July 25, 2018 – J. Scott Speegle, Passenger Rail & Transit Communications Manager, Illinois Department of Transportation (DOT), reported that the DOT is fully committed to seeing the passenger rail project to completion. The DOT is working with the BNSF (Class I) railroad and Iowa Interstate (IAIS) (Class III) railroad along with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to complete key components of the corridor. To this point, there is $177 million in FRA funds and $45 million in state funds awarded to the project.
Construction is complete for the Eola Yard near Chicago. This piece of the project allows for trains to move off the main track for travel efficiency. The 110-mile BNSF section of the rails have been upgraded and represents two-thirds of the project. The last third of the project (50 miles) starts with an interconnection at Wyanet where BNSF and IAIS rail lines link. The DOT is in negotiations with IAIS on the scope of the infrastructure improvements. Designs and cost estimates will follow a signed agreement. The 50-mile corridor requires rail upgrades to meet passenger safety standards. An interlocking connection of the BNSF and IAIS at Colona is planned to correct congestion issues at this location. An equipment layover facility will be built at the end of the line in Moline south of River Drive between 2nd and 4th Streets. Construction of a rail station in Geneseo is planned as another component of the project. The route, once implemented, would have two round-trips per day, and be served by two train sets with 2-3 cars per set, and 75 people per car. Rates may be comparable to the current Quincy route for estimation purposes.
There are three steps to be completed prior to construction. Currently, refinement of engineering designs and concurrence with IAIS and FRA are needed. This would be followed by DOT and IAIS negotiating construction and maintenance agreements, and completion of preliminary engineering, and an environmental assessment with public participation. Final design would be the last task before the projects could go to construction. No timeline is available at this point, and Mr. Speegle could not speculate on when service would be initiated.
When asked how local officials can aid the advancement of the project, Mr. Speegle responded asking for patience, encouraging IAIS railroad to work out an agreement with the DOT and engage the State of Iowa related to the broader goal of the Midwest Rail Initiative to have rail service to Omaha. He was asked about Amtrak performance. It was noted that BNSF of the three existing routes in the state had best on-time performance, which speaks well for the Chicago-Quad Cities route. The DOT will provide updates to Bi-State as they become available.