Benefits touted for high-speed rail

Benefits touted for high-speed rail

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign County needs to pursue both a high-speed rail line and improved air service, the CEO of the county's economic development group says.

John Dimit said a 220-mph rail line running from Chicago to St. Louis via Champaign makes sense from both a transportation and economic development standpoint.

His comments came during an informal discussion, led by BankChampaign President Mark Ballard, of the benefits of high-speed rail. About 45 people attended the discussion Thursday at the M2 building in downtown Champaign.

Dimit said a 220-mph train could get Champaign passengers to Chicago's Loop in about the same amount of time it takes commuters from Chicago's northwest suburbs to get there.

That travel time would have advantages for both Champaign County companies needing to conduct business in Chicago and Chicago health care specialists called on to provide service at Urbana hospitals, he said.

Plus, having quick travel times to Chicago would be an advantage in attracting companies to Champaign County, he said.

With high-speed rail service, some working in the Chicago area might choose to live downstate, given houses are more affordably priced here.

In addition, area employers say they need a good supply of properly skilled labor and better travel options. High-speed rail could help solve both problems, he said.

In Ballard's words, high-speed rail could turn "the Rust Belt into the Research Belt."

Dimit said over the long term, passenger-per-mile costs of rail travel are lower than those of air travel. Plus, rail trips aren't subject to cancellation the way flights are when unfavorable weather hits.

Though super-fast trips by rail could reduce the need for air service to Chicago, Dimit said Champaign County would still need air service for longer trips, such as Dallas-Fort Worth or Washington, D.C.

He said the community must work now to keep the University of Illinois-Willard Airport viable.

"The airport issue is a today issue," he said. "Something has got to happen. If we can't keep air service, we'll drop off the map of where people put companies."

Dimit said the high-speed rail line from Chicago to St. Louis being built through Bloomington-Normal won't allow very high speeds. Though it's billed as a 110-mph line, physical limitations along that corridor will constrain speeds to about 79 mph, he said.

Dimit said it was largely through the efforts of the local advocacy group Champaign County First that plans for a 220-mph line through Champaign have progressed as far as they have.

He said federal officials have been impressed with how rapidly Champaign County and the state have moved forward with the proposal.

But he emphasized high-speed rail is a long-term project, suggesting it could be 2030 before the 220-mph line is up and running.

A feasibility study for the line is expected to be peer-reviewed this fall and released by the end of this year, he added.

Although the 220-mph line might have two phases of construction, Dimit said both phases need to happen for the project to go forward.

"We need the population base in St. Louis to make it happen," he said, adding there's also a possibility of adding a high-speed link from Indianapolis to Champaign.

The goal of Thursday's meeting was to stir interest in high-speed rail in both the private sector and public sector. Dimit said development of the line will require a private-public partnership.

In conjunction with the meeting, Champaign County First released a statement saying "Champaign County and the I-57 corridor demonstrate one of the best opportunities to pilot a high-speed rail project for the nation."

The statement added: "With Chicago being the third-busiest intermodal transportation hub in the world, it only makes sense that Chicago be an anchor to a true high-speed bullet train network."

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DEB wrote on May 05, 2012 at 11:05 am

Instead of giving a big, rich, corporate hotel $5 to build a 100 room hotel downtown which will bring limited growth if any, lets set that money aside-- along with other corporate welfare give-aways from which we will see little return-- and promise to use it for station development and other improvements in town if the HSR comes to town.  That will help insure that we really do get it (instead of, say bloomington), and will provide a real economic boom for CU instead of the Walmart or Marriot bottom line.

U Chicago (yes, those right wing economists) say that every dollar we spend on High Speed Rail connecting us regionally will pay back more than $10.  Every dollar we spend on light rail will pay back $9.  Every dollar we spend on attracting big box retail, hotel chains, etc. wil pay back 35cents.  It doesn't take a PhD in math or economics to know where we SHOULD be investing.

billbtri5 wrote on May 05, 2012 at 12:05 pm

another rail project that won't pay for itself,  40% of it borrowed from China with no hope of ever paying it back


makes sense if you don't think about it...

pehartman2 wrote on May 05, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Instead of spending all this money on a rail line (and an overpriced hotel) that will likely be used less than the marketers guess, why not reduce corporate taxes and get more businesses and JOBS back into Illinois?

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 05, 2012 at 9:05 pm

The Silver Bullet has already left the station.  It is going thru Bloomington, and Springfield to St. Louis.  Two flash trains will not happen at this time.  Oh, the money can be diverted from existing debts, and obligations for a 220 mph train from Chicago to Champaign and back.  People can ride the train a little later each day to get to the minor league game in Chicago.  Oh, the thrill of it....  Lower taxes for corporations can be obtained by cutting all services to the young, the old, and the disabled with pensions being stolen from the employees.  Maybe, a 300 foot tall statue of Old Abe can be built next to the new hotel in a roundabout to enhance the 21st century ride on a train?  Maybe; a state, or federal grant can pay for it?  Oh, what a thrill it would be.....

wally3688 wrote on May 05, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I seriously doubt that "Chicago right-wing economists" have found a 10 to 1 comparison between the costs and benefits of high speed rail.  If there is such a study, please post a citation.  I have NEVER seen a quality study of any policy decision that suggests this return.

8675309 wrote on May 06, 2012 at 12:05 am

Sweet wolf tie!