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Study Touts Benefits Of High-Speed Rail

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French High Speed Rail V150 Train

A French high-speed rail V150 train. (Credit: Réseau Ferré de France (RFF))

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Although Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida have rejected federal high-speed rail money, Illinois and 34 other states are fighting over it.

A new study, funded by the manufacturing giant Siemens, sees plenty of advantages and believes support could grow quickly.

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“After we’re through with this summer, paying for gas for our cars, there will be a lot more people who are interested in high-speed rail,” predicted Steve Fitzroy of consultant EDR Group, one of the study’s co-authors.

Just as location is important in selling real estate, destination and speed are important when it comes to creating a Midwestern high-speed rail network, the study concludes.

The study’s authors conclude that a high-speed rail link with O’Hare International Airport is a must — and believe that such a link could replace many of the short-hop feeder flights that exist today.

“Bringing everybody to Chicago and having an airport connection means that these (distant) headquarters, these R&D centers and these business and finance centers are connected to the rest of the world,” Fitzroy said.

Armon Kick of Siemens said 220-mile-an-hour trains would make day trips for business possible to and from Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, as well as college towns, such as Champaign-Urbana and West Lafayette.

“We need a cultural change,” said study co-author Paula Pienton of the transportation consultant AECOM. “Our current modes of transportation are not going to support our future population.”

The Siemens study focuses on four corridors: Chicago-Madison-Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago-Champaign-Springfield-St. Louis, Chicago-Lafayette-Indianapolis-Cincinnati and Chicago-Ft. Wayne-Detroit-Cleveland. The corridors are roughly the same as those identified in a 2009 study by the French national rail company, SNCF. The Siemens study concludes that all could be linked by high-speed trains requiring less than three hours to make the trip — easily competitive with airline travel, once waiting time at airports is factored in.

In addition, Pienton said, the high-speed trains being contemplated will have none of the impediments to computer use that cuts into “productive time” for business travelers.

“When you get on the train, you can start to work,” she said. “When you’re in an airport, you can open your computer, work for 20 minutes, and then you have to move onto the airplane. You can’t start your computer till you reach a certain altitude, and for these short flights, you have a very short window of productive time.”

She predicts that the ability to work without interruption, when combined with higher speeds, will lead to what she termed a “cultural shift” away from airplanes.

The Obama administration has pledged to spend $52 billion to finance construction of high-speed and higher-speed routes that would reach 80 percent of the nation’s population. House Republicans have tried to erect roadblocks.

SNCF estimated the cost of such a system in 2009 dollars at $68.5 billion, more than the entire Obama administration initiative. The Siemens study estimates the cost at $84 billion.

Pienton said that economic growth traceable to high-speed rail would justify the cost.

Service at speeds of up to 125 miles an hour does not require separation from freight traffic and road crossings, but true high-speed trains do.

Several potential routes are under consideration for a 220-mile-an-hour Chicago-St. Louis line, with the most likely scenario following Canadian National Ry.’s former Illinois Central R.R. right-of-way to Champaign, and Union Pacific’s former Chicago & Alton route between Springfield and St. Louis. Design engineers believe that the space exists on both rights-of-way to accommodate the additional tracks that would be needed.

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