Chicago-St. Louis fast-train project moves along

March 22, 2011 4:28:40 PM PDT
Gov. Pat Quinn and Senator Dick Durbin unveiled the next phase of the high-speed rail project for Illinois Tuesday.

Unlike most public works projects politicians dream and talk about, the project actually appears to be moving at high speed. Thanks to the windfall of federal money last year and the fact that some states have opted out the program, faster train service is on its way to Illinois a lot faster than expected.

"We want to be very, very strong in the Midwest when it comes to getting people from one place to another by fast trains," said Quinn.

The governor milked the 'fast train' project for good news again Tuesday afternoon, announcing phase two of the $1 billion dollar effort to lessen the time it takes to travel by train between Chicago and St. Louis. And the supporters of the project, originally part of the Obama administration's stimulus program, say it will create over 6,000 new jobs in Illinois.

"Our unemployment is now below 9 percent. We know we have a long way to go. But we're getting there by investing in public works, especially high-speed rail," said Quinn.

An Illinois high-speed train will not resemble or move anywhere near as fast as Asian or European so-called bullet trains. But improving tracks here will allow traditional Amtrak diesel engines to move at 110 miles per hour.

Seventy six miles of new rails and concrete ties were installed north and south of Springfield in phase one of the Illinois project. This summer, the Union Pacific will build south of Dwight to Lincoln and from Alton to the Mississippi River.

"The Chicago-St. Louis corridor that we're talking about today is on pace to shatter last year's all time ridership record," said Joseph Szabo, Federal Railroad Administration.

Proponents want the entire route high speed by 2014. But there remains the expensive problem of how to untangle the freight train gridlock between Chicago and Joliet and where to build new tracks through the heavily populated suburbs.

Meanwhile, as many 13 governors have refused to accept federal money targeted for high speed. Sen. Durbin and others in Illinois hope some of that money will find its way to Illinois.

"The governors of these other states who've given up their money can stand by and wave at our trains when they go by," said Durbin.

Transportation experts say even with track upgrades its highly unlikely we will ever see an Amtrak train running at 110 miles an hour through Chicago and its suburbs The challenge is finding a way for passenger trains to get through the Chicago rail gridlock without having to stop for freight trains.