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Illinois officials reach high-speed rail agreement with Springfield

(The following story by Kurt Erickson appeared on the Bloomington Pantagraph website on December 9, 2009.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. State and local officials say they've removed a potentially troublesome roadblock in Illinois' bid for high-speed passenger rail service.

The Illinois Department of Transportation agreed Wednesday to finance a study on behalf of the City of Springfield that could help determine which route through the Capital City is best suited for faster Amtrak trains.

A dispute between the state and Springfield-area officials had raised concerns that the Obama administration might look to other states when it decides how to dole out $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail projects.

IDOT chief Gary Hannig said Springfield and Sangamon County were alone in their opposition to the state's application for more than $4 billion in federal funds.

"This was the only community that didn't like the alignment," Hannig said.

The dustup had raised concerns in other Amtrak communities like Bloomington-Normal, which have embraced the idea of having a faster rail link to Chicago and St. Louis.

Under terms of the agreement, Springfield will be the beneficiary of a $4 million taxpayer-paid study to determine which one of three corridors through the city is best suited for high-speed rail service - even though the review could still recommend the trains roll through town on the Third Street corridor opposed by Springfield.

"It's a gamble we're willing to take," said Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin.

The next step for Illinois is to wait to see how the federal money earmarked for high-speed rail is distributed. The state is competing for the largesse against dozens of projects put forward by other states.

Illinois wants the money to install a second set of tracks along the Union Pacific Railroad line running between Chicago and St. Louis in order to boost train speeds to 110 miles per hour, up from the current high speed of 79 mph. It also has asked for federal dollars that could pave the way for Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad-Cities.

And, the application requests funding to study the feasibility of bringing 220 mph service to a route between Chicago and St. Louis that runs through Decatur and Champaign-Urbana.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

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