As part of a fantastic interview in the Wall Street Journal here
, Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant floated the idea of a new high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and Detroit. Exciting! Here's an excerpt:
WSJ: Where are opportunities for creating shorter-haul corridors?
Mr. Kummant: We need to look at any place that has a large population. It's Phoenix to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Los Angeles to Oakland. It could be expanding service between Seattle and Portland, and on almost any route from Chicago. Texas clearly has large population centers, and Florida is a good example of growing population. I would love a major new intercity corridor to catch fire outside the eastern seaboard. It would clearly demonstrate the wisdom of capital investment in passenger rail. I think Chicago-Detroit might be a real possibility. There, we could create a 100-mile-per-hour corridor city to city, except for about for a 35-mile stretch through Indiana which is highly congested. There, you might put in a separate line. It might cost $500 million to $1 billion.
WSJ: Who would pay for a Chicago-to-Detroit corridor?
Mr. Kummant: This could be done through a coalition of stakeholders, including three states, the federal government and, perhaps, the freight railroads, which are eager to mitigate congestion in the Chicago region.
The Midwest region is ripe for significant increases in Amtrak service, both in terms of frequencies and speed. We need to think big and continue to advocate for one-year and two-year incremental improvements (like Illinois' doubling of frequencies for Amtrak Illinois service) that every stakeholder can implement.
Let's lay new track.
The most important part of the Chicago-Detroit corridor, by the way, is building track around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, particularly the part in the City of Chicago. Right now, that portion of the track slows down to a crawl, and fixing the "South of the Lake Re-Route" as the Association has been calling for here
would significantly improve the entire Chicago hub - East Coast network.
The interview continues on to the subject of high speed rail, and Mr. Kummant gets it mostly right.
WSJ: Do you think the U.S. will get high-speed trains like France and Germany?
Mr. Kummant: That is a goal we could all aspire to, and the question is how and when the country will be ready. We are talking about tens of billions of dollars, or euros, for a single corridor. I think we could get there in a couple of steps. I believe we could build an incremental approach where we could develop 100 mph corridors with conventional equipment. You build ridership and consciousness. Let's not forget that before the TGV [train à grande vitesse -- high-speed train] was there in France, there was a lower-speed train. There was a natural evolution from lower to higher speeds, and there is no reason we can't do that in the U.S.
It's great to see that Mr. Kummant understands the natural evolution of improving what we have to build the political will and ridership to make serious capital investments in new track to get high-speed rail. My friendly suggestion is that high speed rail *is* a goal that the nation does aspire to (or, at least, should aspire to), rather than a goal that the nation could, if it wishes, aspire to.