High-speed rail, long seen as the missing element in the U.S. transportation picture, has finally begun in earnest. On September 17, the first significant high-speed rail project began construction in Illinois, using $98 million in funds from the Obama Administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The rail line will link St. Louis and Chicago when completed, and allow trains to operate up to 110 mph, from the current 79 mph. In all, it will cut travel time by 90 minutes, to under four hours. And high-speed rail represents a major environmental improvement over traffic congestion. A recent report "Connecting the Midwest" found that high-speed rail in the Midwest would reduce air travel by 1.3 million trips and car travel by 5.1 million trips per year by 2020, preventing 188,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year (equal to the emissions of 34,000 cars).
Brian Imus, state director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, released the following statement regarding the project and its environmental significance: "We've got congested airports and crammed highways that hinder travel around the Midwest, and our transportation system is overly reliant on oil, which leaves us vulnerable to unpredictable gas prices and pollution. High-speed rail is a part of the solution. It will boost our economy and create jobs. It will modernize our transportation system, while helping to solve our nation's oil dependency, worsening congestion and pollution. High-speed rail will get us moving in the right direction." It's certainly a promising start for groups like the Midwest High Speed Rail Association which wants to see high-speed trains become a top priority for the Midwest. And the group envisions much faster bullet trains that travel 220 mph, able to transport 35 million within three hours of Chicago.
Illinois is the first of 31 states to receive a portion of $8 billion in funding for high-speed rail under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.