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Traveling for the holidays? Imagine getting there by high speed rail...

High Speed Train Station in Sevilla, Spain

Just last week, the Chicagoland area was hit with the season’s first gust of wintery weather. Snow, strong winds, and dropping temperatures combined to put a kink in travel plans. Tuesday’s weather caused more than 200 flight cancellations at O’Hare Airport, while Midway Airport saw delays averaging five hours. These conditions brought air travel to a grinding halt, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded. Rather than waiting hours at O’Hare or Midway in hopes of catching a flight, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for passengers to have a transportation option that delivered effectively under both normal and abnormal conditions? Winter weather advisories should not dictate our mobility.

How can we get where we need to go more efficiently? One solution is rail travel; rail travel is not nearly as dependent on weather as air travel is. The Midwest, home to consistently white winters, could potentially also be home to the Midwest High Speed Rail network, assuming we are successful in securing a portion of the $8 billion in HSR-designated stimulus funds in early 2010. Furthermore, this weekend Congress passed the FY 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill, which includes an additional $2.5 billion in HSR grants. It allows the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund projects from California to Illinois, and still have money left over for states with less-intensive rail proposals.

HSR would be a boon to the Midwest in the winter, whether for long-distance commuters, tourists, students, or people traveling to see family. We need only to look to areas with similar wintery conditions to prove this notion. January’s unusually severe winter weather in Spain gave the high speed rail system a boost in business as heavy snow closed Madrid’s international airport and stranded more than 45,000 people. In Tokyo, which also gets plenty of snow, the mean delay time per train on the Shinkansen rail network in 2009 is just 0.6 minutes. During the winter of 2004 to 2005, although some areas along the Joetsu Shinkansen line underwent the heaviest snowfalls recorded in 19 years, there were no snow-related service delays or cancellations on the line. In winter, snow can turn highways into congested skating rinks, while also grounding flights. Rather than snow-covered roads with limited visibility or an extended wait in an airport, doesn’t cruising on HSR through the snow sounds like a preferable choice?

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