but right now there is an excellent opportunity to make a big leap in the next few years," Harnish said.

Amtrak currently makes three stops in Normal during its St. Louis-Chicago routes.

Adding two more trains in 2004 will cut down travel times and improve reliability, Harnish said.

"It gets you to a key threshold of four trains a day. You can put trains in time slots when people most want to travel, so the service becomes much more reliable," he said.

"If trains are reliable and frequent enough, it makes it very attractive to leave the car in Bloomington."

Harnish called that the first step to attaining eight trips on a high-speed rail service.

A trip between Normal and Chicago via Amtrak now takes up to two hours and 42 minutes, he noted.

If high-speed rail is available, the same trip could take about 2 hours and 18 minutes.

That makes Amtrak competitive with planes and cars, according to Harnish: Driving takes 2 hours, 35 minutes and costs $70. Flying takes under two hours, but costs $150. Amtrak costs $19.

Harnish said many tracks can support high-speed rail thanks to a $50 million investment from the state. He wants citizens to push for $50 million from the federal government to complete the job.

If they do, he said, ridership will increase and the economy will get a boost.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

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