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Illinois lawmakers envision high-speed trains through Springfield

(The following story by Tim Landis appeared on The State Journal-Register website on July 17, 2009.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The state of Illinois has submitted $3.5 billion worth of preliminary applications for rail improvements from the federal stimulus bill, including $2.6 billion for high-speed rail on the Amtrak line between St. Louis and Chicago.

As initially proposed, high-speed trains would follow the Third Street corridor through downtown Springfield, said George Weber, chief of the bureau of railroads for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Springfield community leaders want the Union Pacific Railroad and state and federal transportation planners to consider the 10th Street railroad corridor instead for high-speed trains.

“We understand there are concerns there,” Weber said of the Third Street corridor, “but we also are on a very tight timeframe to get this project done,” said Weber.

Weber said the federal deadline for final applications is Aug. 24 for “shovel-ready” projects, in this case improvements to rail lines in the Joliet area. The deadline is Oct. 2 for long-term projects, including the high-speed rail corridor.

The Union Pacific operates the Third Street line, while Norfolk Southern Corp. operates the 10th Street line.

Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission executive director Norm Sims said Thursday his staff has just begun to look at the effects of more and faster trains on the Third Street line.

“Unlike the other corridor, this is large a residential area of small parcels with … dense residential on it,” said Sims.

He said the commission also would be looking at issues such as traffic congestion, emergency vehicle traffic, zoning, sound and vibration from additional trains, and the effect on downtown redevelopment efforts.

Norfolk Southern vice president for public affairs George Camille said neither the state nor Union Pacific has contacted the company about the 10th Street corridor.

It would be possible to add a second track on the 10th Street corridor, he said, but the railroad is concentrating now on rebuilding freight traffic in a slumping economy.

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said Thursday details of the Third Street corridor plan are being finalized. But he said a second track would be added to handle freight traffic, while high-speed trains would use the existing line.

The current mix of 10 passenger and five freight trains daily would increase to 18 passenger trains and up to 22 freights, Davis said. He said the company is committed to the Third Street corridor at this point.

“The trains must be able to make the trip between St. Louis and Chicago in under four hours, and that’s the only one that meets the criteria,” said Davis.

While high-speed trains are expected to reach speeds up to 110 mph, slower speed limits would have to be observed within the city limits.

Supporters of the 10th Street corridor contend it would result in less disruption and would fit better into the city’s long-term development plan, including a transportation hub planned along the 10th Street tracks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

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