After a meeting at Chicago's Union
Station to discuss $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail in the
federal stimulus bill, Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told
reporters that securing money for the Chicago-St. Louis line would
be a top priority.
The state has three main Amtrak routes, but Durbin said the one
running nearly 300 miles and going through Springfield, called The Lincoln,
seems especially well qualified for stimulus money.
"Outside the East Coast, we think this corridor has the greatest
opportunity for growth," Durbin said.
Upgrading the route could reduce travel times between the cities to
under four hours from the current five or more, making the trip
faster than by car, Quinn said. Currently, the maximum speed of
trains is just under 80 mph.
"The faster we can get people around the state, the better," he
If Illinois can secure funding, the hope is to have all upgrades
completed in five years, Durbin said.
Officials on Monday did not provide an estimated cost of upgrading
the line, though the Midwest High Speed Rail Association says the
price tag could be around $500 million. Others have said it could
run into the billions.
The federal stimulus money would only cover part of the cost. Quinn
said some of a $25 billion state economic stimulus plan his
administration is drawing up now could be spent on rail projects,
but he provided few details.
Parts of The Lincoln line have already been upgraded in recent
years, including by fortifying some stretches of track and
installing new safety systems to accommodate higher speed trains,
said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
One catch is that other states, including California and New York,
have also expressed interest in the same federal stimulus funds, so
it's not at all clear how much each state might receive, if
"The competition for the money will be fierce," said Thomas Carper,
chairman of Amtrak's board, who also attended Monday's meeting.
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The meeting was partly designed to ensure Illinois was as well
prepared as possible when the U.S. Department of Transportation lays
out criteria for which high-speed rail projects qualify for stimulus
money, Durbin said.
"We want to make certain that Illinois is first and Illinois will
have the best proposal," he said.
But Durbin cautioned that Illinois is not on the verge of having
trains that travel more than 200 mph, the speed of some already
operating in Europe and Asia. That would require dedicated lines,
ones with far fewer stops and without the multitude of crossing so
common along Illinois railway lines, he said.
"That may be way beyond our reach," he said. "What we need to do is
to have easily obtainable goals with the current timeframe and with
the resources currently available."
On the Net:
National Association of Railroad Passengers,
Midwest High Speed Rail Association,
By MICHAEL TARM]
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