The Green Column: High-speed rail system being planned in Indiana

A regional authority of the Federal Railroad Administration released its business plan in late June, one of 150 U.S. high-speed rail projects in some stage of development going on today.

The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association is laying the groundwork for an 11-city passenger rail corridor between Columbus, Ohio, and Chicago through Fort Wayne and Warsaw, Ind.

The proposed system would operate 12 trains each way per day, including at least six express schedules, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

With modern diesel equipment running at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour to start, the 300-mile trip between downtown Chicago and downtown Columbus would normally require only three hour, 45-minute express service or four-hour local service.

Track and safety improvements in a potential future phase would support speeds up to 130 mph and a downtown Chicago to downtown Columbus express time of three hours, 20 minutes.

Over the 30-year life of the project, benefits of over $6 billion are expected, with a positive benefit-cost ratio of $1.70 in direct benefits for each dollar invested.

The analysis indicates private operation of the system would be possible without annual government subsidies.

Regional economic benefits over the life of the project are forecast to include creation of 26,800 new full-time jobs, $700 million per year in additional household income and $2.6 billion in joint development opportunities for the corridor communities.

Columbus, with its 1.9 million metropolitan area population, is the largest city in the U.S. not served by any type of passenger rail.

Fort Wayne, midway between Columbus and Chicago, represents the largest city in Indiana without any form of passenger rail service.

"The economic impact for Indiana is substantial. We could see thousands of new jobs for Hoosiers in the northern third of our state, and hundreds added here in Fort Wayne," said Geoff Paddock, a Fort Wayne city councilman and a founding member of the NIPRA board of directors. "The addition of passenger rail is a critical transportation link to the east and west.

"Train service would also encourage more tourism in this area of the state, make development in the downtown area more attractive for investors, and give an opportunity to get more people from the train station to the Fort Wayne International Airport, by way of Citilink bus service."

Chicago, with its MSA population of 9.5 million, is the economic and transportation hub of the $2.8 trillion regional economy, including the nine states of the Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

A half-million jobs lie within a 2-mile radius of Chicago's Union Station, the western terminus of the rail corridor project.

To date, 50 construction projects in 19 states and the District of Columbia worth more than $3.2 billion are either complete, under construction or set to begin construction within six months.
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