We did it! Illinois funds new Amtrak trains, transit upgrades, and more

New locomotive - galesburg

Thank you to everyone in Illinois who contacted their legislators in recent weeks to show support for trains!

Together, we gained funding commitments for new Amtrak routes and an all-new dedicated fund for transit projects.

Perhaps the single biggest achievement is the doubling of the state’s gas tax. This effectively restores the power of the tax that had been lost to inflation since it was last adjusted nearly 30 years ago. (It’s worth noting that transit fares have roughly doubled over the same period.) And, the tax will now be indexed to rise with inflation every year.

The gas tax goes into a fund that pays for all sorts of transportation projects around the state, including the annual costs of operating Amtrak trains. Now, for the first time, a portion of gas tax revenues will be placed into a dedicated fund for transit upgrades. This creates a steady, reliable funding stream that can be used for Metra upgrades needed to lay the foundation for high-speed service around the Midwest.

After years of being on hold, the legislature has appropriated $500 million to begin two new Amtrak services from Chicago to the Quad Cities and to Rockford (and eventually Dubuque). The Quad Cities are so ready for trains that they have spent years preparing, including building a station. The State of Illinois is now committed to holding up its end of the deal.

Illinois has also committed $100 million for track upgrades to the CN-owned railroad that hosts trains between Chicago and Carbondale. This should address slow speeds and frequent delays on this line, which serves the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

There’s $400 million going towards CREATE rail projects, including the massive 75th Street project on Chicago’s south side, which will unclog a number of lines used by Amtrak and Metra trains.

The package also includes $50 million in new, dedicated funding for biking and walking projects, which will make it easier and safer to get to and from your train–or anywhere–without a car.

Finally, there’s an interesting provision in the bill that would let the State cooperate with a private developer to build a new Amtrak/Metra/CTA megastation in Chicago’s South Loop as part of a vision called One Central. This project is still in a conceptual stage, but could serve as a temporary terminal for high-speed trains before CrossRail Chicago is completed.

This legislation addresses the backlog of smaller, individual projects. Now it’s time to look forward and think big. With an improved, reliable funding stream in place, the next step is for Illinois to craft a bold, statewide vision for passenger rail and coordinate a similar vision for the entire Midwest.

There are sections of new high-speed track–and upgrades to existing track–that can serve multiple routes and create benefits that are much more than the sum of their parts. But before we can identify those projects, we need a plan with a vision for a robust network of trains.

Thank you for your support and dedication to fast, frequent and reliable trains around the Midwest!

Last week at the Midwest High Speed Rail Association

Executive Director Rick Harnish presented at the Transportation Research Forum’s “Lunch & Learn” alongside Metra, Pace, and the Chaddick Institute. Presentations covered different transportation developments in the region. Great topics and a great crowd!

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