June 2, 2011

CHICAGO (June 2)—Gov. Pat Quinn told a nationwide gathering of high-speed rail advocates that the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will partner with the University of Illinois to study the feasibility of constructing and operating a Chicago-Champaign high-speed rail line.

“Illinois is leading the nation with our work to expand high-speed and passenger rail,” the governor told the Annual Meeting of the U.S. High Speed Rail Assn. at the Courtyard of Marriott Hotel. “This study will provide greater insight into how we can make 220-mph rail service a reality. An expanded and improved rail network will boost our position in the global economy and create thousands of jobs.”

The governor said the state will use a $1.25-million grant from the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program to fund the study, which will be conducted by elements of the U of I’s main campus at Champaign-Urbana and its urban campus, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

At the Downstate campus, the study will be led by Prof. Christopher L. Barkan, who heads the College of Engineering’s esteemed railroad engineering program.

At the Chicago end the study will be headed by Stephen Schlickman, former executive director of the six-county Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and now director of the UIC’s Chicago Urban Transportation Center.

The two faculties will study possible routings and operational schemes for a high-speed passenger railroad that would originate at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, stop in both downtown Chicago and the McCormick Place exhibition complex on the lakefront, and follow the alignment of the former Illinois Central Railroad to Champaign. The university team will develop ridership projections, economic-development impacts, construction costs and financing options, using input from an advisory group assembled from transportation experts, rail advocates, labor leaders and regional planners.

Among those named to the panel was UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy.

“There’s a good reason why the UTU has a place at that table,” Guy said. “Our members not only have a stake in the outcome of this study, they have valuable information to contribute to it. They man the state-supported Amtrak trains which continue to experience double-digit annual ridership growth, and they deal face-to-face, on a daily basis, with the people who buy the tickets. No one knows better than our crew members the growing demand for passenger trains among Illinois travelers.”

Serving with Guy will be State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chi.), State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), Midwest High Speed Rail Assn. Director Richard Harnish, Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Cook County Commr. Joan Murphy, RTA board member J.D. Ross, Metropolitan Planning Council President Mary Sue Barrett, and veteran Chicago attorney Jack Guthman.

“Hopefully, the study results will be delivered in time for the debut of IDOT’s 110-mph service between Chicago and St. Louis,” Guy said. “At the same time the state will be starting up new service to the Quad Cities and Rockford-Galena-Dubuque. As these routes attract more and more passengers they will provide further evidence of the need for even more expanded and improved service, which includes planning for possible 220-mph service in the state.

“I’m very grateful to Gov. Quinn for naming me to this blue-ribbon team and I’m looking forward to sitting down with the other members and getting to work,” Guy said. “All of us understand that the economic future of Illinois depends on having a modern passenger rail network.”