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High-speed rail study gets green light

(The following story by Kurt Erickson appeared on the Bloomington Pantagraph website on May 8, 2009.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — State transportation officials reached a key agreement Friday in the long-running quest to bring high-speed passenger rail service to Illinois.

As part of Illinois' effort to lure some of the $8 billion in federal stimulus money set aside for high-speed rail projects, officials said the Union Pacific railroad had agreed to a study that will examine upgrades needed to accommodate faster trains on its tracks.

Details of the cost and timetable of the study were not immediately available.

"This plan will assess and provide estimates to increase track capacity and required safety enhancements," said IDOT Secretary Gary Hannig. "It will also get travelers to their destinations safely and faster than driving."

The agreement is important because Union Pacific owns nearly all of the tracks that Amtrak operates on its run between Chicago and St. Louis.

The pact was announced following a meeting in St. Louis between U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman and others.

High-speed passenger train service on the corridor has been on the drawing board for more at least two decades, but has not advanced because of funding concerns.

Currently, Amtrak operates at a maximum speed of 79 miles per hour through Central Illinois. The goal is to have trains running at 110 mph on rural segments in order to decrease travel times.

"This is a major step forward in reducing the travel time on the fastest growing train route in the state. The Chicago to St. Louis route would go from taking more than five and a half hours to four hours or less," said Gov. Pat Quinn in a prepared statement. "I am committed to taking full advantage of federal recovery funds to make high speed rail in Illinois a reality."

Stops along the route include Dwight, Pontiac, Normal and Lincoln.

Monday, May 11, 2009

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