High-speed rail ‘part of the solution’

September 22, 2010

From press release

A new report puts clear numbers and a clear vision on how high-speed rail will boost the Midwest economy, reduce highway and airport congestion, reduce dependence on oil, and protect the environment. The report was released by Illinois PIRG today with business, labor and civic leaders.

“As the saying goes, ‘you are either part of the problem, or part of the solution,’ said Emily Mueller, Illinois PIRG field organizer. “High-speed rail is a part of the solution—boosting our economy and creating jobs, modernizing our transportation system and helping to solve our nation’s oil dependency, worsening congestion and pollution. High-speed rail gets us moving, in the right direction.”

The new report, “Connecting the Midwest,” analyzes the potential of high-speed rail to the Midwest, and looks at benefits specific to eight Midwestern states, including Illinois.

Key findings of the report include:

→ As the Midwestern network’s hub, Illinois would have better access to rail than any other state. Nearly 70 percent of jobs in Illinois would be located within 15 miles of a high-speed rail station.

→ A completed Midwest high-speed rail network will create 57,000 permanent jobs and support 15,200 jobs during the 10 years it would take to construct the project.

→ Improvements on the Chicago-to-St. Louis line are projected to draw 1.2 million passengers in the first year of service.

→ Traffic congestion costs major Midwest metropolitan areas more than $10 billion annually in lost economic output. Midwest high-speed rail will reduce air travel by 1.3 million trips and car travel by 5.1 million trips per year by 2020, curbing congestion.

→ An Amtrak passenger uses 30 percent less energy per passenger mile than a passenger car, reducing dependence on oil.

→ High-speed rail will give consumers more transportation options. Region-wide in the Midwest, 58 percent of Midwesterners, or 35 million people, would live within 15 miles of a high-speed rail station; 17 million would live within 5 miles of a station. More than one out of every four jobs in the region would be within 5 miles of a station.

→ The system would prevent 188,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year by replacing less-efficient car and plane travel. The amount is equal to the annual emissions of 34,000 cars.

In January, the Obama administration announced that 31 states will receive a portion of $8 billion in funding to build and plan for high-speed rail under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Midwest received funds totaling $2.7 billion for rail projects in six states. Illinois has received $1.1 billion to upgrade service on the Dwight-to-Alton section of the Chicago-to-St. Louis line to provide 110 mph service.

“It is exciting to know Illinois is at the forefront of pioneering a new era of rail transportation that will be an economic catalyst for all the Midwestern states,” said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “We are looking forward to Illinois being at the center of what will undoubtedly be an important driver for impacting the 21st century economy.”

The report urges Congress to invest adequate resources in intercity rail and set performance standards to fully realize rail’s potential. It calls on the president and Congress to articulate a national vision for high-speed rail similar to the vision outlined by President Eisenhower for the federal highway system.

“With a long history of bi-partisan support, high-speed rail should be embraced for what it is—a critical step towards modernizing our transportation system, creating jobs and growing our economy, and reducing our dependence on oil,” concluded Mueller.

Illinois PIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests. For more information and a copy of the report “Connecting the Midwest,” go to www.illinoispirg.org.

From the Sept. 22-28, 2010 issue

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