The new Amtrak high speed trains will be fully operational in November. (photo by WJBC/Zach Dietmeier)
By Zach Dietmeier
NORMAL - Now that Illinois officials have touted high speed rail as a major boost to Illinois transportation and the economy, what's next? U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says while the immediate impact is being realized, the upgrades to rail transportation are meant for today's youth and tomorrow's leaders.
"I have nine grandchildren; five of them live in Central Illinois," said LaHood after Friday's news conference in Normal. "This is an opportunity for them to have the kind of future transportation that I think they will be looking for."
The focus on multi-modal connections such as the new Uptown Station in Normal will eventually be seen all the way down the line from Chicago to St. Louis. New multi-modal centers in Joliet and Alton will bookend Normal as the heart Improvements from Dwight to East St. Louis are scheduled for completion by 2015, along with new stations at Dwight, Pontiac, Alton, and Carlinville.
The final touches won't be put on the improvements until 2017, but Senator Dick Durbin says now is the time to jump on board.
"For those who think rail service is yesterday and not tomorrow, get on this train," Durbin said. "For those who don't believe that we can come together as a nation and build an infrastructure to serve us for years to come, get on this train. For all others, step back, it's coming at you fast - at 110 miles per hour."
Now that testing is complete, the next step includes retrofitting current engines while new cars are being built.
"We still have quite a bit of work to do, particularly on some capacity additions so there are more sidings available, as well as the signal system installation for that entire stretch,” said Joseph Shacter, head of the Public and Intermodal Transportation Division at IDOT.
The Illinois Department of Transportation hopes to eventually double the number of round trips from the current amount made while reducing the travel time from Chicago to St. Louis to 3-hours, 49-minutes.
Zach can be reached at Zach.Dietmeier@Cumulus.com.