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Illinois awarded more than $95 million to improve passenger rail service

Amtrak passenger rail network

The Federal Railroad Administration is giving Illinois $95.1 million for passenger train service, with part of it going to the Chicago-to-St. Louis Corridor that includes Bloomington-Normal, Pontiac and Lincoln in central Illinois.

Some of the funding comes from the Federal Railroad Administration's Corridor Identification program and is a part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“At the heart of the Midwest, Illinois sits in the center of our nation — serving as a major transportation hub for passengers and businesses alike,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. “Illinois is well on its way to creating the most robust, accessible, and connected railroad system in the country.”

The existing Lincoln Service will get $500,000 for planning improvements. That’s four trains per day through Bloomington-Normal, supported by the state. A fifth train, the Texas Eagle, is separate from the Lincoln Service.

State lawmakers also will have to decide how much to pay for expanding the number of trains per day that stop in Uptown Normal. Rail advocates say that funding debate could be decided this spring or stretch into 2025.

An old plan, scuttled by the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rainer, called for 10 trains per day. Passenger rail advocates have noted that increased frequency of trains on a route boosts ridership on all the trains in a corridor because service becomes more reliable, predictable, and flexible for people with changing needs.

"Passenger rail is one key component of a multi-modal transportation system that makes Illinois the transportation hub of North America,” said Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman.” “These grants will provide a better customer experience for all riders who use Union Station [in Chicago] and set the stage for even more federal investment to grow passenger rail throughout Illinois and the Midwest.”

The proposed Chicago-to-Peoria Amtrak route along the Illinois River Valley also will receive $500,000 in planning money to determine the scope and costs of that project. When finished, the proposed Amtrak line would pass through Peoria, LaSalle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa, Morris and Joliet on the way to Chicago.

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said the city has not decided where to put Peoria's Amtrak station, but hopes it will be downtown.

Another $1 million in planning funds will flesh out potential extension of service from Chicago to the Quad Cities, and to beef up the Chicago-to-Carbondale corridor through Champaign-Urbana. Other money will go to plan extended passenger service from Chicago to parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.

In all, planning money will go to 69 routes across the U.S. in four categories: new high-speed rail corridors, new conventional rail corridors, existing routes with extensions, and existing routes.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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