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High-speed rail denied: Federal funds bypass Northern Indiana

Niles will get faster train service.

January 28, 2010|By KEVIN ALLEN Tribune Staff Writer
  • President Obama announced $33 billion in stimulus money to go toward high-speed rail over the next five years. One proposed route runs right through Northern Indiana. (WSBT file photo)
President Obama announced $33 billion in stimulus money to go toward high-speed rail over the next five years. One proposed route runs right through Northern Indiana. (WSBT file photo)

The federal government is doling out more than $8 billion for states to develop high-speed passenger rail, but none of that money is on the way to northern Indiana. The Indiana Department of Transportation received none of the $2.8 billion it requested for its portion of a route between Chicago and Cleveland. The state will receive just $71 million of the U.S. Department of Transportation funding President Barack Obama announced Thursday. That will be used to ease congestion along the south shore of Lake Michigan on a rail line between Chicago and Detroit. Other Midwestern routes fared much better than the Chicago-to-Cleveland line. The USDOT awarded more than $1.1 billion for a Chicago-to-St. Louis line; $822 million for a route from Chicago to Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.; $400 million for an Ohio line through Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati; and $244 million for the Chicago-to-Detroit route. South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke said the city’s potential as a hub for the technology economy makes him optimistic it will be included in the high-speed rail network in the future. But he wasn’t surprised the Chicago-to-Cleveland route didn’t receive any funding this time around. “Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois have all invested significant state resources in planning for high-speed rail, so they had a head start in this competition,” Luecke said in an e-mail. State Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, said Indiana has never put the necessary resources into planning for passenger rail. “The money went to the states that had comprehensive plans in place — they’d done the engineering, the environmental analysis,” Dvorak said. “They’d done their groundwork, and it paid off. They’re getting millions of dollars in investment now, and we’re not.” Niles, however, is on track for high-speed rail service. Amtrak trains from Chicago to Detroit already stop in the city, and faster trains traveling up to 110 mph will follow that same route with help from the federal funding announced Thursday. City Administrator Terry Eull said high-speed rail could attract more residents to Niles, and business investment will follow those residents. “It could make the commute to Chicago a lot quicker, and it allows the people who live in more-rural areas to commute to downtown Chicago,” Eull said. “High speed rail, I believe, is the thing of the future,” he said. “The smaller you make the world, the easier it is to do business and to live.” States around the nation submitted requests for $57 billion in federal rail funding. Considering that competition, it’s positive that Midwestern states received around a third of the $8 billion available, InDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said. “If the spark ignites in terms of high-speed rail in the Midwest, then that certainly will spread to other states,” Wingfield said. Luecke and Wingfield both pointed out that the funding for improvements in northwest Indiana will benefit train travelers between Chicago and South Bend as well as those traveling to and from Michigan cities. “That area is the busiest and most congested rail corridor in the country,” Luecke said. “Any efforts to reduce congestion and speed up rail traffic there will be positive for South Bend.” And if there’s any benefit to being left out of this round of funding, Dvorak said it’s that Indiana will have more time to design a route that includes both South Bend and Fort Wayne. InDOT’s application for northern Indiana included two options: one through South Bend, Elkhart and Waterloo, and another through Plymouth, Warsaw and Fort Wayne. “I think if the federal government had granted us the money for that route as it stood now, South Bend would have been left out,” Dvorak said.



Staff writer Kevin Allen: kallen@sbtinfo.com (574) 235-6244

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