Midwest High Speed Rail: Part 2: Who Gets It First?

This is part two of a four-part series of articles about the plans for high speed rail in the Midwest.

One of the miracles that came out of recent meetings between midwestern governors was an agreement about who gets rail first.

Not surprisingly, Chicago is one of the places that will see fast trains first.  But interestingly, Chicago is actually the hub of what is essentially a massive hub-and-spoke rail system, supplemented by a few minor hubs in places like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

In phase one of the plan, the following high speed rail routes will be established:
Chicago – Fort Wayne – Toledo – Cleveland

  • Chicago – Normal – Springfield – Saint Louis
  • Chicago – Milwaukee- Madison – LaCrosse – Saint Paul
  • Chicago – Lafayette – Indianapolis – Cincinnati
  • Chicago – Kalamazoo – Detroit

These will be supplemented by regional high speed rail rotes:

  • Cincinnati – Columbus – Cleveland
  • Milwaukee – Green Bay

In phase two of the plan, secondary routes are opened up:

  • Chicago – Quad Cities – Iowa City – Des Moines – Kansas City
  • Saint Paul – Duluth

And then later, the tertiary routes come online:

  • Chicago – Joliet – Champaign – Carbondale
  • Chicago – Quincy
  • Chicago – Kansas City
  • Detroit – Port Huron
  • Saint Louis – Jefferson City – Kansas City

All of this seems rather ambitious, and a lot of people, myself included, would be happy to see just the first part completed.  But linking the bigger cities isn’t possible without also promising to expand to the smaller cities.  That’s how politics works.  And having dozens of smaller cities, states, and regional organizations backing the Midwest rail plan makes it more likely to win federal funding.  And there are even visions of expanding the network all the way to the Dakotas.

Of course, the big question is will it work?  Shaking the magic 8-ball yields a blue triangle reading “All signs point to ‘yes.'”  It is estimated that increasing the frequency of the trains and moving the speed up from the current 70 MPH maximum to 110 MPH will increase ridership anywhere from double to quadruple its current levels.

Another sign of this comes from France, one of the pioneering high speed rail countries.  SNCF, the company that runs the trains in France has indicated it is willing to run the Midwest high speed rail system.  It believes that it an make a profit on the routes.

Of course, there are a couple of catches.  First, it wants the federal and state governments to build the network; it doesn’t want to shoulder any of that burden or debt.  And second, SNCF wants the trains to go 200 MPH, not just 110.

With trains in the Northeast already going 100MPH and trains in Europe and Asia passing 200, why is the Midwest setting its goal at 110?  That is answered in the next part of this series: How Fast is Fast?

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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