UPDATED 05/09/11 7:50 a.m.
CHICAGO (WBBM/CBS) – After focusing on building a high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis, the federal government is about to award money for a high-speed corridor to the east.
This time, the focus is a route from Chicago to Detroit.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has scheduled a news conference for Monday afternoon at the Amtrak terminal at 11 W. Baltimore St. in Detroit, with a conference call on the latest high-speed grants just before that.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports
Although neither Federal Railroad Administration Joe Szabo nor Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper would give details Saturday, in advance of LaHood’s announcement, they said that the announcement will come as no surprise to backers of passenger rail.
“It’s a decade and a half of planning leading up to this,” Carper said. “It wasn’t hatched recently. This came because of good planning and good forethought by a lot of people.”
He said Amtrak ridership has risen steadily for 17 months, although he said the increase has been more pronounced in recent weeks as gasoline prices have spiked.
“We have to provide our citizens choice,” Szabo said. “Population growth is just going to put the current transportation network into somewhat of an untenable situation.”
A Chicago-Detroit high-speed line is a logical next step for the Obama administration because Amtrak already owns the 97-mile stretch between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich.
The state of Michigan seeks a grant to buy an existing 135-mile rail line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, so that it can be upgraded for higher-speed service.
Currently, Amtrak operates three round trips on the Wolverine train daily between Chicago and Detroit, with a scheduled time of roughly 5-1/2 hours. Upgrading the line for 110-mile-an-hour operation could cut that to under four hours.
The State of Michigan is also seeking federal funds for several other transportation upgrades, including maintenance on the Wolverine route, a crossover rail bridge to make turns easier for Amtrak trains, and a new bus and Amtrak train station in Ann Arbor, the Detroit News reported.