Perhaps the most intriguing news from last week’s high-speed rail announcement was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s suggestion that the next phase for Midwest rail upgrade could involve an international high-speed passenger route through Detroit.
Governor Rick Snyder yesterday agreed that connecting the Detroit-to-Chicago line to Canada’s rail system through Windsor would make sense.
“I would rather have us be in a longer-term circuit that goes Montreal and Toronto to Detroit and Chicago to St. Louis and Kansas City,” said Snyder.
A passenger line to Canada would change Detroit’s place in the rail system, from an end-of-the-line outpost to a crossroad for high-speed rail service from Quebec and Ontario to Chicago, and by extension, St. Louis and Kansas City.
International passenger rail from Detroit is, at least on the U.S. side, a realistic goal because the existing Amtrak route can easily connect to the rail tunnel under the Detroit River.
“It’s more problematic on the Canadian side than on the U.S. side because we’ve got the direct shot to the tunnel today,” said MDOT’s Tim Hester.
Hester adds that, to make the system work, Canada would need to invest in new infrastructure to route passenger trains from the tunnel to Windsor’s VIA rail station.
Windsor Member of Parliament Brian Masse believes Canada should make that happen.
“It’s important from Detroit to Chicago, but what would really benefit Detroit is if we had higher speed rail from basically Quebec City to Chicago,” said Masse. “What you’d be doing then is hooking into to Canada’s two largest provinces. That would really, in my opinion, throw things over the top in terms of trade and tourism.”
High-speed rail wasn’t part of the majority Conservative Party’s budget plan released before Canada’s national election earlier this month, so Masse admits a Detroit-Windsor passenger rail link will be an uphill fight in Ottawa. However, he also thinks the Detroit-to-Chicago line may motivate Canadian officials to make the necessary upgrades.
“This move from Michigan is critical because what it does, it puts pressure on the Canadian government to reciprocate some of the rail infrastructure improvements,” said Masse. “VIA rail is getting about a billion dollars across Canada for upgrades, but it will not increase capacity. It will modernize stations, it will improve the cars, so we already have money allocated to improve the service, but we have yet to see money to actually lower the travel time.”
The Obama Administration awarded a $200 million grant that will allow Michigan to upgrade tracks and make other improvements necessary to allow for high-speed passenger service between Detroit and Chicago. The project is expected to be completed in 2014.