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Agreement Reached on High-Speed Rail Corridor

Sun June 21, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Cheryl Wittenauer - ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. LOUIS (AP) Union Pacific Railroad and the state of Illinois announced an agreement May 8 to assess what must be done to operate both freight and high-speed passenger trains on the Chicago-to-St. Louis rail corridor.

The Omaha, Neb.-based railroad said it will provide the study to the Illinois Department of Transportation by June. The parties described the move as a critical step for Illinois to compete for federal funds to build a high-speed rail line in that corridor.

The announcement followed private talks May 8 in St. Louis between Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Claire McCaskill of Missouri and officials with Amtrak, Union Pacific and IDOT.

“IDOT and Union Pacific have a memorandum of understanding to outline the work needed to have a true high-speed rail corridor between St. Louis and Chicago,” Durbin said afterward.

He noted that President Barack Obama has told the states that if they’re interested in some of the $8 billion in federal economic stimulus funds designated for high-speed rail, they should “step up and be ready to compete.”

“We’ve stepped up,” Durbin said.

Durbin and McCaskill have been lobbying for a high-speed rail corridor between the two cities.

The $8 billion is part of $64 billion in the federal stimulus package for roads, bridges, rail and transit. It’s part of an overall $787 billion economic stimulus spending package.

Durbin said the money will be awarded on a competitive basis.

McCaskill said she also will pursue high-speed rail for the St. Louis-to-Kansas City corridor.

“It’s not just the East Coast that wants high-speed rail,” McCaskill said. “It’s the grand and glorious middle.”

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay applauded the senators for getting “things done.” He said high-speed rail is “environmentally friendly, energy efficient and economical.”

Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig said the agreement signed May 8 with the railroad was first in the United States. The study would be completed in time for the federal government’s announcement of application guidelines in June. He said it would serve as a blueprint for asking Congress to help fund development of a high-speed rail corridor.

Robert Turner, a senior vice president of Union Pacific, said freight and passenger rail have coexisted unevenly, and that the challenge would be to integrate them. Before rail travel began declining in the 1960s, the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor had separate tracks for passenger trains and freight. It was later reduced to a single track but the bed of the other track is still intact.

Turner said there are ways to accommodate the two. Slower-moving freight trains could be diverted on turnouts to make way for passenger trains traveling as fast as 110 mph.

The Chicago-to-St. Louis trip would be reduced from almost six hours to fewer than four.

Illinois will pay up to $400,000 for the study. Durbin said developing the line would create 10,000 construction jobs.

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