An interesting political dynamic – a mix of fear vs. hope, ideology vs. practical planning – is playing out across the country, and it will directly affect Eastern Jackson County.
In two weeks, Illinois begins work on a high-speed rail line, that is, upgrading the line from St. Louis to Chicago so it can handle Amtrak trains going 110 mph. That’s roughly double today’s Amtrak speeds. (The state will also study upgrading to 220-mph tracks.)
The line is meant to be the foundation of a system across much of the Midwest, including – eventually – the St. Louis-to-Kansas City line that Amtrak uses, with stops in Independence and Lee’s Summit.
Not everyone is on board. Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio have turned down federal funding for the high-speed upgrades. Wisconsin and Ohio’s governors are hostile to the idea, even if Washington is paying most of the bills. Florida’s governor put it differently, saying he was concerned about operational costs in the future. Budgets are tight and will be for some time, the larger argument goes, and we can’t afford this.
Here’s a counterargument: “The governors of these other states who’ve given up their money can stand by and wave at our trains when they go by, because we’re going to move people, we’re going to move freight, we’re going to set a standard for America.” That’s Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, and that’s part of the broad argument on the other side: This idea makes sense if our economy is to grow and flourish, and it makes sense environmentally.
It really comes down to whether “investment” means investment or means “more borrowing we cannot afford.” So in some parts of the country, plans proceed. Other parts of the country are sitting this out. Which side turns out to be right will be as politically charged as defining “investment” and won’t be clear for years.
No high-speed trains will be pulling into Independence for quite a few years, but the plans are on the books. Other nettlesome issues have to be worked out, too. That cross-state line is jammed with freight, and 110-mph passenger trains would have a hard time getting around 45-mph coal trains. But one piece at a time – a billion dollars here, another billion there – the system is getting upgraded.