July 13, 2009

CHICAGO (July 13)—Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a 5-year, $28-billion capital bill package giving the state an unprecedented $850 million to invest in a buildup of its intercity passenger rail, high-speed rail and CREATE infrastructure programs.

The rail money includes $150 million for capital investment in the state’s Amtrak-operated intercity corridor services, $400 million for intercity passenger rail and high-speed rail development programs, and $300 million for projects designed to ease congestion on the antiquated network of tracks connecting Chicago’s freight yards and main lines (CREATE).

“With the governor’s signature on the capital bill, Illinois expands its reputation as a national leader in passenger rail development” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “The $850 million for rail infrastructure is the largest state capital investment in railroads in the nation outside of California.”

“I want to commend the governor on his signing of the capital bill,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Bob Guy. “It means people will be going back to work, and it means Illinois travelers will enjoy faster, more frequent passenger-train service on a statewide network that will soon reach out to the Quad Cities, Rockford and hopefully Peoria.”

Guy said some of the long-overdue rail projects could begin as soon as IDOT is able to sign contracts with the host railroads, starting with projects to address capacity concerns on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe in the Galesburg area.

“Under its 2006 agreement doubling the number of state-sponsored Amtrak frequencies, IDOT promised the BNSF it would help fund capacity enhancements to ease congestion,” Guy said. “BNSF freight trains need a way to leave the main line quickly in order not to block passenger trains. We expect the construction of two new lead tracks to go forward very quickly.”

Guy said another project IDOT has ranked near the top of its list for years is to re-establish passenger service to the Quad Cities.

“Building a physical connection between the BNSF and the Iowa Interstate Railroad is key to returning passenger trains to the Quad Cities for the first time in 30 years,” Guy said. “Sen. Dick Durbin and Congressman Phil Hare want the Quad Cities startup as soon as possible.”

Guy said it will cost about $23 million to build the switches and connecting ramp and to install block signals on 50 miles of the Iowa Interstate, “but that’s cheap when you consider the stakes for people in Western Illinois.

“It’s been estimated that the new Quad Cities service would generate 107,000 annual new passengers, and that’s before we factor in the ever growing desire from Iowa to extend the service to Iowa City and on to Des Moines,” Guy said. “It’s very costly to fly from Moline to Chicago, and driving leaves business travelers mostly unable to work en route. This region urgently needs this rail link to Chicago and the rest of the Midwest.”

Guy said the first CREATE funds invested in the Chicago area are likely to be targeted at projects that relieve bottlenecks for freight, Amtrak and Metra commuter trains at the same time. The CREATE projects will vastly improve the mobility of not only freight traffic in the Chicago area, but allow for improved and expanded passenger service for both Amtrak and Metra, which means more operating jobs in the future.

“Imagine the situation, especially for our freight members, when freight traffic has to come to a standstill because morning and evening commuter trains must have priority at busy crossings,” Guy said. “By building flyovers over the worst ‘pinch points’ in the area we can keep freight moving while still providing reliable and frequent passenger service.

“It’s costly”, he said, “but if we don’t address the issue now we will never be able to expand or improve freight service in and around Chicago, and Amtrak and Metra will not be able to operate additional passenger trains. Rail development will be at a standstill, and so will rail jobs. The capital bill breaks that impasse.”

Guy said the union is grateful to the elected officials who took a forward position on getting rail funding into the capital bill.

“I want to personally thank House Rail Safety Committee Chairwoman Elaine Nekritz and House Rail Safety Committee Minority Spokesperson Don Moffitt for their tireless efforts over the last few years,” Guy said, “Rail advocates and UTU members alike owe them a great amount of gratitude,” he said.

“Gov. Quinn and Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval also showed great leadership in bringing this historic funding to reality, as did the four legislative leaders, especially Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan,” Guy said.

“Those are the people who made sure the 2009 capital bills included the largest allocation for rail improvements in state history.”