A rail advocacy group in Fort Wayne called the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association last week unveiled a study (PDF) looking at the feasibility of running a 110-mph passenger rail line between Columbus and Chicago.
The study, which calls for upgrading existing freight lines, estimates that the entire project would cost about $1.285 billion and be eligible for federal funding that would cover 80% of the cost. It puts the economic benefits of such a line, in the form of new jobs, development around stations and increased tax returns, at over $6 billion.
Potential timetables are provided, showing a trip from Columbus to Chicago taking 4 hours on a local train and just 3 hours and 45 minutes on an express train.
The city of Columbus contributed $15,000 to the $80,000 study. Dan Williamson, Director of Communication for the mayor’s office, explained that they’ve worked over the past year with the Fort Wayne group as well as with cities and towns along the corridor to produce the study. The results are “promising,” he said, adding that the coalition of communities along the potential route are “now considering a more in-depth study to examine the business case for high speed rail service.”
“Providing Columbus businesses and citizens a high speed rail connection to Chicago could further position Columbus as Ohio’s economic center and a growing economic force in the Midwest,” said Williamson. ”We have hundreds of businesses that do business in Chicago or with Chicago businesses.”
When asked about the next step, which for these types of projects typically involves a ‘Tier One’ environmental impact assessment, Williamson said; “we are supportive of further work… we think the results of the study warrant communities along the corridor continuing to raise funds for the next assessment and are exploring with them ways to fund the work.”
The proposal has already generated considerable buzz in social media circles. Eric Davies, board chair of the local advocacy group Transit Columbus, said that a post about the study on their facebook page has been viewed over 15,000 times and inspired a flurry of comments.
Ken Prendergast of All Aboard Ohio says they have been hearing lots of talk about the idea as well.
“It makes sense that the third largest city in the midwest be connected to the region’s economic capital,” Prendergast said, adding that the route has a couple of important features that make it particularly attractive: there is currently no direct highway connection between the two cities, and the rail lines it would utilize are in relatively good shape and either feature low freight traffic or run parallel to other existing freight lines.
He added that in other states such as Minnesota and Texas, coalitions of municipal governments and metropolitan planning organizations (like MORPC), have formed something called a Joint Powers Authority to raise funds for the environmental assessment, which could cost between five and ten million dollars.
More information on the feasibility study is available at www.niprarail.org.
For further discussion on the proposal, CLICK HERE to visit our messageboard.
All renderings, maps and photos via the NIPRA report.