Michigan is sucking eggs in the quest for Federal dollars to develop high speed rail. Grants this year total only $200 million out of a request for $993 million. And none of that money is actually being used for high speed rail. From the Stimulus bill, Michigan got $40 million for new stations in Troy and Dearborn plus renovations to the Battle Creek station. The October grant—which requires Michigan to match $30 million&mash;covers purchasing Norfolk Southern’s track from Dearborn to Kalamazoo and upgrading it to 79 mph. It also includes reconstructing connecting track in West Detroit. None of this is the 110 mph or faster promised by high speed rail.
Amtrak owns the line between Kalamazoo and the state line near New Bufalo. In partnership with Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Amtrak’s Michigan line has been upgraded to 95 mph speeds along some segments. That’s almost high speed and plans call for raising the segment to 110 mph. Why Michigan didn’t get any Stimulus money for this is beyond me. Where are Sens. Carl “Leave ’em” Levin (D) and Debbie “Stab me now” Stabinow on this? How about US Reps. Fred Upton (R-06) and Mark Schauer (D-07)?
A recent poll of over 24,000 by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found 62% would ride high speed rail if it was available and competetive in time and price with flying or driving. I’ll bet the number would go up if it meant avoiding full body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat downs. Amtrak wants to cut time from Detroit to Chicago from 5-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours. I’d call that competive with driving. Round trip on Amtrak costs $62-84 depending on times. Airfare starts at $190, so travel by rail is more cost effective than flying. The problem is 5-1/2 hours takes too long while 3-1/2 hours makes skipping the security lines at the airport worth it.
Republicans John Kasich and Scott Walker, Govs.-elect in Ohio and Wisconsin, are hostile to high speed rail. In fact, Mr. Kasich wants to give up a $400 million grant for new passenger service from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinatti, the 3C line. Despite popularity for a new Milwauke to Madison line, Walker wants to forego $810 million in high speed rail grants. Both expected to be able to repurpose the money for roads. Says US Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood: Not!
Like pirhana swarming to fresh blood in the water, a dozen states are asking for the $1.2 billion to be rejected by Ohio and Wisconsin. LaHood said there are “a lot of states that would like to have access to that money.”
What’s the word out of Michigan? Nothing. From Gov.-elect Rick Synder? Crickets. Good start on your 10-point plan, Gov. Nerd. Michigan needs the jobs and the infrastructure. Tell the “tough nerd” to take his hat off and belly up to the table with his empty plate and get Michigan’s fair share.
Previously on high speed rail: