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Published: Friday, 4/17/2009

Toledo part of Obama's high-speed rail plans

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A route linking Chicago and Cleveland via Toledo and one connecting Ohio's "Three C's" are designated for development under plans President Obama announced yesterday for high-speed rail networks he said would change the way Americans travel, drawing comparisons to the 1950s creation of the interstate highway system.

President Obama characterized an initial $8 billion for high-speed rail included in the $787 billion economic stimulus-spending package as a down payment on a rail system that will take decades to build and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. It would connect such cities as Orlando and Miami, Portland and Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and dozens of other metropolitan areas.

"This is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future," the President said during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is adjacent to the White House. "It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here."

Among the more expansive networks, and most advanced in planning terms, is the so-called Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, linking Chicago with Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and other cities in the Midwest.

The Cleveland route, through Toledo, is also part of the "Ohio Hub" plan developed by the Ohio Rail Development Commission, as is the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati corridor, which Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland recently designated for development funding and which is the only non-Chicago route in the Obama Administration's proposed Midwest network.

Ken Prendergast, president of the rail-advocacy group All Aboard Ohio, said Mr. Obama's personal endorsement of high-speed rail "really underscores how much of a sea change this is politically."

In the past, he said, transportation secretaries have appeared on occasion to promote rail development, but the sitting presidents and vice presidents have been absent.

Studies indicate that expanding passenger rail service in Ohio could create 16,700 perma-nent jobs, in addition to thousands of construction jobs; generate more than $3 billion in development near stations, and create an annual $80 million windfall for the state's tourism industry.

The United States trails other developed countries in developing high-speed rail. The Spanish can travel the 386 miles from Madrid to Barcelona at speeds averaging almost 150 mph. Japan's Shinkansen links its major cities at speeds averaging 180 mph, and France's TGV train averages about 133 mph in carrying passengers from Paris to Lyon while topping out at 186 mph on TGV-only tracks.

Only on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor route between Boston and New York and on short stretches of track in upstate New York do U.S. passenger trains reach or exceed the Federal Railroad Administration's 110-mph threshold to qualify as high-speed rail.

Elsewhere, including on the line through Toledo, passenger trains are generally restricted to 79 mph, though part of Amtrak's Detroit-Chicago line has been upgraded to 95 mph with an eye toward 110 mph in the future.

Mr. Obama said a mature high-speed rail system would reduce demand for foreign oil and eliminate 6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year - equivalent to taking a million cars off the roads.

Information from theAssociated Press was used in this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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