Allegiant Airlines flying out of the Gary/Chicago International Airport grabbed the local headlines, as it should, but on the very same day, a history-making high-speed 110 mph passenger train pulled out of Chicago's Union Station to pass through Indiana on to cities in Michigan. The catch word here is "pass through." The Amtrak train did not make a single stop in Indiana, and there are reasons for that.
Indiana is not yet taking the high-speed rail project seriously. Yet, the Indiana High Speed Rail Association has proved several times that these trains can generate as much for this state's economy as most other economic development projects. We also have shown that they will create a new generation of jobs both along the railroad corridors and in all the great cities that they serve. And, yet, Indiana cannot seem to come to terms with that.
Now, to its credit, the Indiana Department of Transportation was awarded $71.4 million to improve and eliminate a serious, time-consuming rail congestion problem between the Illinois and Indiana state line and Porter, but that was two years ago. Nothing has been done with that money.
Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration plus the freight carriers that use those tracks long have deemed this alignment to be "the worst congestion problem in the nation." Indiana needs to spend those funds.
At the time of Indiana's centennial in 1916, this state led the world in railroad technology. We had more passenger rail miles than anywhere else. In 1999, the INHSRA negotiated with the FRA to create 630 miles of federally designated high-speed rail corridors — more than any other state in the United States. Could Indiana possibly see itself leading the nation in high-speed rail technology by 2016, the state's bicentennial?
INHSRA is working toward that goal. While we are finding partners to share in this aspiration, we need many more. Our great steel manufacturers will benefit from the production of new high-tech trains and tracks. The blossoming tourism industry will see measurable growth. Universities will benefit, and our amazing Indiana cities will realize dramatic increases in commercial investments, retail sales and additional tax revenues.
Having high-speed trains as a part of Indiana's transportation fabric will improve greatly the way our residents travel and the way our commercial and tourism industries do business. High-speed rail is here. It is now a reality, and Indiana needs to move much more aggressively to make it happen here. Indiana should not be a "pass through" state, but a significant beneficiary and vocal partner of the Midwest high speed rail system.
W. Dennis Hodges, of Merrillville, is vice president of business relations for the Indiana High Speed Rail Association. The opinions are the writer's.