The Peoria-Chicago rail line could be a real transformational project – Shaw Local

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“You have to start somewhere.”

When it comes to motivational thoughts, you can do worse than the line Ray LaHood uttered at a July 21 press conference in Utica.

LaHood, former US Secretary of Transportation, spoke of plans to establish an Amtrak rail line from Chicago to Peoria, with possible stops at La Salle, Peru, Utica, Ottawa, Morris, Joliet or more. In this case, “you have to start somewhere” is a bit off target, as Illinois’ railroad history dates back to 1837, according to Adam Burns of american-rails.com.

While most rail traffic in Illinois has always been for moving things, much of the 12,000 miles of track used during peak years has also moved people. Illinois also has more than 5,000 miles of abandoned railroads (visit abandonrails.com for maps and more), and so to a point the plan LaHood is bolstering is less about getting started and more about restarting — by sticking to it. remembering that there was a time when people were not willing access to private cars and relied on rails to reach their destinations.

“This is about the future,” LaHood said. “It’s about future economic development, it’s about our children, it’s about our grandchildren and it’s really about connecting that part of Illinois that hasn’t had rail service passengers.”

Amtrak already ships 28 trains from Chicago each day, while Metra uses 455 miles of track for its 11 routes. But a feasibility study conducted earlier this year showed that 95% of more than 31,000 respondents indicated a likelihood of using a Peoria-Chicago Amtrak line. The authorities estimate between 440 and 830 passengers spread over five daily round trips.

As a native of Peoria, it’s no surprise that LaHood framed this plan not just as an idea for how to get people to Chicago, but also as an idea for getting people from Chicago to destinations in Peoria, the Starved Rock area and points in between.

Getting excited about railroads as engines of economic development has a very late 19th century vibe, but anyone who visits one of Metra’s far western outposts, like Elburn, Aurora, or Joliet, is only the first phase of entering the city. for a day or work or leisure, understands the attraction of this investment.

The cost, of course, is imposing. The first estimate is $2.45 billion and 10 years of work before service begins. It’s not a huge chunk of the $66 billion set aside for rail in a recent trillion-dollar federal infrastructure bill, but it’s still a colossal project, beyond that that most young Illinois kids can relate to.

Yet, if completed in conjunction with fixing outdated intersections and highways in affected communities, this effort has the potential to be truly transformational.

You have to start somewhere.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at [email protected].

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