Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Second phase of high speed rail gets green light

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois is a step closer to having passenger trains that travel at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour between Chicago and St. Louis.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced in Chicago today the state will break ground in early April on the second phase of a high-speed rail route to connect the two cities. New tracks with ties made of concrete will be built between the northern Illinois village of Dwight and the central Illinois city of Lincoln and between Alton, a southern Illinois city near St. Louis, and the Mississippi River. A new signaling system will also be installed between Dwight and Alton. The $685-million project will be backed with money from $1.2 billion in federal funds awarded to Illinois for high-speed rail projects, as well as $42 million in state capital construction funds. An upgrade to the tracks between Lincoln and Alton, the first phase of the project, began last September.

Trains traveling up to 110 miles per hour are expected to begin routes between Dwight and Pontiac next year. Illinois was the first state to break ground on a federally backed project to create a high-speed rail network in the Midwest. Illinois is also conducting a study on the possibility of one day having passenger trains that could run up to 220 miles per hour.

“We’re going to move people. We’re going to move freight. We’re going to set a standard for America,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in Chicago. “We’ve just gotten started. There’s a lot more to be done to build these high-speed rail corridors and provide the transportation for the 21st century.”

According to Quinn, the entire project will result in 24,000 new jobs in the state. “We know we have a long way to go, but we’re getting there by investing in public works, especially high-speed rail,” Quinn said of the state’s economic recovery.

Durbin estimates that the second phase of construction will create about 6,200 jobs. The estimates are based on new construction jobs, as well as jobs that would result from the expanded economic activity that is often spurred by infrastructure upgrades. “High-speed rail is more than just an alternative mode of travel — it is a shot in the arm to today’s recovering economy and an investment in infrastructure that will serve us for generations to come. … That economic boost is already being felt in and around Alton, where construction began several months ago,” Durbin said in a written statement.


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