The Obama Administration’s high-speed rail plans continue to progress
even as Congress fights over the nation’s transportation future.
Ongoing projects in the Chicago-St.Louis corridor would reduce
congestion and increase travel speeds to 110 miles per hour. High-speed
passenger service along this route should start in 2014.
In 2010, Illinois received $1.2 billion in federal funds for high-speed passenger rail service. Approximately $1.1 billion will go toward improvements between Dwight and St. Louis. Much of the corridor currently operates on just one track, and future plans include constructing a second track that would allow trains to travel up to 125 mph. An environmental impact study for that project is underway and should be complete by the end of this year.
According to IDOT’s
high-speed rail website, “Construction work in 2012 is scheduled to
begin in late March or early April depending on weather conditions.
Improvements in preparation for higher speed travel will be concentrated
between Wann and Godfrey and from Pontiac to Joliet.”
In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $186 million to IDOT for rail improvements between Joliet and Dwight and extending an existing line from Joliet to Chicago. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood underscored the high-speed rail corridor's importance in saying, “The Great Lakes-Midwest economic region is the world's fifth-largest economy by gross domestic product, and nearly 100 million people live within 500 miles of each other.”
Among the Illinois communities planning for the future of high-speed rail are Joliet and Normal. The Joliet Multimodal Regional Transportation Center will accommodate bicycles, buses, and trains, with completion scheduled for 2014. The $42 million project received a $32 million state grant in 2010. Normal received $33 million in federal money to build Uptown Station, which should open this summer. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has called the project a “transportation hub in the heart of Illinois” and said, “Normal is poised to become a showcase community for the potential of high-speed rail in America.”
Last month, Amtrak successfully tested a 110-mph train along the route connecting Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan. The federal government approved higher speeds for that route, marking the fastest Amtrak train west of Pennsylvania and New York. Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said about the test, “This is just the beginning. With projects coming to fruition this year and new ones breaking ground, 2012 promises to be the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program’s best year yet.” Test runs of 110-mph trains should begin along portions of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor this year.
President Obama’s 2013 budget includes $2.7 billion for high-speed rail development in 2012 and $47 billion over six years. In the State of the Union address on January 23, Obama called for “more nation building at home”, and the White House budget would spend $476 billion on transportation in money saved from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans, however, voted to cut $8 billion allocated for rail projects in 2012, and their House transportation bill would kill Obama’s high-speed rail plan and gut mass transit. Neither the House nor Senate transportation bills currently up for consideration include money for high-speed rail.