Federal high-speed rail grants exclude big Indiana proposal

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.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.