The train depot in Lincoln, Illinois, will eventually see 18 passenger trains per day.

Most people’s consumption of news about high-speed rail involves big pictures and big numbers. A billion dollars here, a corridor there.

But, of course, actually getting things like this built is an immensely complicated process.

A lengthy article today from the Courier, a newspaper in the town of Lincoln, Illinois, provides an admittedly obscure bit of perspective on the sheer scope of America’s high-speed rail ambitions. The story chronicles, in detail, an informational meeting that took place Tuesday night in the town, which is roughly at the midpoint of the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor.

Lincoln already sees 10 passenger trains a day pass through town, along with six freight trains, all traveling at relatively low speed. When high-speed rail comes to town, there will be 18 passenger trains a day along with a projected increase to 22 freight trains per day.

Even in a railroad town, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect people to be a bit apprehensive about a nearly threefold increase in train traffic over a decade.

According to the story, the main concerns revolve around emergency response times – the tracks on which these trains will move run right through the center of town. So now, city, state and railroad officials have to figure out whether to build overpasses or underpasses, where to put them, and whether some crossings should remain open or closed.

The process: an advisory committee will take requests to the railroad and the state Department of Transportation, which will come back to the city and county boards, which will then go back to the railroad and the state.

As someone who’s just spent a year working on a neighborhood redevelopment task force, I can attest to what an agonizing process that can be. And this is just one stretch of rail in one little town in Illinois.

Now imagine this process duplicated thousands of times across the U.S.

That’s why these things take a while. Unlike China, we can’t just move people out of the way and throw down some tracks. But at the same time, the process gives people along the rail line a voice in the process and ownership of the final results.

As Lincoln mayor Keith Snyder put it: “We want your input, and we really hope that in the end, we have something the city can be proud of and something that will benefit Lincoln.”

Photo by Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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