Price tag climbs for Illinois high-speed rail
(The following story by Bruce Rushton appeared on The State Journal-Register website on October 3, 2009.)
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A high-speed rail project pegged to cost slightly more than $2.4 billion in August has zoomed to more $3.2 billion, according to an application for federal funding submitted Friday night by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the price went up for the line, which would link St. Louis to Chicago. More than $500 million would be spent in Springfield to mitigate adverse effects on Third Street (where IDOT wants to build the line), improve the city’s Amtrak station and construct a grade separation so that Norfolk Southern trains could pass over the high-speed line at Iles Avenue.
The plan doesn't spell out the Third Street "mitigation" plans, but they presumably would include a number of overpasses or underpasses to avoid huge traffic tieups as the result of a sharp increase in the number of trains using the tracks each day.
Also unclear in the application is how fast the new passenger trains could go, how much time high-speed rail would cut off a trip between St. Louis and Chicago, and how many people would take advantage of the service.
The 675-page application was released to the news media late Friday.
The federal government would pay more than 97 percent of the cost of the project.
Installing a second track parallel to the current line would cost more than $2.2 billion by itself, according to the application. New locomotives and cars would cost $76 million. Other things, such as a new train station in East St. Louis ($24.4 million) and station improvements n a half-dozen other cities, including Springfield, would add to the expense.
The project would create 3,174 jobs during construction and 142 new jobs after completion, the state says.
It’s not clear just how much time the new line would save travelers.
At one point, the application says express passenger trains could make the trip between St. Louis and Chicago in less than four hours and that average train speed would increase from the current 52.9 mph to 72.6 mph.
However, a table included in the application shows the average speed is now 51.6 mph and would increase to only 56.8 mph. According to the table, the average trip between St. Louis and Chicago now takes 5 1/2 hours and the same journey would take an average of five hours when the project is complete.
IDOT says ridership would increase dramatically once the project is complete in 2014. At one point, IDOT says 521,000 passengers rode the corridor in 2008; at another point, the agency puts the number at 881,000. In any event, the application says more than 1.2 million people will ride the faster trains during the first full year of operation.
Springfield community leaders have objected to running high-speed passenger trains, along with additional freights, on the UP’s Third Street line through the city. They prefer the city’s 10th Street rail corridor, owned by the Norfolk Southern railway.
The state concedes that Springfield's objections are a potential risk to the project.
However, IDOT says it has proposed that the city and Sangamon County perform environmental studies of the alternate corridors. If the studies show rail traffic should be moved to a differnt route, some of the money designated for Third Street mitigation could be used in the new corridor, the application says.
Mayor Tim Davlin and Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter told The State Journal-Register editorial board on Friday that a hearing will be postponed on a bill sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, that would bar the state from spending money on improvements to the Third Street rail corridor. The hearing had been set for next Wednesday.
Davlin said IDOT asked that the hearing be delayed, and that he and Van Meter made that request during a Friday meeting with Madigan’s staff.
How would postponing the hearing benefit opponents of high-speed rail along Third Street?
“I’ll be happy to jump in here,” responded Jim Donelan, a Davlin aide. “I think what it does is, it gives us an opportunity to have IDOT in the same room as a willing participant in negotiations.”
Van Meter said all options, including litigation, remain open to fight adding a second track on the Third Street corridor.
Bruce Rushton can be reached at 788-1542.
Here are some of the costs of high speed rail outlined in the state’s application for federal funds. The federal government would pay more than $3.1 billion of the cost estimated at slightly more than $3.2 billion
Improvements to St. Louis terminal: $62.4 million
Road closures and grade separations: $97.7 million
New East St. Louis station: $24.4 million
Station improvements at Joliet: $32.9 million
New locomotives and cars: $76.1 million
Mitigation on Third Street: $412 million
“Flyover” to allow Norfolk Southern trains to pass over line at Iles Avenue: $94 million
New main track paralleling existing track and train control system: $2.22 billion
St. Louis maintenance facility and track: $42 million
Monday, October 5, 2009
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