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What’s next for the Peoria-to-Chicago passenger rail proposal?

The railroad track crossing at the foot of Hamilton and Water streets in downtown Peoria, near the Gateway Building.
Tim Shelley
The railroad track crossing at the foot of Hamilton and Water streets in downtown Peoria, near the Gateway Building.

Now that the proposal for a passenger rail route between Peoria and Chicago has been chosen to move forward, project advocates are getting more information about the next steps.

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali was among the participants earlier this week in a virtual kickoff meeting with Federal Railroad Administration officials, a discussion she called “absolutely amazing.”

The Peoria-to-Chicago project was one of 69 proposals selected in December for the FRA’s Corridor Identification Program.

“This is the primary avenue for getting financed – federal and state – for passenger rail, now and in the future,” said Ali, who was joined by State Rep. Ryan Spain and the mayors of Ottawa and Morris in attending the kickoff meeting.

Ali said the discussion included details on how to receive the $500,000 in initial seed money, and the three steps for completing the Corridor ID program.

“We're going to begin with step one, which is really scoping. That's the statement of work,” she said. “We've already done some work that will be counted toward that statement of work, and we believe that we will complete step one within 3-6 months.”

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali

Ali said the project then would move automatically into the second step and receive a new grant toward the creation of a service delivery plan.

“That's a big step, then we get to move to step three, which is the preliminary engineering and planning,” said Ali, noting that stage includes making sure the proposed route complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). “Once we complete that major step three, that's the end of the Corridor Identification Program. Then you go into what's called the pool for passenger rail construction and financing.”

Ali admitted it’s a process that will take several years to finish, but noted she received a measure of support after Amtrak President Roger Harris reached out to speak with her this month while she was in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“I met with him and a small team that he had there,” she said. “They were excited that we got accepted into the Corridor Identification Program. They know that we're interested in Amtrak being our service provider, and of course, they want to work with us.”

Amtrak is pursuing numerous options to upgrade and expand service across the nation over the next 15 years.

On Tuesday, Normal Mayor Chris Koos joined Amtrak’s board of directors after the U.S. Senate voted to confirm his long-delayed appointment. Koos says he conceptually supports Peoria's request for a new train route from Chicago to the river city.

“Peoria is having strong conversations with FRA and Amtrak about their corridor. So, it's under consideration, there's no question of that,” Koos said. “Where it falls in terms of priorities, I couldn't say.”

Ali noted Amtrak also has proposals that were chosen for the Corridor ID Program.

“They've gotten lots of funding to improve their rail service, improve their equipment,” she said. “They're probably going to have some capacity problems, just trying to make everything happen.

“But at the same time, he assured me that they want to make some important ‘wins.’ They don't want things to go slow for us because they're having capacity issues. They want to make sure that things are happening, and they're making significant progress along the way.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.