Midwest HSR Would Be A Profitable Success
The State of Illinois has completed its study of high speed rail and concluded it would carry millions of riders and operate without subsidy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with subsidies.) Crain’s has a good overview:
It would start at O’Hare International Airport and take just 127 minutes to reach downtown St. Louis, stopping at Champaign-Urbana in less than an hour. Springfield would be 78 minutes away from Chicago’s Union Station. Champaign to downtown Indianapolis would take about a half-hour….
Rail service at 220 mph would attract 8 million to 15 million riders a year, create well over 10,000 jobs and operate at a profit, the study concluded. By comparison, Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis route carried a record 597,519 passengers last year.
That’s an impressive system. It would be a game changer for Midwest transportation, dramatically reducing carbon emissions and oil consumption and therefore unleashing new economic activity through the savings. With Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, serving as the hub and with connections to major nearby cities such as St. Louis and Indianapolis, a 220 mph Midwest HSR system would be a backbone of a national system as well.
The study also looked at the cost, which found it could take as much as $50 billion to build the system with the connections to St. Louis and Indianapolis. The study didn’t look at the cost of doing nothing, or the cost of carbon emissions and oil consumption, both of which might have produced figures higher than $50 billion.
Because of the cost, Illinois is considering following California’s model of building HSR in phases and approaching a 220 mph system over time as different segments of dedicated high speed track are brought online. It’s a sensible plan, but it shouldn’t have to be necessary.
True high speed rail projects, like California’s or the one envisioned in this study from Illinois, are essential to this country’s future. The federal government ought to be footing the bill for a national HSR system, just as it did with the Interstates 50 years ago and just as China has done with HSR today. Unfortunately, Congress is imploding as we speak and the ability to fund essential pieces of a modern civilization are going with it. It’s not likely that Congress would fund HSR until the second half of this decade at best.
But it’s important to have the vision and the plans in place for when the madness stops and power in DC is restored to those who understand the economics of investing in important projects like this. The Illinois plan can also serve as a rallying point for transportation advocates in the Midwest, and give voters a glimpse of what a better future would look like.
Perhaps most importantly for California, the new Midwest HSR study could also help build crucial political support for funding HSR in other states. With more Senators and Representatives bought in (as long as they haven’t already been bought by oil money) that can only help rebuild HSR’s political fortunes once the Tea Party reign of error is finally ended.