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Peoria takes next step toward securing passenger rail service

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali (front left) and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood (front right) announced progress on passenger rail in Peoria in front of a crowd of government officials and stakeholders in city council chambers Thursday morning.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, front left, and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, front right, announced progress on passenger rail in Peoria in front of a crowd of government officials and stakeholders Thursday in city council chambers.

The City of Peoria is one step closer to making passenger rail service a reality.

At a news conference on Thursday, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali announced the city’s proposed rail corridor has been accepted into the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification Program.

Officials say the program was created as a part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. According to a presentation provided by the FRA, it aims to bring passenger rail service to regions around the country, renew Amtrak’s fleet, foster the creation of a long-term rail program and modernize infrastructure in the country’s northeast corridor.

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said 69 projects were selected out of 90 applications nationwide.

“It was a huge project, it was a strong application,” said Ali, flanked by members of the city council, representatives from communities along the proposed passenger line, various development partners and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

When completed, the Amtrak-operated line will pass through LaSalle-Peru, Utica, Ottawa, Morris and Joliet on the way to Chicago. The first phase of the FRA’s program will grant $500,000 as the City of Peoria “develops scope, schedule and budget” for the project.

LaHood said the line will primarily build upon pre-existing infrastructure, currently used for freight transportation. So, negotiations with freight carriers will be a part of the process.

“With this, we've identified a corridor, and a lot of the corridor is currently being used by the freight rail,” he said. “So there’ll have to be some negotiations and some agreements reached for the use of that shared track, and also, who's going to pay for fixing up the track and the infrastructure.”

But once the project is complete, LaHood thinks it will be a boon for all the communities along its path.

“At every one of these places, there'll have to be a train station,” he said. “There'll be small businesses that will begin to open, which will mean jobs, the jobs that are created for the development of this corridor in terms of fixing up the corridor — again, enormous numbers of jobs all along the corridor.”

Morris Mayor Chris Brown agreed.

“We’re doing studies right now of where our spot will be located,” he said. “If a depot is going to be right there downtown for us, that would have a huge impact on our downtown area.”

Ali also sees economic opportunity as a major advantage of the rail line's creation, adding Peoria also is hoping to place its station at one of several possible sites downtown.

“We know that a thriving downtown means a thriving city,” she said. “So, I think having more people coming in and out of our community, from those communities up north, and you know, there's connections to Chicago, all over the nation. So Chicago is a major Amtrak hub that can potentially bring more visitors, tourism and business right here to Peoria.”

The city and stakeholders have commissioned and completed several studies of the feasibility and economic impact of the proposed rail system. Officials say these studies cost tens of thousands of dollars and the application to be a designated corridor cost $200,000. The investments have come from sources all across Peoria and along the proposed track.

As they continue through the FRA program, their investment will increase. Step 2, the “Service Development Plan,” requires a 10% match of federal funds. Step 3, “Preliminary Engineering,” requires a 20% match.

“That's the path that we're following,” said City Manager Patrick Urich. “It's in our capital budget, we've identified and budgeted.”

As long as the project continues smoothly through the steps, Ali estimates a 7- to 10-year timeline for the railway to be operational.

You can find more information on the Corridor Identification and Development Program here.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.