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Posted on Mon, May 9, 2011 : 2:57 p.m.

Why high-speed rail to Chicago could spark Michigan's economy

By Nathan Bomey

Chicago is Michigan's kind of town.

Or, rather, Chicago is former Michigan residents' kind of town.

The Windy City is the top destination outside Michigan for the state's recent college graduates, according to research conducted by Ann Arbor-based nonpartisan think tank Michigan Future.

Yes, Michigan is exporting talent to Chicago faster than any other major metropolitan region. Encouraging, no?

College grads are flocking to Chicago because of the region's quality of life and strong economy. Which is why it makes sense to invest in improved transportation options that make Chicago seem just a little bit closer.

Federal and state authorities are announcing today that Michigan will receive nearly $200 million in federal grants to upgrade rail lines so that trains can travel up to 110 miles an hour in some parts of the route from Detroit to Chicago.

“This funding will help move Michigan and the nation forward by making high-speed rail a part of our economic infrastructure,” U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said in a statement. “Our economic competitors around the world have long enjoyed the benefits of high-speed rail service between their cities. They have demonstrated that high-speed service can create jobs and promote economic growth, and that it can provide a more energy-efficient alternative.”

To be sure, this is not high-speed rail. It's faster rail. High-speed rail is what they have in Europe and Japan.

But faster rail sets the stage for even faster rail — and that, ultimately, is a good thing for Michigan.

Let's set aside, for a moment, the fact that true high-speed rail is extremely costly. It would take billions to build a rail system that could transport passengers from Detroit to Chicago in, say, 2 hours.

And before you can even construct a high-speed rail network, you need to get past the numerous bureaucratic and political issues, including the powerful freight companies that control the tracks.

Nonetheless, high-speed rail would provide a quick way to visit Chicago — and that's meaningful.

Rail proponent Rich Sheridan, CEO of Ann Arbor-based software firm Menlo Innovations, has often said that he has to compete with Chicago tech companies for talent — and that it would be much easier if his employees could easily vacation in Chicago.

Think this is just an isolated problem? Not so.

In a 2008 study, Michigan Future found that the state loses about 11 percent of its knowledge-industry college grads to Chicago.

And you have to believe that percentage edged upward as jobs evaporated in Michigan in 2008 and 2009.

Now that Michigan's jobs market has stabilized, though, people may be more willing to stay in Michigan for work — as long as they can visit Chicago from time to time.

Cultivating a base of talented workers in Michigan is the fastest way to reconstruct Michigan's economy.

The construction jobs that come along with upgraded rail tracks are nice. But they're not sustainable.

The sustainable jobs created by companies that come to Michigan because they can find the talent they need to thrive — that's what we need.

"Rail and multimodal transportation options are key to attracting 21st century talent," said John Petz, chairman of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce and director of government and community relations for Domino's Farms Corp. "In today’s economy, we cannot expect to compete with other states or global regions without the necessary infrastructure in place. This funding is a great opportunity for our business community and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.”

As the fight for high-speed rail continues, it's politically significant that Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, is throwing his support behind the federal rail grants. He is singing the praises of the rail grants alongside several Democratic politicians, including U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and U.S. Rep. John Dingell.

But there's still a subtle divide that serves as a reminder of the long-term challenges associated with building a high-speed rail network.

The number of times the phrase "high-speed" occurs in the press release issued by Stabenow and LaHood about the news: 12.

The number of times the same phrase appears in the press release by Dingell and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: 22.

The number of times it appears in Snyder's press release: zero.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


zip the cat

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 8:01 p.m.

Another 200 million down the tube. With the 100 billion spent on a farce of a war we could have all the roads and bridges in this country repaired. Its a really dumb knee jerk shoot from the hip money pit of a idea. Repair the roads and bridges to create jobs not some stupid train.


Wed, May 11, 2011 : 2:39 a.m.

If you think the train is expensive to build, then wait till the bill for the highways comes due. Just adding one lane to US-23 north of Ann Arbor would cost $500 million. That price tag is why it hasn't been done. Too expensive.


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

There's a very good reason other states are refusing to accept the money for high-speed rail. The individual states will be left holding the bag to pay for a very expensive system than can't/won't pay for its own upkeep. Total waste of tax money. Let the market determine what will work and what won't.


Wed, May 11, 2011 : 2:37 a.m.

"let the market determine what will work and what won't" okay, then, instead of taking the train, should I take the market-based highway. Oh right, that was built with billions in public money, is maintained with public money, and is supported by public subsidies for cheap gas. hmm. I'm just not seeing the free market at work.


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 3:27 a.m.

They're still sharing lines with freight trains, right? Then it'll be 110MPH for a brief while on Amtrak's own tracks followed by waiting around for freight to clear on freight company tracks, which is why Amtrak already has an abysmal on time rate? Which is why Gov. Snyder has the good sense to not call it "high speed rail" but isn't going to stand in the way of the feds flushing away money so long as it's in Michigan? I think it'd be neat to be able to make quick train trips to Chicago but a) this won't do it and b) it's not worth the $billions it'd take to make it happen. Stop wasting money on these "stimulus" programs and if you really must go to Chicago take a bus. If you think you're that important there's always the Ann Arbor Airport for charter flights or your own small plane.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 2:06 a.m.

Well, at least we can export our talent to Chicago more quickly with high-speed rail.


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 1:30 a.m.

"up to 110 miles an hour in some parts of the route" The some parts of the route gets me. What is the speed in the rest and the elapsed time? Will the passenger trains still have to sit on sidings when the freight trains come? 200 million at 19.95 each yields 10 million megabus tickets - at 500,000 riders a year on the line (according to Amtrak) that is 20 years of free rides.

G. Orwell

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 12:35 a.m.

How about spending our tax money to improve roads and bridges. And/or, add a German style Autobaun where possible. Far more practical than spending hundreds of billions to get us to Chicago 30 minutes faster. Makes no sense. That said, I would support a high speed rail if we can go from AA to Chicago in less than two hours. Price tag being reasonable and ticket prices little higher than air. And no microwave ovens to give us cancer and TSA agents groping my wife and children.


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 4 p.m.

"A German-style Autobaun" what a great idea! We could build a highway where there are no traffic lights and you could go 70 mph and give it a name like I-94 Oh wait...that was already done in the 50s..called the interstate system

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 11:07 p.m.

I'm afraid its going to just make it all the easier for money to flow out of Michigan to Chicago.

Kai Petainen

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 2:56 a.m.

Here's another example of how excited Chicago is about coming to Detroit. Chicago article -- 4 comments <a href=",0,2180117.story" rel='nofollow'>,0,2180117.story</a> Detroit article -- 168 comments <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p see the problem? chicago isn't exactly jumping up and down about this.

Kai Petainen

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 2:15 a.m.

then detroit/ann arbor should do a better job of marketing that stuff. make a citypass like chicago and other tourist cities. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> detroit needs to get in that list.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 1:06 a.m.

Cash....White Sox, Cubs, Bears, Black Hawks, Bulls, I won't even begin to touch the museums or other cultural venues. No one in their right mind can believe that people in Chicago need Detroit or SE Michigan in general for anything you mentioned. You can't escape the fact that Chicago has a ton more to offer in that regard. Its just a fact. There are many reasons to come to Michigan, its just that none (hyperbole) of them involve a train ride from Chicago to Detroit or Ann Arbor.


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 12:31 a.m.

Yes Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions, Detroit Red Wings, Pistons, DIA, The Henry Ford, UM sporting events, DSO, Fox Theater, WMU and EMU sporting reason at all to come to Michigan. We are our own worst enemy sometimes.

Kai Petainen

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 11:20 p.m.

Ann Arbor / Detroit should do a major marketing campaign to get folks here. I would think more would go to Chicago for tourism than come here. (Ann Arbor is a great town, but I'm trying to think as if I lived outside of Michigan). If they don't do a huge marketing campaign, then it is another indication of its desired purpose.


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 11:06 p.m.

More &quot;promises&quot; of future prosperity based on a mortgage on the next generation (over $1 TRILLION in rail spending is already planned so far according to the Heritage Foundation). G.E. will get the contact and then job it out to the Chinese . . . resulting in no work for Michigan. Brilliant!


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 12:27 a.m.

Well it beats the heck out of spending it in every other country on the globe. It's about time we spoend on OURSELVES and our OWN infrastructure.

Knobby Kabushka

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 10:38 p.m.

All I see this as is another way for the government to control free independent movement in this country...


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

Yes, let's not inhibit the oil corporations in any way.


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

I don't thnk the point is to get people to work in Chicago (adding) but to get people to view living and working in Michigan as being more fun if Chicago is more accessible. I think it would enhance the image of living in Michigan.

Atticus F.

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

I took the Mega Bus from chicago last week for $30. It took about 4hr 15min. If they are planning on charging $300/ticket, I think I would continue to ride the Mega Bus.


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 11:04 p.m.

Atticus, You can get a ticket for under $30 at different times of the week.

dading dont delete me bro

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

still not convincing. i don't ride it now. why would i ride it if it goes 110mph? so i get there 1hr faster, why? so i can spend more money in chicago then in my local area? i wouldn't work there....2hr ride there, 8 hr work day, 2hr ride back. so you're talking 12 hr work day...not to mention the time it takes me to get up, out the door, to the train station, back home, UNWIND, and bed. just to to it all over again. doesn't make $ense to me.

Kai Petainen

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 3:52 a.m.

i love the henry ford, and it is a great place. but.... suppose i'm from out of town, how do i get to the henry ford by train?

dading dont delete me bro

Tue, May 10, 2011 : 2:05 a.m.

cash, i realize it 'goes both ways' otherwise, how would i get home? geezzsh...


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 11:08 p.m. train goes both ways. People in Chicago can come to Michigan and that means trips to Dearborn to the Henry Ford, to Tiger, Red Wing and Lions games, to DIA, etc. These people will spend money in Michigan. This state is so far behind the curve. Pathetic.

5c0++ H4d13y

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 7:36 p.m.

So we need moderate speed rail to entice people to live in an area that is close enough to Chicago that they can visit it? That's the argument here, right? &quot;College grads are flocking to Chicago because of the region's quality of life and strong economy.&quot; I think that's the solution for Michigan; a good quality of life and strong economy. How does moderate speed rail to Chicago get us that?


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 7:24 p.m.

The People Mover was supposed to have been a great mass transit system, but turned out to be a costly lesson for the City of Detroit. Before governmental units become obligated in a multi-billion-dollar obligation, they had better make darn sure that their financing and cost projections are consonant.


Thu, May 12, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Costs will never be in line because in government nobody pays the price when the projections fail, (except for he taxpayers). Today the CBO even uses rosey glasses when the want a certain future result - it is all in the compounding of 'growth rates' and 'costs' .


Tue, May 10, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

The People Mover was not what was intended. SE Michigan got $700 million from the Ford Administration to build REGIONAL mass transit, but the city and the suburbs couldn't agree how to spend the money. The People Move, which I agree isn't useful, is the result.


Mon, May 9, 2011 : 7:21 p.m.

Dreamer.... denial is not just a river in Egypt!!