Illinois and Union Pacific Railroad have come to terms on enough of a planned passenger line in UP’s right of way so that an initial 90-mile track project can begin in September.
Gov. Pat Quinn said an agreement between UP and the Illinois Department of Transportation clears the way for $98 million in upgrades to the freight corridor so that it can help accommodate a fast passenger service between Chicago and St. Louis.
The project is an early part of what is billed as high-speed rail, though it will actually be a faster-than-normal Amtrak service on tracks shared with freight trains. It won a $1.1 billion grant in January out of the federal government’s $8 billion stimulus fund for intercity passenger rail.
Then it and some other passenger projects became stuck after the Federal Railroad Administration issued terms that alarmed freight railroad executives. The FRA said if they accept the money for upgrades and use of their rights of way, they would have to pay it back or face penalties if the passenger service does not meet on-time targets.
That soon led to high-level talks between rail chiefs and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who recently told The Journal of Commerce that he felt the two sides were making progress so that projects could soon move ahead.
Not all those issues have yet been resolved, reports said. However, Quinn said the initial work covered under this new accord will be on tracks from Alton, Ill., to south of Springfield, then resuming just north of Springfield to near Lincoln. A study is under way to determine the best route through Springfield. Work on that section may be completed as soon as December.
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