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FRA’s Szabo praises high-speed rail plan for Midwest

(The following story by Jon Hilkevitch appeared on the Chicago Tribune website on January 16, 2010.)

CHICAGO — The Obama administration's railroad czar on Friday praised a comprehensive Midwest plan for high-speed passenger rail service during a conference in Chicago.

But he refused to say whether Illinois was in line for big money. The state has applied for up to $3 billion in federal grants.

Joseph Szabo, a fifth-generation railroader from Illinois who heads the Federal Railroad Administration, said an announcement will be made before the end of winter on awarding $8 billion in stimulus funds to the states to develop high-speed rail corridors.

"Certainly no tipping of the hand, but it's quite obvious that the Illinois application, as do many others, have some significant merits," Szabo said.

He spoke at a rail and economic development conference convened by Gov. Pat Quinn, in partnership with Northwestern University's Transportation Center and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Illinois and nearby states are hoping to receive a major portion of the funding to upgrade track and other infrastructure for 110-mph train service starting in the next three to five years.

Long-term plans call for trains traveling at up to 220 mph, which would slash the trip between Chicago and St. Louis to less than two hours.

Chicago would serve as the rail hub for an eight-state Midwest plan providing faster trips to cities including Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Monday, January 18, 2010

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