Illinois to begin $98 million high-speed rail project

Illinois will be the first state to begin high-speed rail construction, with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn‘s (D) Sept. 17 announcement of a $98 million project to upgrade an initial 90 miles of Union Pacific railroad track between Alton and Lincoln in preparation for high-speed rail service.

This initial phase will create nearly 900 direct and indirect jobs, and represents the first high-speed rail upgrades in the nation, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

In total, developing the Chicago-St. Louis High Speed Rail corridor is anticipated to create and retain approximately 24,000 direct and indirect Illinois jobs. The project is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a.k.a. “the stimulus.”

“I am proud to announce that Illinois is the first state in the nation to begin high-speed rail construction,” said Quinn. “When the corridor is completed, travelers will be able to go from Chicago to St. Louis in under four hours, making Illinois the high-speed rail hub of the Midwest. This project is an essential to strengthening Illinois’ economic recovery, creating jobs and developing long-term investment in Illinois.”

Illinois’ high-speed rail signature route: Chicago to St. Louis, received $1.1 billion for corridor improvements. The improvements will allow passenger rail service to operate at speeds up to 110 mph, and will significantly reduce travel times between the two cities. The corridor is part of a Midwest network that connects major cities across the region to Chicago. Under Quinn’s leadership, the Midwest system received $2.6 billion in the initial round of ARRA funding, more than any other region in the nation, according to IDOT.

“Today, we mark the beginning of construction on the Alton to Springfield portion of the St. Louis to Chicago high-speed rail corridor,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in a prepared statement from IDOT. “This project will create jobs, take cars off our roads and present new economic development opportunities throughout the region. High-speed rail will help us be competitive in the global economy for years to come. I want to thank Governor Quinn for his leadership in putting Illinois at the forefront of this effort and for helping to bring governors together to make a Midwest high speed rail network a reality.”

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Construction on the segment that runs from Alton to Springfield began in early September. Work will then take place from Springfield to Lincoln to complete the nearly 90-mile segment. A study is being conducted to determine the best route for high-speed rail traffic through Springfield. Weather permitting, this initial segment of track upgrades is targeted to be completed by the end of December, according to IDOT.

“We commend the exceptional coordination, discipline and strategic efforts brought forth by all involved parties to get work started on this important rail investment,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig. “This project will boost the regional economy and will bring us one significant step closer to a Chicago-St. Louis high-speed rail corridor.”

In January, the Obama Administration awarded Illinois more than $1.2 billion in ARRA funds for high-speed passenger rail projects, making it one of only three states to receive an award of more than $1 billion.

“I am very pleased to see firsthand the immediate, tangible economic impacts and future transportation benefits of this Recovery Act funding,” said Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Improvements along the Chicago to St. Louis rail corridor will not only make 110mph passenger service possible, but it will also emblemize the type of strategic investments the Obama Administration is making in America’s transportation future.”

In addition, $1.25 million in federal funding will be used to undertake an environmental impact study for a second track along the same route to increase daily frequencies. The state also was awarded $133 million to build the Englewood Flyover on Chicago’s South Side, a Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) project to clear rail bottlenecks and eliminate significant delays for commuter, inter-city and freight trains, including 110-mph trains on the Chicago-St. Louis route.

The upgrade to 110-mph service will improve the state’s transportation system while creating jobs and boosting economic development. The state also is seeking additional federal funding for a feasibility study to determine the potential for 220-mph service in Illinois, according to IDOT. The state has applied for $8 million in federal funding for this study.