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Taking The Slow Track To High-Speed Rail

By Steve Rensberry, Editor

The U.S. is ahead of a lot of countries in a lot of things, but high-speed rail is not one of them. Not only are trains in the U.S. generally slower, but there are fewer lines and fewer passengers. Ten years ago, under Obama, we were told of a plan to revitalize the U.S. economy that included $10 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus money dedicated to improving the country’s rail system. The big hold up, as with a lot of things, was money. Enormous amounts of it are needed for major infrastructure projects like these. The total ARRA package itself was valued at $787 billion, though it could take as much as $1 trillion, some say, to jettison us into the high-speed rail age.

“Ten years on,” writer Nathsha Frost notes, “the world-class, high-speed rail network sketched out by Obama is nowhere to be seen. Three of the most significant projects—in Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin—were cancelled almost at the outset; others, like the high-speed Empire Line from Albany to Buffalo in New York state, are still a long way from completion, with a slow-moving environmental impact study causing delays. In California, the 171-mile (275 km) Central Valley segment from Bakersfield to Merced—itself a smaller segment of a hoped-for Los Angeles to San Francisco connection—is many months behind schedule.”

Illinois has not exactly been speeding along either, though supporters do laud a dramatic increase in funding for mass transit and rail improvements under a $45 million infrastructure bill approved last year. At least $100 million of that is aimed at improvements to the Illini/Siluki line that runs from Chicago to Champaign to Carbondale, and another $122 million for improvements to the Lincoln Service line that runs between St. Louis and Chicago. Improving existing lines is good, but will it bring us any closer to development of a fully high-speed rail system, comparable to what some other countries have? Probably not. Is it a direction we really need to go? Is the demand strong enough to warrant the cost, given present day American culture? I have my doubts.

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