Gov. Pat Quinn is flanked by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), right, during a news conference at the Uptown Station Friday. (Photo By Paul Morello/WJBC)
By Paul Morello
NORMAL - High speed rail in Illinois took a tangible step forward Friday.
The first train to travel at 110 miles per hour ran from Joliet to Normal's Uptown Station.
The train was packed with state and federal officials, including Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"This was the beginning of a long, important journey of high speed rail in the State of Illinois and all over the Midwest," Quinn said once the train arrived in Normal.
The Amtrak train only hit top speed for about three minutes on a 15-mile long portion of upgraded track between Dwight and Pontiac, which also had enhanced signals and specialized gates.
"The future is right here, in Amtrak, in Normal, and in America working together with a vision for the future," Durbin said. "We took a dramatic step forward with 110 mile per hour service today, and we're just getting started."
In January 2010, Illinois received a $1.2 billion federal grant to create the high speed corridor. Since then, state and federal funding for high speed rail has totaled about $628 million.
"What we're doing will be in the history books because it is the next generation of transportation," LaHood said. "All the children that are gathered here will benefit from this more than any of us. That's what this is about. This will be our legacy."
Track upgrades have been underway on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor since 2010. Officials said 75 percent of track upgrades on the corridor should be done by 2015.
The full infrastructure for high speed service won't be in place until 2017.
Dwight supporters protest in Normal
The festivities were not without shouts of "Save Dwight!"
Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees protested Quinn's proposed closure of Dwight Correctional Center Friday after the news conference at the Uptown Station.
"No one really believes (Quinn) when he says closing prisons isn't going to cost us more money," said Dwight supporter Joyce Kretschmer. "It will cost more, it's not safe and all of our prisons are already overcrowded."
Union members also protested Quinn's moves on pension reform outside the Joliet station
The version of a pension reform bill that Quinn approves of includes shifting pension costs to suburban and Downstate school districts.
Stephanie Pawlowski and Zach Dietmeier contributed to this report.
Paul Morello can be reached at email@example.com.