The future of the emerging high-speed rail network in the Midwest darkened following last week's elections. In Ohio, Republican Governor-elect John Kasich demanded outgoing Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland cancel two rail studies in the Buckeye State because a train line that would connect Cleveland with Cincinnati was "dead" under his administration. In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle temporarily halted planning for a new train line connecting Milwaukee and Madison; he'll leave the project's future to his GOP successor Scott Walker, who campaigned against the $810 million federally-funded project.
Where does that leave Illinois, one of the few states in the region that elected a Democratic governor committed to building out high-speed rail? In a better position to take in federal grants, potentially. Gov. Pat Quinn said he is already talking with members of the Obama administration about accessing more high-speed rail dollars. "I just heard from [Transportation Secretary] Ray LaHood today, he called and said, ‘Well, Wisconsin might not want the money for high-speed rail,’" Quinn told the Tribune in a post-election interview. "We’re here, here we are. We’ll be happy to take it."
There are plenty of potential speed bumps for high-speed rail on the federal level. And the high-speed rail network in the Land of Lincoln, with Chicago at its center, needs nearby states to create rail infrastructure so Illinois' network carries travelers broadly across the region. But if Illinois moves forward with its rail investments and then reaps the environmental and economic benefits from speeding up trains here, perhaps our neighbors will demand their leaders do the same. In Wisconsin, for example, if Gov. Walker kills the Madison-to-Milwaukee line, he'll take with it 5,500 construction jobs created building out the project and 55 permanent operational jobs. Those are tough numbers to ignore.