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updated: 8/27/2012 4:58 AM

'Waste' or want? Readers split on high-speed rail

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  • Amtrak's 79 mph is just fine for some readers, who pooh-pooh dreams of high-speed rail at 110 mph from Chicago to St. Louis.

      Amtrak's 79 mph is just fine for some readers, who pooh-pooh dreams of high-speed rail at 110 mph from Chicago to St. Louis.
    Associated Press

 
 

I was away last week, which usually means no column.

But thanks to you writing letters on high-speed rail, In Transit did not go on vacation. The idea of spending from $1.4 billion to $4 billion to allow trains to travel at 110 mph from Chicago to St. Louis made some readers' apoplectic, peeved others and pleased a few.

Here's what you had to say, starting with Bob Matusiak of Inverness.

Although Bob's ridden high-speed rail in Japan and loved it, "HSR between Chicago and St. Louis makes no sense at all," he wrote. "First, like most government projects, I would bet that costs and timelines are underestimated, and revenues overestimated. Second, it will not be profitable or self-sustainable.

"Put the money into restoring the condition of our existing infrastructure, and into enhancing the ability to move and process freight (not people), where profits are possible.

"Wow, $1.4 billion to cut one hour of travel time from Chicago to St. Louis! As far as the environmental impact study goes, it should never get that far. To me, it will be one more venture for the taxpayers to subsidize forever. I would imagine in other countries, the high-speed rails are heavily government subsidized."

Greg Larson of Arlington Heights is also not a fan.

"Let's face it, high-speed rail is cool. Politicians love it, they ride the first train with all their friends, making sure to thank each other in front of the adoring media," he writes (although I'm sure he doesn't mean me).

"Then it will rust in place. Who wants to go from 'downtown' Chicago to 'downtown' St. Louis? Nobody but a few students and a few sports fans going to a game. The freight railroads will take the money for infrastructure improvements but are unlikely to 'guarantee' premium service. Who can blame them -- they have to pay for their own right of way and all their capital improvements (they are in it to make money, passenger service does not fulfill that goal).

"This is not to say all high-speed rail is bad, it is not. Let us put it where it might get used and maybe pay for itself (operating costs). Take the money that was going to be used to pay for Chicago's third airport, the feds' high-speed rail funding and build a high-speed rail network from O'Hare to Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee and to the Greater Rockford Airport WITH NO INTERMEDIATE STOPS! Both airports are under utilized. Will this actually happen? No way, it makes too much sense!"

But Terry Tallian of Wood Dale takes the opposite view, writing, "we spend enough tax money supporting air and highway transportation. It's time to put tax money to work and implement high-speed rail, something the other civilized countries of the world have already figured out."

And Mike Schafer of Lee, Ill., says "I'm all for high-speed rail. I've been driving now for almost 50 years, and I drive a lot. I gave up flying in 1981 for several reasons, including medical. So, I either drive or take the train.

"I'm tired of highway congestion. I'm tired of truck traffic (and, being in a transportation-related business, I assure you that trucks don't cover their share of a highway's construction and maintenance. Don't believe me? Ask people in the transportation-planning industry. We taxpayers take that hit). I'm tired of over-testosteroned Dodge Ram drivers. I'm tired of car maintenance costs. I take Amtrak where practical and feasible, and I love it.

"The cost of 'building a high-speed rail line' between Chicago and Joliet is a pittance compared to the astronomical sums of money we spend on overbuilding and maintaining our overly invasive highway system. The money currently being spent to upgrade the line to 110 mph will not be a continuing yearly expense; this is a capital investment. Railroads are less costly to maintain than highways. Besides, the monies being spent for this project will also improve freight service on the same route.

"Ignore the whining naysayers who say it's a waste of money and that 'nobody will ride it.' They have neither the visionary capability nor knowledge of what is happening railwise elsewhere in this country. People already do ride the Chicago-St. Louis route -- in spite of lower speeds and iffy reliability -- in increasing numbers, hence the need to add more trains in the mid-2000s. Think of what will happen when speed, frequency and reliability increase markedly when everything is in place on this soon-to-be HSR route. Ridership will increase exponentially. This is not speculation; I've seen it happen elsewhere throughout the U.S."

We'll give Marty Krogh of Ingleside the last word.

"I strongly believe in mass transit as a good way to reduce oil usage, pollution and congestion on our highways. But, this project is a complete waste of taxpayer money," he argues.

"The average maximum speed will only increase from 79 mph to 110 mph. The travel time will only be reduced by 1 hours. Having to use existing freight trackage certainly brings the Federal Railroad Administration and Illinois Department of Transportation's reduction estimates into question. The number of passengers currently using the existing five round trip trains is 1,760, an average of 352. The study by the FRA states the new track(s) would add an additional five trains. I really doubt the number of passengers would double.

"If they planned on building a true high-speed rail system, like Asia and Europe already have, then the large amount of money might be warranted. But for an increase of speed to only 110 mph, it is not. With the federal and Illinois governments in such poor financial condition, these funds could be used for something more worthwhile, like education."

Got a high-speed rail comment or thoughts on other transportation issues? Drop me a line at mpyke@dailyherald.com

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