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From Chicago to Ohio: County asked to get on board with high speed rail

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Moving at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, Porter County could see a high speed rail line in operation by 2020.

At least that’s the hope of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association which is waging a campaign to prepare the Chicago, Ft. Wayne & Eastern line for high speed passenger cars that could travel from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, a distance of about 300 miles, in less than four hours.

The current plans show that the line would make a stop in Valparaiso, NIPRA President Fred Lanahan said. It would run south of Duneland. Other stops include the Gary/Chicago Airport, Plymouth, Warsaw and Fort Wayne in Indiana and Lima and Columbus in Ohio.

Most of those communities have already made financial commitments toward Indiana’s half of the $2 million needed for an environmental impact study needed before engineering can begin, Lanahan said.

The City of Valparaiso has said it will commit $50,000 toward the effort. Lanahan, along with NIRPA transportation and management consultant Richard Davis and Fort Wayne urban planner Tom Walls, asked the County Commissioners Tuesday if they could pick up the remaining $20,000 NIRPA is seeking from Porter County.

The group said that it projects for every $1 communities invest toward the rail, a return of $1.71 once the rail is in operation. After three years in operation, the line is anticipated to be generating a $40 million surplus of funds.

NIPRA estimates 26,800 new jobs will be created between the three states as a result.

“Everybody along the corridor will benefit from the access,” said Davis. “It’s not going to work unless it’s a partnership and everyone has a stake in it.”

NIPRA is centered in Ft. Wayne, which would be the hub for the rail. The Commissioners of Allen County have agreed to spend $50,000 toward the study and the City of Ft. Wayne has also showed enthusiasm with $20,000, Lanahan said.

Once local commitments are made, the Indiana Department of Transportation is looking to provide a match for the funds. There are private companies that also have great interest in high-speed rail and are willing to kick in funds, Davis said, making the project a viable private-public partnership.

Ten trains per day will initially transport passengers from end-to-end. More trains would be added incrementally, said Lanahan.

Davis said the fare for a passenger traveling from Valparaiso to Chicago will be $19 for business class and $15 for economy class.

Lanahan said NIPRA plans to talk to more communities in Ohio with the goal to one day expand the rail line to Pittsburgh, giving residents the ability to travel to Chicago and to the East Coast.

Trends show that more young people are choosing to commute by passenger train and are less likely to own a vehicle, Lanahan said. Older residents are riding more frequently as well, he added.

Walls said concepts and funding for high speed rail were introduced by the federal government during the early 1990s during President George H.W. Bush’s term. The trains would not move as fast as the speeding bullet trains found overseas which travel above 200 mph.

“It certainly is not your mom and dad’s train but it’s not like the science fiction stories you’ve read about,” Walls said.

The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to pay the lion’s share of the final costs on the environmental study. Each mile of rail would cost between $3 million to $4 million per mile for a total estimate of over $1 billion.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said he’s “intrigued to say the least” by the project but advised he wanted to allow more time for his board to discuss a funding plan.

He asked the group who will be the operator for the rail. Davis said that will likely be Amtrak.

Evans said the Commissioners will likely have its decision made on the request for $20,000 at their first meeting in May.

 

Posted 4/16/2014