Comprehensive rail plan good start

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Published7/29/2009 12:00 AM

Now this is more like it.

When Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn announced last March a push to get up to $700 million to create a high-speed rail link between St. Louis and Chicago, we had our doubts it was the best use of federal stimulus money. What, we wondered, was the value in spending more than half a billion dollars to cut just one six-hour trip to four and a half hours?


But on Monday, Durbin and Quinn were back in the spotlight along with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the governors of seven other Midwestern states to announce a combined effort to secure as much as possible of $8 billion in federal stimulus money for a spidery network of high-speed rail lines that would connect Chicago not just to St. Louis but to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City and other cities.

This is how to demonstrate a visionary approach to the securing and use of federal monies. Yes, the Chicago-to-St. Louis line remains at play for hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements, but now we're talking about speeding up not just one isolated connection but every major link between Chicago and its metropolitan neighbors.

The high-powered coalition Monday did not specify how much of the $8 billion it wants for the proposal, but clearly it will need a substantial chunk of the total sum just to get the first lines to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit under way. And, it will need a commitment for more money in years to come to complete the entire vision.

But such an outlay is surely an investment in the strength of the Midwestern economy and in a broad-sighted approach to mass transportation.

To be sure, high-speed rail must be an important component of a comprehensive national transportation strategy. It can be an economical alternative to air travel, especially for families, and considering all that goes into air travel, its travel times can be competitive, especially to nearby metropolises. Cities on the East Coast are already showing that high-speed rail can be an attractive alternative for business people and commuters. Its commercial shipping potential cannot be ignored in an appropriate network like the one announced. And, of course, Japan and Europe have demonstrated that high-speed rail can be safe, economical and energy-efficient.

President Obama has made high-speed rail a centerpiece of his transportation policy, and other regions of the country already are beginning themselves to clamor for a share of the revenues - and jobs - that are sure to come. The Midwest proposal puts the region in legitimate contention for a huge share of that money and can help the area become a leader in developing a successful, effective rail transportation system.

All things considered, this is the kind of comprehensive thinking that makes good use of stimulus money immediately and in the long-term.

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