UrbanMI

TRAINS, PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES

Posted in INFRASTRUCTURE by urbanmi on October 23, 2012

Amtrak is important.

Illinois has been aggressively pursuing high speed trains between Chicago and St Louis. This is a very important development and will be significant for Michigan.

The concept of high speed trains has been oft criticized. This past week the radio program Marketplace  had a piece on the issue claiming they will compete with planes and containing the criticism of Ray Mundy, Director of Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri St Louis.

The main point of the critique is anyone traveling by plane between Chicago and St Louis are likely transferring and high speed trains will do nothing to compete with planes for a form of travel between the cities. This point is generally true, but only because the premise is incorrect.

High speed trains will not compete with planes. They will compete with cars.

No one takes planes short distances, (except for high income earners or business flyers) it is not affordable. I regularly travel between Grand Rapids and Chicago, I regularly travel between Detroit and Grand Rapids. I have never made these inter-city trips by plane; I have made them via Amtrak. It is cheap, stress free, and enjoyable. The only criticism I have is one of convenience. With only two trips per day between Grand Rapids and Chicago, I have to plan my days around the train. Given increased frequency and time of the train I would use the Amtrak regularly, and make the trip far more often than I already do.

To suggest high speed trains will do nothing for commerce is a mistake. High speed trains will merely not compete with the plane, but only because the plane is not a practical transportation option for short distances. However, with increased convenience high speed trains would be fantastic for Michigan providing a practical and affordable solution. High Speed Trains shrink the map, they increase the interconnectedness of the region.

If you agree with the premises of Richard Florida and others and his description of the importance of mega-regions and the new geographies that are defining the progress of the country. Tapping into the network of cities we live in is the key to Michigan’s future. High Speed Trains is the way Michigan can become united with Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin…

Without investing in this infrastructure Michigan and its cities will likely be bypassed.

The only key part to the High Speed Trains discussion is the importance of a strong and vibrant public transportation system in your destination city. It is wonderful taking the Amtrak to Chicago and hopping on a bus or the subway, but it is not a pleasant experience to arrive in Grand Rapids or Detroit and be stuck in a concrete wasteland fighting for a cab.

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