The head of the Federal Railroad Administration took to a train ride to Uptown Station to see the facility that's getting $13 million for an underpass.
Administrator Ron Batory noted when he arrived in Normal from Chicago, the southbound train stopped on the northbound tracks, as sometimes happens, leaving he and other passengers to walk a block and back to cross the railroad tracks.
“I got a firsthand learning experience this morning as far as the value of an underpass,” Batory said.
“We didn’t stage that,” Normal Mayor Chris Koos quipped to a gathering at Uptown Station.
Batory said the degree of passenger and rail traffic and safety concerns justify the need for a walkway connecting uptown and uptown south.
“It is a mecca, if you will, for Normal and for Bloomington,” Batory said. “It’s a magnet that draws a lot of attention and I think as long as you continue to build on something as sound as this, you have nothing but good things ahead of you.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the town $13 million for the underpass last November through its Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program. The town is now seeking additional funding sources to help reduce the town’s funding burden for what was first pegged as a $23 million project.
Koos wouldn't give specifics but said the state has pledged support and said the town has scaled back the project a bit. He added the town is pursuing other funding partners who he described as “excited” about the project.
He said the town is preparing for some local match. When asked if the town council is on board with committing local funds to the underpass, Koos said "generally yes," but added it's still unclear how much local funding will be needed.
Koos noted it took 12 years of planning to make Uptown Station a reality.
“These projects take time, they are complicated, there are a lot of partners involved, and the partners have to understand the project,” Koos said. “It’s not a dash, it’s a marathon.”
The underpass is currently in the first phase of engineering studies.
Koos said the town still hopes to break ground in 2022.
Saving The Railroad
Batory spent 46 years in the railroad industry, including time in Central Illinois. He recalled during the 1980s how Southern Pacific Transportation Company bought the railroad line from Chicago to St. Louis when the previous owners were in bankruptcy and the lines were in danger of being liquidated.
Botary said Southern, where he worked from 1987-94 and later merged with Union Pacific, bolstered rail traffic and essentially saved the railroad.
“Some of the people I was with today have told me it’s not unusual to see eight to 12 freight trains a day along with all the passenger trains that are out here,” Batory said. “Thus far it appears Amtrak and Union Pacific have demonstrated an excellent working relationship in trying to maintain a level of performance that satisfies both the passenger and freight side.”
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