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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Will drivers be railroaded?

Eight Midwestern governors, including Indiana's Mitch Daniels, have signed a memorandum that sets up the Midwest Rail Steering Group, which plans to lobby hard for a share of the $8 billion set aside by the federal government for high-speed rail projects. They plan to pursue a system that would connect 12 metropolitan areas with Chicago as the hub, but they're a little sketchy on the cost. We'd likely get only a small portion of the $8 billion, and estimates are that what the governors are talking about could cost $10 billion, which means it would really cost about $25 billion:

Some have criticized the governors for being unclear about costs.

"They don't want the price tag out there when everyone's talking fiscal restraint," said John Tillman, head of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. After costs of construction, Tillman said, operating expenses could soar into the billions of dollars over several years.

But the backers, if a little vague on the costs, are very specific in their enthusiasm for the supposed benefits: reducing road congestion and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. But that would require not just having the right routes and trains that are truly high-speed. It would require persuading Americans -- or forcing them, through such measures as punitive taxes -- to do something they've never showed an inclination to do before: abandon their cars for other modes of transportation. Pie-in-the-sky goals, fuzzy on the costs, looking to the federal government. What could possibly go wrong?