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Posted on Sat. Jun. 29, 2013 - 12:31 am EDT

Rail line could generate 26,800 jobs

Federal approval of $1.6 billion project still needed

FORT WAYNE — A report released Friday projects that more than 26,000 full-time jobs would be created if a passenger rail line is built to connect Chicago with Columbus, Ohio – with stops in Fort Wayne and Warsaw.

Transportation Economics & Management Systems Inc., a Maryland consulting firm, estimates that $700 million of additional household income would be generated each year across the 11-city corridor if the route becomes a reality.

The $80,000 feasibility study was requested by former Gov. Mitch Daniels to estimate the system’s cost and potential economic impact.

The Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association is one of several groups that support the regional rail connection, which has an estimated total cost of $1.6 billion. That includes the metal tracks, train cars and refurbished train stations.

Fred Lanahan, the local association’s president, said federal approval is vital for the project to move forward. If the proposal wins that approval, the federal government would be expected to pay 80 percent of the price tag.

The remaining cost would be split between Indiana and Ohio over several years, he said. It’s unclear whether Illinois would contribute.

A Columbus-to-Chicago passenger rail connection could do more than make travel easier for business executives and vacationing families, Lanahan said. He suggested that locomotive manufacturing plants in Muncie and Columbus could build the train cars, for example.

For every $1 invested in the project, the three-state region would receive $1.70 in direct benefits, the report estimated.

Estimates are based on the project’s 30-year lifespan. The 26,800 new, full-time-equivalent jobs that are projected would be created over that time period.

The report – or business plan – includes an operating schedule of 12 trains traveling each way daily, with at least six on express schedules. At 110 miles an hour to start, a regular train could make the 300-mile trip from Chicago to downtown Columbus in 4 hours. An express train that made fewer stops would take 3 hours, 45 minutes.

With track and safety improvements, trains could potentially travel as fast as 130 miles an hour, which would shorten the express trip to 3 hours, 20 minutes.

If the report is accepted by Gov. Mike Pence, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration, more studies will be needed. Officials would commission economic and environmental impact reports, followed by preliminary engineering. Construction could begin in 2016 or 2017.

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