Thursday was the starting gate regarding a possible Peoria to Chicago passenger rail service, said Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood at a press conference in Utica.
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, LaHood and other officials involved in the proposed project’s first stage went on a press tour Thursday with stops in Peoria, Utica and Morris.
“Today is a very important milestone in our efforts to move this endeavor forward,” Ali said. “It is a viable option. We have a green light to move forward and I’m very encouraged. What it will mean to our area to have Amtrak service is a big boost to our economy, a better quality of life for our residents, local access to destinations within and beyond Illinois and welcoming visitors.”
During Thursday’s stops, the groups presented the findings collected from the passenger rail feasibility study commissioned in October 2021. The study ran from Jan. 28 through Feb. 28 and received 31,209 responses, with 95% of participants saying they could be very likely or somewhat likely to use a Peoria to Chicago rail service.
Through the data collected in this survey, the group estimated a service would expect anywhere between 440 and 830 passengers a day; or a daily average of about 600. The service also would be expected to complete five round trips daily.
Multiple proposed routes were evaluated for the possible service as the group said the most likely route would include stops in La Salle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa, Morris and Joliet in between Peoria and Chicago.
“We knew that when we embarked on this adventure that we really couldn’t accomplish it with just the idea that the train was going to go from Peoria to Chicago,” LaHood said. “We knew that there would be a great deal of interest from communities all along the corridor for a passenger rail service.”
The preliminary cost to implement the Peoria to Chicago railway service is estimated at $2.45 billion. LaHood gave a rough estimate on the timing of the project, indicating individuals can expect to be riding the train in about a decade.
This project will look to be completed through fixing up existing infrastructure and the use of shared freight rails; without the construction of new infrastructure.
“This is about the future,” Lahood said. “This is about future economic development, it’s about our kids, it’s about our grandkids and it’s really about connecting this part of Illinois that hasn’t had a passenger rail service. You have to start somewhere.”
LaHood also said funding for railways is available through the federal government thanks to the passing of a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that passed through Congress, including $66 billion for rail.
“All the stars are aligned correctly,” Lahood said. “You got leadership, you have vision but most importantly there’s money in D.C. to help fund this.”
The next step in the railway’s process is to seek additional funding to move the project to a Phase 1 study. The Illinois Department of Transportation awarded $310,000 in funding to North Central Illinois Council of Governments for these next steps.
The next study will take a deeper look at existing infrastructure, environmental needs, demand and economic impact. IDOT said it will look to continue to assist in the efforts of this project.
Peoria also plans to apply for funding through the new FRA Corridor Identification and Development Program, which is anticipated to be open for applications this fall.
“This is a project that is going to provide people a real opportunity for a good, comfortable and affordable passenger rail service all along the corridor,” Lahood said. “We are hoping that a lot of people along the corridor will not just want to come to Chicago but may want to come to your community or to Peoria. That’s the whole idea here.”