Illinois gets another $186 million for high-speed rail

By:  Jon Hilkevitch
Chicago Tribune

More than $186 million in federal money that Florida turned down for high-speed passenger rail has been awarded to Illinois for improvements on part of the 110 mph corridor between Chicago and St. Louis, officials said Wednesday.

It raises the total to more than $1.4 billion that the Obama administration has awarded Illinois to develop high-speed train service.

The $186.4 million in new money will be used to finance track and signal improvements on the section between Dwight and Joliet, according to an announcement by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and Gov. Pat Quinn.

"We received everything that was requested on this portion of the application,'' said Guy Tridgell, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Amtrak passengers in Illinois will get their first taste of 110 mph service in 2012 on a roughly 20-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac, said Joseph Shacter, IDOT director of public and intermodal transportation. The next step would then be 110 mph service, with new train cars operating, between Dwight and St. Louis in 2014, he said. A time frame has not yet been established for completing the leg between Chicago and Dwight, he said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation notified Congress this week that $400 million of the $2.4 billion in funding that the governor of Florida rejected has been reprogrammed to other states.

Illinois' application for funding that Florida declined to use included two other high-speed rail projects that are still eligible for funding: a multistate $806.8 million application for new locomotives and train cars, and $1 million for preliminary engineering and environmental work on a new station in East St. Louis.

IDOT plans to issue a request for proposals for new trains this summer, officials said.

In December, Illinois received $42.3 million in high-speed rail funding that was rejected by the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin.

Durbin said improvements on the 286-mile Amtrak route between Chicago and St. Louis will boost on-time performance, increase travel speeds and create thousands of jobs.