Bustos, Pritzker lay rails for Chicago-Quad Cities Amtrak
Congresswoman pushes federal grant extension as guv allots funds in capital bill
By Ted Cox
Obstructions are being removed one by one from the long-delayed plan to resume Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline touted this week that she got an extension for a $177 million federal grant added to a bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee, clearing the way for those funds to finally enable Amtrak to resume service straight across the state from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
In a Twitter post, Bustos said, “This has been delayed under previous administrations in Illinois,” quickly adding that things had changed under Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The $177 million federal grant was first passed under the Obama administration in 2011. Gov. Pat Quinn approved it to resume the Amtrak line in 2014, but Gov. Bruce Rauner immediately halted it after taking office in 2015, and it remained “under review” during his four years in office.
Pritzker, however, got an ambitious agenda passed in his first session working with the General Assembly, including a $45 billion capital bill. That spending plan on statewide infrastructure included $225 million earmarked for Chicago-Moline Amtrak service as part of its “horizontal” funding for roads, bridges, and rail.
That makes for a total of more than $400 million to get the Amtrak service up and running again.
An Amtrak feasibility study from a decade ago estimated that 100,000 people would ride the line annually, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and his then junior colleague Barack Obama urged Amtrak to resume the service formerly known as the Quad City Rocket.
That’s how long the project has been under serious consideration: Obama was still a U.S. senator.
The way is not clear yet, however. Amtrak has cleared rail rights from Chicago into Bureau County, where it currently runs service to Princeton on the Illinois Zephyr and the Carl Sandburg, both continuing on to Quincy, as well as the Southwest Chief, continuing all the way to Los Angeles.
Yet to run into the Quad Cities Amtrak would have to gain permission from the Iowa Interstate Railroad for those lines, and the Illinois Department of Transportation has been negotiating the logistics of that for years.
Still, resumption of the service seems closer than ever. The Quad Cities has already laid the groundwork for an Amtrak station with $37 million invested in a public-private partnership to convert a former Sears warehouse alongside the tracks into a hotel and train station. Some $10 million of that was in federal funding, $5 million from the state, and $6 million from Moline, with the balance paid by the developer.
Westin’s Element hotel is already open, and plans are in the works for an adjoining depot to be known as the Q.
It’s already partially built, and the funding is there, so when will Amtrak finally come?