SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE May 9, 2011 10:52PM
When Chicagoans can ride an Amtrak train to St. Louis or Detroit at 110 mph, they can thank the federal government and the governor of Florida.
The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday announced awards for the final $2 billion in high-speed and intercity passenger rail grants from the federal stimulus act, and Chicago is right in the middle of the action.
Trains traveling to or from the area will be directly impacted by five of the grants, totaling about $800 million, including nearly $200 million that was rejected by Florida.
About $186.3 million will go toward upgrades on the Chicago-to-St. Louis Corridor between Dwight and Joliet, with trains operating at 110 mph for more than 220 miles, according to a release from the DOT.
Another $13.5 million will go toward design work on replacing the Merchant’s Bridge Project, which built over the Mississippi River in the 1890s.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said earlier this month the projects “will create nearly 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, decrease delays and improve performance. High speed rail projects like this will ensure that Illinois remains at the center of the nation’s infrastructure network, attracting more jobs and making us more economically competitive.”
Another $196.5 million will be awarded to the Michigan–Kalamazoo-Dearborn Corridor to rehabilitate track and signal systems, bringing trains up to speeds of 110 mph on a 235-mile section of the Chicago-to-Detroit corridor, reducing trips by 30 minutes, according to DOT.
And $2.8 million will go toward engineering and environmental analysis to construct a high-speed rail station in Ann Arbor, Mich., to allow more than one train to use the station simultaneously.
Last month, Kirk and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin led a group of Illinois legislators in expressing support for Illinois’ application for the federal funding rejected by Florida. In their letter to Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood, they stressed the importance of the Chicago-to-St. Louis route as the backbone of the Midwest passenger rail system.
“We believe Illinois offers the greatest opportunity for your department to enhance mobility, reduce reliance on foreign oil, lessen congestion and provide steady employment in a region hard hit by job loss,” wrote the congressmen.
“The Midwest rail system, with Chicago as its hub, could provide 3,000 miles of high speed rail service and serve 90 percent of the 60.3 million people living in its nine-state region. A significant federal investment into this region will create a rail system that could carry nearly as much traffic as regional air service,” they wrote.
Chicago riders will also beneift from a $336.2 million investment in state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for the Midwest and California. “Next Generation” equipment will deliver safe, reliable and high-tech American-built vehicles, according to the DOT.
Other projects announced Monday include:
$5 million to complete engineering and environmental work for establishing the Northern Lights Express, a high-speed intercity passenger service connecting Minneapolis to Duluth, Minn., with 110-mph service.Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications for the money, according to the DOT release.
A $795 million upgrade in the Northeast Corridor, which will increase speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments, improve on-time performance and add more seats for passengers.
A $300 million grant to continue laying groundwork for the nation’s first 220-mph high-speed rail system in California, extending the current 110-mile segment an additional 20 miles to advance completion of the Central Valley project, backbone of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco corridor.
“President Obama and Vice President Biden’s vision for a national rail system will help ensure America is equipped to win the future with the fastest, safest and most efficient transportation network in the world,” LaHood said in the release. “The investments we’re making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities.”