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Peoria Doesn't Have Passenger Trains. Could More Bussing Be The Answer?

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(AP Photo/Nicole Evatt)
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In this Dec. 16, 2017 photo, a passenger peers out the window at central California farmland as Amtrak's Coast Starlight Train makes its way from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Passenger trains last rolled into a Peoria train station in the early 1980s. But there may be a way to link the River City's residents to the rails once again.

Joe Schweiterman of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University says Amtrak throughway bus connections could make rail transit more seamless.

"You look at other states like Wisconsin. There are five minute connections in Milwaukee for people going to Green Bay. And so you hop off the train, and the bus is right there, and you go," he said. "And our state isn't quite at that level yet. We think that could be a way to really close the gap and really give Peoria better links without too much capital outlay." 

But Schweiterman said Illinois hasn't historically supported intercity bus service.

"With intercity bus, we're probably not where we need to be. There's still somewhat of a skeletal system out there. And that's the easiest way to give people good links to Chicago and other cities. Just with bus service," he said. 

Danville lacks a Chicago route, and Decatur only has one a day. Peoria Charter does offer some trips to Chicago's airports, a trip to Union Station in downtown Chicago, and trips to Uptown Normal's Amtrak station, but Schweiterman says more support for intercity bus service is needed across the state.

The nearest Amtrak stations are in Normal and Galesburg. Though the state has flirted with conducting a feasibility study on restoring Peoria rail service in recent years, there are no current plans to add a Peoria rail route.

One bright spot in Central Illinois transit is the recent record growth at Peoria International Airport. But Schweiterman said there's a state policy shortfall in better coordinating links between the state's air, rail, and bus service. 

Schweiterman was one of the co-authors of Complex Connections: Challenge of Improving Air, Bus, and Rail Service to Downstate Illinois; an analysis of Illinois transportation links outside the Chicago metropolitan area recently published in the Illinois Municipal Policy Journal. 

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.