MUNSTER – When the Indiana High Speed Rail Association hosted its spring meeting at the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, keynote speaker Barry Bateman personally showed the practicality of passenger rail travel.
Bateman, director of General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee made the trip to Munster entirely by train (except for the final nine blocks that he walked) – and he made it nearly as fast and cheaper – than he would have by driving his own car. The trip by Amtrak and the South Shore, took three hours and cost Bateman $48.
By car, the trip would have taken 2 hours, 17 minutes (according to MapQuest) and cost $59 in gas and tolls.
Besides touting the benefits of passenger rail travel, Bateman also touted General Mitchell Airport as an alternative to the busy airports in Chicago.
“With 630 miles of railroad tracks ready to be developed into high speed rail traffic between Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, Indiana is poised to be a leader,” said Bateman. “The question is, ‘Can high speed rail be built in this political and economic time?’”
Milwaukee, with a metropolitan area of 1.6 million people, is served by an airport that has 240 daily arrivals and departures and handles 10 million passengers a year. With easy access to rail thanks to a $3 million train station built at the airport, Bateman said there’s no reason Milwaukee shouldn’t be considered by Northwest Indiana residents.
Right now, there are only about half a dozen train departures from Milwaukee a day, and Bateman admits that needs to double in order to really make the airport attractive.
Bateman explained the possibilities that high speed rail presents to Milwaukee and its corridor with Chicago and Northwest Indiana fall right into line with what the Indiana High Speed Rail Association and the Northwest Indiana Forum has been touting for several years.
Both organizations are working to make Northwest Indiana a hub of high speed rail transportation to Chicago, with connections to Cleveland and Cincinnati, and eventually on to points farther east.
W. Dennis Hodges, vice president of business development for the IHSRA, said the main point of Bateman’s presence at the meeting was that it showed “thoughtfully planning high speed rail and mass transit can be efficient and cheaper” than automobiles.
Hodges added, however, before rail can become a real alternative, the mindset of the taxpayers and politicians about passenger rail serve will has to change.