Yesterday in Tampa, President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the recipients of $8 billion in ARRA High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail grants.
Illinois came out as one of the big winners and will receive $1.1 billion for upgrades to the Chicago – St. Louis rail corridor. Likely contributing to Illinois’s big payday was the state agreeing to provide $400 million in support of the project. Funding is still well short of the estimated $4 billion cost for the entire project, but it’s a very good start. More funds will likely arrive via additional federal high-speed rail appropriations: Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is trying to get an additional $2.5 billion appropriation—it will be awarded later this year—extended annually until 2014.
According to the summary sheet provided by the White House, the planned upgrades for the 284 mile Chicago to St. Louis rail line will increase the top speed to 110 mph and reduce the journey time from Chicago to St. Louis by 90 minutes to only 4 hours. Major upgrades will also be done to the signaling systems, including the addition of positive train control, to increase the safety and reliability of the line as it intermixes with freight trains.
All in all, the major upgrades to the rail line promise to improve Amtrak service in Illinois from achingly slow and unreliable to acceptable.
Small wins for Missouri
The state of Missouri will receive $31 million for 8 projects to improve the St. Louis to Kansas City rail line. In recent years, Amtrak’s on-time performance and ridership suffered due to a bevy of construction issues and freight interference on the line it shares with Union Pacific. However, with major construction on the line over and the addition of new sidings by MoDOT for passing trains, on-time performance and ridership has rebounded significantly.