Thursday, January 21, 2010

Midwest High Speed Rail: Part 4: What it Means to Chicago

This is the final part of a four-part series of articles about the plans for high speed rail in the Midwest. 

Chicago is at the epicenter of this rail revolution.  It is the body of the spider whose legs stretch across the corn, hay, and soybean fields of the region.  But it is not the only hub in the network.

Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are also seen as minor hubs in this project.  Each is expected to handle thousands of passengers a day pretty early on, and many more once the endeavor is completed.

It is predicted that if the midwest high speed rail network becomes a reality, there will be ten daily trains from Chicago to Detroit.  Right now, Amtrak offers just three.

The same story is true between Chicago and Cleveland -- 10 trains a day are predicted each way.  Again, there are only three plying the route right now.

And as more passengers use the service, the tickets become cheaper.  Right now that trip from Chicago to Detroit runs $70.  The Cleveland run can be as high as $61.  But with trains in common use, the anticipated price of a ticket is $18 to $50, depending on the time of day.

But more than money, there is a reality about transportation in Chicago -- there will never be another highway built in the city.  You can build ring roads and bypasses to your hearts content in the collar counties.  But unless you're prepared to move a few skyscrapers or kick tens of thousands of people out of their homes, you simply cannot build another freeway in the city.  The rail lines are already here -- they just need to be upgraded to handle increased flow.  Something that can't be done with existing highways.

Even if you were to double-stack the highways like I-35 in Austin, Texas you couldn't get I-290 through the Post Office.  And one rail line can handle the same number of people as ten lanes of new highway.

The result of a real regional passenger rail network like the one proposed is that you end up with a miniature Midway airport right in the heart of downtown Chicago.  But without the jet noise or the congestion.

The City of Chicago wants the new high speed rail station to run beneath Canal Street, connecting with the CTA, Metra, and water taxi lines.  There are even visions of having baggage check-in at the high speed rail station so people coming in from laces like Joliet, Normal, Lafayette, and the Quad Cities can transfer directly to Chicago's airports.

A conservative estimate of the impact the midwest high speed rail program would have is 15,260 construction jobs and 57,000 permanent jobs.  And if there's one thing the midwest needs right now, it's new jobs.

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