Illinois, Michigan move ahead on high-speed rail

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If you’re looking for high-speed rail with a Chicago connection, don’t look toward Wisconsin. Two high-speed train sets that originally were set to connect Chicago with Milwaukee and Madison, and eventually Minneapolis, look like they’re headed to Michigan instead.

The Michigan Senate has cleared the way to buy the two sets of cars and 110-mph locomotives for Amtrak’s run between Detroit and Chicago, the Associated Press reported today.

The Chicago-Milwaukee high-speed plan, which also had a goal of 110 mph, derailed when in 2010 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rejected $810 million in federal stimulus money to help build it. Minnesota officials are still spending more than $800,000 to study the idea, but without any contribution from Wisconsin.

An actual high-speed line that connected Chicago to Minneapolis would be a far cry from the current Amtrak Empire Builder service, which is buffeted by an increasing number of freight trains carrying Wisconsin sand for fracking and fracking-produced oil from North Dakota.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago through Minneapolis and then to Portland and Seattle, now spends so much of its time idling on sidings while freights pass that it is routinely hours – and hours – behind schedule and is losing ridership.

Meanwhile, in Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn two weeks ago announced Illinois is allocating an additional $102 million for the high-speed line connecting Chicago to St. Louis. Some people say that’s not truly high speed because its 110-mph speeds, which are better than, say, Metra, are nowhere near true high-speed rail running at more than 200 mph. In some places in the world, they are even designing tracks for 250 mph.

But when all improvements are completed in 2017, the Chicago-St- Louis trip will have been reduced even from 5½ to 4½ hours. The Chicago-Detroit improvements will cut two hours off that trip.

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