High-speed rail project released

Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin kicked off a series of announcements in Chicago today to discuss details about Illinois’ $1.2 billion federal award to bring high-speed passenger rail service to Illinois by 2014. High-speed rail projects in California, Florida and Illinois are among the big winners of $8 billion in grants announced by the White House.

“Illinois was one of only three states in the country to receive over $1 billion for high speed rail. We appreciate the confidence of President Obama to bring high-speed rail to Illinois,” said Governor Quinn. “Thanks to hard work and perseverance, our vision to have Illinois serve as the nation’s high speed rail hub is becoming a reality, bringing jobs and economic growth to our communities.”

The award for Illinois includes $133 million to build the Englewood Flyover on Chicago’s South Side, a Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) project which will clear one of the largest rail bottlenecks in the nation. The improvement will eliminate significant delays for commuter trains, Amtrak trains and freight trains.

The rail service project represents the start of what some Democrats publicize as a national program that could rival the interstate highways begun in the Eisenhower era.

Thirteen passenger rail corridors in 31 states will receive grants, which are funded by the economic recovery act enacted last year.

President Obama said focusing on building 21st century infrastructure projects is an important element of the country’s economic recovery.

“It creates jobs immediately and it lays the foundation for a vibrant economy in the future,” Obama said.

The investment from the federal government is expected to create approximately 6,000 jobs in Illinois.

“Investing $1.2 billion into improving our rail system is going to mean more jobs – jobs for today and jobs for the future,” said Senator Durbin. “Today’s announcement assures that Chicago, already a major rail hub of the nation, will soon become the major high-speed rail hub of the Midwest and nation.

Though the administration bills the program as “high-speed rail,” most U.S. projects won’t reach the speeds seen in Europe and Asia. California’s trains would be by far the fastest, exceeding the 200 mph achieved by some trains overseas.

The White House said rail projects will create or save thousands of jobs in areas including track laying, manufacturing, planning, engineering and rail maintenance and operations.

Obama told the crowd at Thursday’s town hall that when the high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando is finished, “I’m going to come back down here and ride it.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and members of Congress have acknowledged they expect much of the expertise and equipment to be supplied by foreign companies.

Except for Amtrak’s Acela line between Boston and Washington, there are no high-speed trains in the U.S. and no domestic high-speed rail industry.

By spreading the $8 billion among so many states, Obama is ignoring the advice of transportation experts and high-speed rail advocates who said the best way to build continuing political support for the program would be to concentrate on two or three grants large enough to get a high-speed line up and running. Once that happens, they reasoned, other parts of the country would lobby for more money to build their own lines.

This article was contributed to by the Associated Press.