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Illinois DOT hires environmental study of high-speed rail line

(The following story by Bruce Rushton appeared on the State Journal-Register website on September 24, 2010.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Department of Transportation has selected Hanson Professional Services of Springfield to evaluate environmental consequences of building a new rail line between St. Louis and Chicago for high-speed passenger trains.

Hanson will work with the Parsons Transportation Group, a branch of the construction and engineering firm of Parsons Corp., headquartered in Pasadena, Calif.

The firms will prepare an environmental impact statement on the new track proposal, which carries an estimated cost of more than $1 billion.

Josh Kauffman, IDOT spokesman, said the study is expected to be complete in the fall of 2012. There will be public hearings on the study and opportunities for both citizens and public officials to provide written comments, he said.

The state last year unsuccessfully sought federal stimulus money to build the track, which would have gone alongside existing Union Pacific tracks. The Federal Railroad Administration, however, agreed to pay for half of the $2.5 million study to evaluate the parallel track proposal. The balance is coming from the state.

The federal government has approved more than $1.1 billion in improvements to the existing track to accommodate high-speed rail, but the bulk of the money hasn’t been released.

In Illinois and elsewhere, freight rail companies that own rail corridors have objected to proposals that could require the companies to pay financial penalties if passenger trains don’t run on time. Without approval from the railroads, high-speed passenger rail projects on freight lines cannot go forward.

According to grant applications IDOT submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration last year, congestion could be in the works on the St. Louis-to-Chicago line. The Union Pacific is building a freight depot in Joliet that is expected to substantially increase freight traffic on the line.

A parallel track would more than double the corridor’s capacity for trains and ease crowding problems.

In Springfield, city leaders object to putting more trains on Union Pacific’s track through downtown and the medical district. Hanson is already working on an environmental impact statement that will assess the pros and cons of consolidating rail traffic on the three rail corridors through the city. IDOT is paying for that study.

Kauffman said the study of the new track doesn’t necessarily mean that a new line would be built along existing Union Pacific track through Springfield.

“All options are being considered,” Kauffman said.

Monday, September 27, 2010

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