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Passenger rail advocate relishes Midwestern blueprint for high speed rail expansion

Train in Uptown Normal
Staff
/
WGLT

An advocate for passenger rail travel said he likes the new blueprint for the next four decades of passenger rail travel.

The new Midwest Regional Rail Plan from 12 states and the federal government would take billions of dollars to achieve. But Rick Harnish of the High Speed Rail Alliance said the price tag is a fraction of the cost of building Interstate 55 from scratch.

"In terms of the impact we are having on communities today, having a huge burden on maintaining their existing highway infrastructure, this would put a lot more people on trains which means a lot more people coming without bringing their car. It's a very important investment," said Harnish.

The plan calls for 200-mph rail travel on many corridors, including Chicago to St. Louis, and hourly train service. Harnish said he likes the fact the plan treats the region as a coordinated network and not as separate routes.

"This is what we should have started working on 20-30 years ago," he said.

He's also pleased the plan to coordinate state and federal rail development would aggressively increase the frequency of trains on core routes such as Chicago to Detroit, Chicago to St. Paul, and Chicago to St. Louis. He said that's critical to making commuter service usable over long distances. For instance, the Chicago to St. Louis corridor through Bloomington-Normal has about five trains per day now.

"You need to get at least hourly before it becomes really effective to take public transit. And what they are proposing in the FRA framework is between 16 and 25 trains a day. So, that is hourly service," said Harnish, adding much of the new rail system to allow those higher speeds could be built along interstate right of way.

He said the next step is for communities such as Bloomington-Normal, Pontiac, Dwight, and so on to tell the state five trains a day on the Chicago to St. Louis route are not enough — that it needs to be eight or 10. He also said they need to lobby for light rail connections between, say, the Quad Cities, Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and Springfield, to be part of the plan.

"This is an opportunity for local communities to get engaged and excited about making an integrated network happen. It should be just a matter of course that you can take a train, perhaps a connecting bus, to and from all of the clusters of cities in Illinois," said Harnish. "You should be able to get around and between those cities easily and conveniently without a car."

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