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Last updated: Thu. Aug. 07, 2014 - 12:20 am EDT

High-speed rail given a big nudge

Henry, 8 other mayors sign pact to pursue funding

It's been bandied about for years.

There have been starts and stalls, but Wednesday marked a significant step in making a high-speed rail sys­tem from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio – passing through Fort Wayne – a reality.

Mayor Tom Henry and eight other mayors, including the mayor of Columbus, announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding that they will work together to secure funding for an economic impact study that's needed to develop a passenger rail line.

“It shows we're all serious about this,” said City Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, who has championed a rail system for more than a decade. He is also a member of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association.

The rail system is still off in the future – five years at minimum, if everything goes perfectly, according to Paddock and Pam Holocher, deputy director of community development for the city.

Both officials fielded questions from the media after Wednesday's announcement.

The rail system would be roughly 300 miles long, operate 12 trains daily and run from Chicago to Columbus in less than four hours, topping speeds of 110 mph.

It would also cost about $3.7 million per mile, or more than $1 billion total, to build.

That's a cost that can make some people gasp, Paddock admits, but he said to keep things in perspective.

It cost more to build Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville – to the tune of $20 million per mile – and the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati cost well over $1 billion, according to Paddock.

“When you put that in perspective, we're getting a lot for our money,” he said.

Paddock said the hope is to get 80 percent of the costs from the federal railroad administration and about 20 percent from the state.

Holocher said research showed that passenger rail travel is growing, and that in Indiana, many universities as well as chambers of commerce have been supportive of a rail system.

College students wanting to get to Chicago or Ohio would have an easier time of doing so.

“We have broad support,” Holocher said.

Last year, the City Council approved a $200,000 study to look at the feasibility of high-speed rail. The study found that roughly 2.1 million riders would use the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus route in 2020, with that number growing to 3 million by 2040.

It also estimated that for every $1 of investment, $1.70 would be generated in economic return through job growth and increased property values, according to city officials.

The next step, now that mayors have signed a memorandum of understanding, is gathering the $1 million for the environmental study – which is almost secured, according to Holocher.

That study will take at least a year to conduct, city officials said.

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