Have you ridden a high-speed train in Europe? Have you had a rapid central city to central city trip in comfortable surroundings, watching the scenery go by at well over 120 miles an hour? London to Paris, Madrid to Barcelona, Milan to Rome — a few hours each.
Most of us who made these trips have thought wistfully — wouldn’t it be great if you could do this in the United States, especially somewhere outside the Northeast Corridor? But reality quickly returns. It is not going to happen in America, we remind ourselves. We are too wedded to our automobiles and that bond prevents us from having the political will to spend the billions it would take to build the lines.
But the times might be changing. We have an economic crisis and spending money to create jobs is a high federal government priority. President Obama strongly supports high speed rail. Instead of fighting over which Midwest corridor should be first on the list, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon agree that the answer is St. Louis to Chicago.
The route is flat. That means no lengthy tunnels. The economic connections are close. That means a win-win situation for both metropolitan areas. The passenger demand would be high. That means the critical mass to support several round trips each day.
Even under the most favorable scenario, it will still be years before we hear "all aboard" for the Prairie Express. But the odds that it will indeed happen are much more favorable.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Terry Jones is Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.