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Federal high-speed rail grants exclude big Indiana proposal

January 28, 2010

The U.S. Department of Transportation has nailed a stake into the heart of Indiana’s long-suffering high-speed rail movement—excluding an ambitious Indiana project from $8 billion in stimulus grants announced Wednesday.

The Indiana Department of Transportation had applied for $2.8 billion for a route between Chicago and Cleveland that would have passed through northern Indiana and through or near cities such as Fort Wayne.

Dennis Hodges, vice president of Merrillville-based Indiana High Speed Rail Association, said officials have not received a satisfactory explanation for why the project was not funded. But Hodges noted that Indiana leaders for years have lacked widespread and vigorous support of any sort of passenger rail.

“Indiana has a long way to go to be a player in the passenger rail movement. We barely fund the South Shore [Railroad], let alone anything else," Hodges said. “Indiana has not been in the forefront of passenger rail.”

President Obama’s push for high-speed rail funding had been seen as perhaps the best opportunity yet in terms of getting track laid.

State transportation officials expect to receive about $71.4 million for Indiana's part of a planned high-speed rail project that would run from Chicago to suburban Detroit. About 30 miles of that route passes through northwestern Indiana along Lake Michigan's south shore.

The money will help speed up Amtrak passenger and freight service on Indiana's portion of the route by building passing tracks, crossover tracks and signal improvements—the first step to turning the route into a high-speed line.

Despite the setback for the larger high-speed rail project, the association plans to build support among bureaucrats and elected officials, on Friday holding a luncheon in Gary that includes Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo as keynote speaker.

High-speed rail funds will go to 31 states, helping to build 13 new high-speed rail corridors nationwide. Others approved for funding included $810 million toward a Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison route in Illinois and Wisconsin.

INDOT never bothered to apply for funding of a Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati route that Hodges said had had been shown to have the highest potential return on the dollar.

INDOT officials responded that federal funding criteria favored routes furthest along in planning and had the potential to be completed more quickly.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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