Peoria to Chicago rail with stops in La Salle, Grundy counties takes pivotal step to fruition

Peoria receives $500,000 federal grant to determine engineering, cost requirements

A map of the proposed route of the Peoria-to-Chicago passenger rail was shown on the projection screen Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, during the North Central Illinois Council of Governments meeting at Illinois Valley Community College.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said the proposed Peoria to Chicago passenger train that would include stops in La Salle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa and Morris gained momentum Thursday.

The city of Peoria was selected for the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program.

The program was created to develop passenger rail routes. Peoria will receive $500,000 to fund step one of the service development plan as part of the corridor identification program.

The service development plan will determine engineering and cost requirements.

“This effort started as a local project that grew into a regional project that became a state project and is now a federal project,” Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said during a news conference Thursday that included regional officials such as La Salle Economic Development Director Curt Bedei and Morris Mayor Chris Brown.

“This level of support and collaboration will help to achieve our goal of bringing Amtrak passenger rail to and from Peoria in the coming years,” Ali said.

Although Thursday’s development was significant, Ali and LaHood said the train route still is about a decade away from being in operation, and there remains no guarantees that the project will be approved.

LaHood said the infrastructure is in place, but mostly as a Class 1 freight rail.

“These projects take time,” LaHood said. “They are enormously expensive.”

Ali said she has been meeting regularly with community leaders and state and local officials since August 2021 on the Peoria passenger rail project. The proposed route begins at Peoria and runs through La Salle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa, Morris and Joliet, ending at Chicago’s Union Station.

LaHood said the federal recognition puts the Peoria-to-Chicago rail project “on the map” among the national projects for consideration.

The former federal transportation secretary said the passenger rail will have an economic influence in the communities where it stops. Small businesses can benefit from the traffic created by the new rail stations.

A feasibility study in July 2022 confirmed that the proposed Amtrak train route would generate enough interest on its three-hour trip. The North Central Illinois Council of Government received a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation that covered a study to explore where stations may go within the selected communities.

Bedei spoke Thursday about the effect the rail can have in La Salle-Peru, noting Starved Rock State Park gets 3 million visitors annually.

“We’re excited to be a part of this,” Bedei said.

Brown said the rail is an economic opportunity for La Salle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa and his hometown of Morris.

“This is a big step forward in bringing passenger rail service back to the Ottawa area,” Ottawa Mayor Robb Hasty said in a news statement. “This passenger rail project, along with our planned riverfront development and our downtown atmosphere, will allow Ottawa to continue growing into the Midwest destination we’ve become.”

The Peoria Rocket ran for 42 years, carrying travelers from Peoria to Chicago on the Rock Island line, with service ending in 1978.

“Illinois is the undisputed transportation hub of North America, with passenger rail at the heart of a vast multimodal system that moves people safely and reliably between our state’s great cities and institutions,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said in a news statement. “We look forward to working with local stakeholders and continuing to explore the possibilities as efforts to expand passenger service in Illinois advance another step.”

For information about the passenger rail project, visit