The federal government is giving Illinois more than $1 billion to start work on a high-speed passenger train route between Chicago and St. Louis. It’s enough money to improve speeds, safety, sidings, stations, signals and crossings on existing track. It’s not as much as the state had sought, however, and not enough to ensure fast, reliable passenger service along the route.
The federal government is giving Illinois more than $1 billion to start work on a high-speed passenger train route between Chicago and St. Louis.
It’s enough money to improve speeds, safety, sidings, stations, signals and crossings on existing track. It’s not as much as the state had sought, however, and not enough to ensure fast, reliable passenger service along the route.
It’s also far from enough to build a second, parallel rail line along the Union Pacific route that runs through Springfield along Third Street. That’s a $3.2 billion proposition has civic leaders fearing that a deluge of trains would divide the city.
However, the good news for Illinois is that Chicago will be the hub for high-speed rail service in America, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.
One of top three states
During his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Obama said he'll travel to Florida today to announce $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail development. Receiving the biggest grants will be California, Florida and Illinois, which is slated to get more than $1 billion for the Amtrak route from Chicago to St. Louis.
Illinois had requested $4.5 billion for its high-speed rail plans.
The federal government received more than $50 billion in applications and is giving grants to 31 states, according to the administration.
Durbin added that the double-track plan isn’t dead.
“The double track will give us more reliability and speed,” Durbin said. “We want to look at it and see if it is feasible.”
The corridor between Chicago and St. Louis stretches 284 miles, but the grant announced Wednesday covers only the 182-mile segment between Alton and Dwight.
While the project will allow trains to go as fast as 110 mph, the average speed on the route will increase from 52.9 mph to only 62 mph, according to the state’s grant application.
However, the application also estimated that delays will be cut in half on a track where passenger trains often stop on sidings to make room for freight traffic. The bottom line is that train riders will save an hour on the trip between Alton and Dwight, the application said.
However, the lack of a second track would undermine the goal of moving people between Chicago and St. Louis in four hours.
Even with $1 billion worth of improvements, conflicts would remain on a single-track line between freights and additional high-speed trains. Simply put, there would be too many trains trying to use the same track.
Freight trains would have priority over passenger trains, according to a memo of understanding signed last year by Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig and UP officials.
As funded, the project would create 1,335 jobs during construction and 31 permanent positions, according to the application. The project would become operational in 2014, planners say.
Grant a ‘down payment’
Sangamon County Board chairman Andy Van Meter called the $1.1 billion grant a down payment. He said he was hoping the federal government would provide enough money to also pay for land acquisition, overpasses and other costs of rail consolidation on 10th Street, which local government and civic leaders prefer to the Third Street alignment.
The cost of moving trains to 10th Street is pegged at $357.5 million in the failed double-tracking application.
“It’s disappointing that there’s nothing in the funding that obviously supports the (consolidation) project in Springfield,” Van Meter said. “All of our options are open to us. But before we take any steps we need to consult with Senator Durbin, who is the key to the success of the (consolidation) project in Springfield.”
Van Meter said 10th Street is “the only solution that’s acceptable to the community.”
Although the state didn’t get money for a second track, the federal government did approve a $1.25 million grant to pay for a supplemental environmental impact statement to assess the viability of a parallel track.
Durbin said he believes the federal government might come through with more money in future years.
“This is the first phase of this,” Durbin said. “We’ll be pursuing the sharing of track immediately, but looking at the longer term.”
Durbin said he thinks there will be a parallel track within a decade, but he also acknowledged that other states also will be seekiung more money in future years. President Obama has proposed spending $1 billion a year on high-speed rail for the next five years.
“We’re going to have to share the wealth, that’s for sure,” Durbin said.
Wednesday’s high-speed grant announcement leaves for another day the question of double-tracking the Union Pacific Railroad route between St. Louis and Chicago, a proposal that would cost billions of dollars and more than double the corridors capacity.
In addition to more passenger trains, the UP has said it wants to increase the number of freight trains from about six per day to 22 by 2017, which would require a second, parallel track. That would bring the total number of trains on the UP corridor to 40 per day.
Between freight and passenger trains, fewer than 20 trains per day now use the Third Street route.
Springfield and Sangamon County officials have threatened lawsuits if a parallel track is built along Third Street. Instead, local officials say, the UP track should be shut down and passenger and freight traffic through Springfield consolidated along 10th Street, where the Norfolk Southern railway now operates.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for a $4 million study of the proposal, with local officials agreeing to live with whatever the study shows is the best option.
That agreement would have been null and void if the federal government had granted less than $1 billion for high-speed rail.
Wednesday’s announcement by the numbers
*Funds for cars and locomotives and improvements to track between Alton and Joliet: $1.1 billion
*Federal money for a supplemental environmental impact statement for a double track: $1.25 million
*Money for a flyover and three grade separated tracks to separate freight from commuter rail in Englewood: $133 million
*Number of high-speed passenger rail round-trips per day: Three
*Total number of passenger rail round-trips per day (passenger and conventional): Five
*Estimated cost of a parallel track: $3.2 billion
*Top speed for existing trains: 79 mph
*Top speed for high-speed rail: 110 mph
*Current average speed: 52.9 mph
*Projected average speed with improvements: 62 mph