A report published by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan analyzing the potential effects of building a railway in Michigan and throughout the Midwest has put real numbers on the benefits a high-speed railway system could provide for the region.
The report, called “Connecting the Midwest,” was presented last week at the Dearborn Amtrak Station in front of local business leaders, government officials and rail advocates.
According to the report, the high-speed rail project would create about 58,000 permanent jobs and support nearly 15,200 jobs in the Midwest during the ten years it would take to construct the rail and renovate existing train stations.
The project would directly affect Michigan by providing “faster connection for economically battered cities like Detroit and Flint to Chicago, creating new possibilities for economic development and recovery,” the report stated. It would also help revitalize Michigan’s manufacturing industry, which would supply much of the equipment and resources used during the construction phase of the project.
The federal government has issued more than $2.7 billion in funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act for railway projects throughout the Midwest. Of the $2.7 billion grant, $244 million will go toward building new rail stations in Dearborn, Troy and Battle Creek, as well as track improvements to lines in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Howell.
The Ann Arbor Amtrak Station, a key stop on the Wolverine Line which runs from Detroit to Chicago, would receive funding to renovate its existing railway system and assist Ann Arbor residents with their commute.
Megan Hess, program associate for Public Interest Research Group, said the railway “provides a realistic opportunity to have a positive impact on the state of Michigan.”
Though Hess said the stimulus money garnered interest for the rail among local community leaders, it was not “the impetus” for the report.
“The report is trying to get the conversation going,” she said.
Daryl Jamieson, president of the Dearborn Heights Chamber of Commerce, said the agreed that building the railway would benefit the state.
“We need to take advantage of everything we can get,” he said, citing the need to apply for more stimulus funding which would help alleviate costs for building the rail.
Jamieson said Michigan’s current railway system is set up for freight trains, but needs to be “set up for people.” He added that the railway would improve transportation for commuters by making travel faster and more efficient.
Report findings state that a high-speed rail connection between downtown Detroit and Chicago would reduce travel times between the cities to a little under four hours, which according to the report is “faster than driving.”
John DeLora, executive committee chair of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, said lower travel times not only benefit the environment by reducing air travel, but also have the potential to reinvigorate Detroit by bringing new businesses to the city.
“The rail would provide much-needed urban development,” he said.
He said if more people utilize the railway system, businesses would receive greater traffic.
“The railway stops would make the area more attractive to investors and would increase property values within the area,” he said.
The last improvements to the railway system occurred in 2002 and 2005. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of passengers on Michigan lines increased 24 percent, according to the report.
Allocating money for railway improvements has been a hot topic in Michigan since 2009, when Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm applied for $800 million in funding from the Recovery Act. Midwest governors also met in Chicago on July 27, 2009 to develop a plan for building an eight-state high-speed rail system using stimulus funding.