MICHIGAN Gov. Jennifer Granholm took a symbolic Amtrak ride to Jackson on Monday to urge construction of a high-speed rail line across the Midwest.
The idea makes a great deal of sense, even given that money is tight and the demand unproven.
Advocates of mass transit in the United States tend to argue for light rail or new subway systems in major cities like Detroit, ideas that would be terrifically expensive and probably impractical, given today's lifestyles. But high-speed rail linking different cities is something else again.
Virtually everyone who has ridden the famous "bullet trains" in Japan or the fast-moving lines that link much of Europe loves them. For years, Americans were content to fly from city to city. But airline travel long ago lost its convenience and charm, and many people now drive for hours to avoid the hassle all too common at today's airports.
Last month, eight Midwestern states, including the governors of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, signed a memorandum of understanding in Chicago pledging to work together to get a high-speed rail line serving the region. This was a timely move, given that the Obama Administration has made $8 billion available for high-speed rail.
The idea is to have trains based from a Chicago hub zipping throughout the region at speeds up to 110 miles an hour. If it becomes reality, the Midwest Corridor would certainly create jobs, reduce highway congestion, and, at least to some degree, reduce this nation's dependence on foreign oil.
The governors have presumably now applied for their share of the funding. The danger, however, is that the government will divide the $8 billion into too many smaller grants to make any major project hard to realize. Instead, the Midwest Corridor's congressional delegations should pressure the administration to spend as much as possible to build the Midwest Corridor as a national demonstration line.
If correctly constructed, it could show the nation how well high-speed rail can work, and revitalize our economy in the process. That means investing heavily to make sure the track and roadbed are in shape; one catastrophic derailment could easily sour the nation on high-speed rail forever.
The Midwest Corridor may seem like a pricey gamble, but the reality is that the world is fast running out of fossil fuel, and Americans have more incentive to travel than ever. As the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams goes, if we build it, they will come.
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