In an editorial on November 18, 2011, entitled "Runaway Train," the Chicago Tribune argued that Illinois should not be looking at installing any high speed rail passenger lines, and that Governor Quinn should not "cling to the notion that high speed rail will prove economical."
If one looks at the position of Illinois, however, with regard to its involvement in the railroad industry, this would be the one state in the U.S. where you would expect to find high speed lines, and find them to be operated economically. And Chicago should be the center of technical expertise in this emerging industry.
Illinois, with 7,200 route miles, is the only state served by all seven Class I railroads, with seven automated classification yards, and a lift every minute moving intermodal containers. Nearly one-third of all the railroad traffic in the United States passes though Chicago, on 500 freight trains a day. The Chicago terminal region encompasses 893 route-miles, 125 interlockings, and 57 major yards. Illinois has five regionals, 12 short lines, and 24 terminal railroads. More than half the railroad infrastructure in the St. Louis area is contained in Illinois, the country's third busiest rail gateway. Today, the 581 miles of Mississippi riverbank in Illinois have a record 14 railroad bridges. South of Illinois, only five rail bridges span the Mississippi on its 600-plus-mile path to the Gulf of Mexico. $1.5 billion is planned to be spent on the CREATE improvement program to remove bottlenecks in moving trains through Chicago.
From Chicago's Union Station 28 trains a day fan out across 13,000 miles of Amtrak's national system, and another 28 arrive. Through Union Station passed 2.5 million passengers annually. Illinois ranks fourth in Amtrak ridership.
There are more railroad employees in Illinois, nearly 20,000, than any other state. If you are looking for someone to run a railroad, I believe you would find a few among those Illinois residents.
Topographically, with less than 1,000 feet separating the highest and lowest points in the state, Illinois is well suited to long stretches of straight, tangent track, perfect for high speed rail, with minimum curvature or grade concerns.
Despite these impressive facts and figures, however, one thing is missing. That is a state of the art, high speed rail line crossing the state. Californians are well ahead of us in putting one in their state. One would think Illinois would want to foster companies related to cutting edge technology like this (e.g., engines, cars, trackage, signaling, catenary, etc.) to generate growth in its economy.
The Chicago Tribune, however, a newspaper based in the rail capital of the U.S., in the city which is the crossroad of U.S. rail lines, doesn't think so, stating that "high-speed rail is a chancy experiment that diverts funds from more mundane but proven modes of transportation."
Far from being an experiment, the first electric passenger train, which all high speed trains are, was presented by Werner von Siemens at Berlin in 1879. In the 1930s, the Pennsylvania Railroad electrified its entire territory east of Harrisburg, PA, which later became the Northeast Corridor, on which Amtrak's Acela trains operate. The Milwaukee Road, the last transcontinental line to be built, electrified its lines across the Rocky Mountains and to the Pacific Ocean starting in 1915.
In other countries, high speed rail is no longer an experiment. China presently has 7,531 km of high speed rail lines in operation. Beginning in 1964, Japan daily operates 2,388 miles of bullet trains. High speed rail lines are either already in place, or are being built, in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, India, Iran, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Are these experiments as well?
As for economics, historically, about 80% of transportation expenditures in the United States at the federal, state, and local levels has gone to that "mundane but proven mode" - highways. Both the state, and individual citizens, are spending money right now for transportation. It's our choice as to what that might be. About one-fifth of the average household income goes towards transportation.
So lets take a look at highways as a proven mode, which the Chicago Tribune wants, in comparison with traditional railroad passenger service. Too much infrastructure investment in highways has only proven, if anything, to have been a tragic mistake in transportation policy.
Electrified, higher and high speed, trains cost travelers between 30 to 75% less than other modes, 1/6th that of driving, and 1/10th of flying. And among modes, is unquestionably cleaner, and non foreign oil-dependent. America now has a 97% oil-reliant transportation system, and when, if ever, are we going to "divert funds" to change this?
In terms of conventional railroads, upgraded track is 6 to 7 times cheaper to build than highways. One track carries 3 to 5 times more people than a highway lane, which cost $6 million more per mile to build. One high speed train on average carries 800 passengers, safely and in comfort, regardless of weather, directly to city centers.
Recently an advocacy group was established to promote high speed rail service between New York and Chicago, in a route that would connect the cities of the Great Lakes to the Northeast Corridor. According to the Chicago Tribune, this would result in the bankruptcy of not only Illinois, but Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and possibly New York as well. This is not, however, what our research indicates. It would connect two regions for the economical stimulus of both. Whereas the trip would take about 4 hours and 48 minutes, I believe that we will attract a few passengers from the nearly 100 million who live along the route.
Nor it is a new idea. Just such a railroad was proposed in 1907, however, it was never built. Perhaps at the time there were editorials against it.
Instead, we now have interstate highways, or long lines in less than friendly airports far from the centers of cities we're trying to get to.
Clearly, Illinois has an existing infrastructure that is well suited to high speed rail, and a workforce in place ready to run it. And the jobs to do so are needed now.
As for projected ridership, there remains one incontrovertible fact, and that is ridership is on the increase on passenger trains in other countries, across this country, and particularly within Illinois. Per the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, 44 of the 48 contiguous U.S. states are planning high speed rail projects. Perhaps it's time that we got Illinois, and the Chicago Tribune, on board and headed in the right direction with regard to transportation.
The experience of European high speed rail systems indicates that, should the California system, for example, successfully attain its mandated transit time, it's market share should be 60-85% of the joint auto/air market.* This data admits little interpretation. The New York and Chicago line advocates maintain the same projections, given the multiple city pairs along that route.
New York and Chicago Railroad
Citizens Taking Action for advance of public transit and passenger trains