Bustos, Duckworth, Durbin seal deal on Amtrak
Feds extend deadline on $177M grant for service between Quad Cities, Chicago
By Ted Cox
Amtrak has more track laid in its bid to resume service between Chicago and the Quad Cities.
Prominent members of the Illinois congressional delegation announced late last week that they’d received a formal extension on a $177 million federal grant that threatened to expire before the service could be resumed.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth put out a news release Friday stating that the Federal Railroad Administration had granted an extension until Nov. 30 “to give local stakeholders needed flexibility to finalize an agreement.”
A week ago, Duckworth pressed FRA Administrator Ronald Batory on extending the grant for Amtrak’s Chicago-Moline line, first offered to the state eight years ago under the Obama administration. President Obama first pursued the Chicago-Moline Amtrak line while a U.S. senator along with Sen. Dick Durbin. The project was derailed over the last four years, however, by former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Last week, Batory said he saw “light at the end of the tunnel” on the needed agreement between Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Iowa Interstate Railroad to resume the service. But Duckworth said she feared the Trump administration might attempt to “claw back” the funding.
The FRA announcement eased those fears, and it was greeted by Duckworth, Durbin, and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who’d also pushed for extension of the grant deadline through a bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee.
“I’m pleased that the FRA agrees with us about the importance of this critical Illinois transportation initiative,” Duckworth said. “The Chicago-Quad Cities passenger-rail project is an important component of Illinois’s dynamic transportation system. I look forward to continuing to work with federal, state, and local stakeholders to make sure this project is completed as quickly as possible.”
“In 2010, I was proud to secure federal funding for the Quad Cities-to-Chicago Amtrak route, which will benefit commuters, schools, and businesses in Illinois,” Durbin added. “Since then, the region has waited patiently for this to become a reality while Gov. Rauner refused to commit to the project. I’m glad Gov. Pritzker backs this important project and committed state funds to getting it done, and that FRA granted this federal funding extension.”
“The completion of a rail line from Moline to Chicago would help grow the local economy, create jobs, and connect folks from across our state with new opportunities.”
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
Pritzker earmarked $225 million for the project in the $45 billion capital bill that passed the General Assembly at the end of its spring session, making a total of more than $400 million to grease the wheels for resumption of service that used to be called the Quad City Rocket.
“The completion of a rail line from Moline to Chicago would help grow the local economy, create jobs, and connect folks from across our state with new opportunities,” said Bustos, who hails from Moline. “We must work to get this project across the finish line as soon as possible, and this news from FRA is another step forward in making sure it becomes reality.”
IDOT also sees light at the end of the tunnel. According to spokesman Scott Speegle: “Negotiations between IDOT and the Iowa Interstate Railroad are progressing and going well. We feel optimistic that we will reach agreement with them on the scope of improvements needed for passenger rail service in the near future,” although he acknowledged they’re “already discussing another extension of the federal grant” beyond Nov. 30.
The logistics in extending Amtrak service from Princeton, where it already runs with the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains, into Moline on tracks owned by the Iowa Interstate Railroad are not simple. “In addition to agreeing on scope with IAIS, we must also reach agreement with them on construction and maintenance agreements,” Speegle added. “The construction agreement will detail the plans for the construction of the improvements needed including who will be doing the work, impact on IAIS’s current operations, and timeline. The maintenance agreement will detail the type of work needed to maintain the tracks for passenger rail service in the future as well as the cost sharing between the state and IAIS.” They’ll also “need to complete preliminary engineering and meeting NEPA requirements before moving on to final design and then construction.”
An Amtrak feasibility study a decade ago projected that 100,000 people a year would ride the line between Chicago and the Quad Cities.