Q: $800-million plus seems like an awful lot of money for people to travel between Madison and Milwaukee by train, especially when there's an interstate highway between the cities and there's good bus service. Who needs a commuter train?

A: These are much more than Milwaukee-Madison or commuter trains. The trains from the first day will be running to and from Chicago, and later also to and from the Twin Cities and Green Bay.

Because trains offer connections in Chicago, Madison will be connected starting with the first train to about 1,000 cities and towns throughout the U.S. and Canada. Milwaukee will be a popular destination, as will Chicago and the Twin Cities. Others on the list likely will be St. Louis, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, just to name a few.

Also, a growing number of vehicles on the highways and a return to high gas prices will prompt a growing number of drivers to consider other travel options. Costs, frequencies, travel times and convenience are factors that many people will use to make their decisions, on a trip-by-trip basis. Passenger rail now will be a preferred option in many of those cases.

This 2009 Amtrak commercial (first of two here) shows an Amtrak Acela train running in the northeast, and offers an idea of what you can expect when high-speed rail comes to the Midwest (with top speeds by 2015 of 110 mph).

Q: What's the position of the candidates for Wisconsin Governor in the November election on high-speed rail?

A: Democratic candidate Tom Barrett outlines his views in an article, "This (high-speed rail) project means both jobs and Midwest connectedness" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel March 7.

Republican candidate Scott Walker shares his view in a companion column, "Beware the hidden costs of this federal stimulus.".

Republican candidate Mark Neumann's views are contained in this Feb. 28 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

(We'll be adding other questions and answers in the weeks ahead.)

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