LaHood column: East-west route is a win-win!

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AMTRAK ridership keeps increasing every year, and Illinois routes lead the nation. We are blessed to have such a vast network of rail services across our state, but we sadly lack a primary passenger rail route that runs east-west across central Illinois.

A route that would stretch from the Quad Cities to Danville would greatly benefit our region. That route would also link Galesburg, Peoria, Bloomington/Normal and Champaign/Urbana and potentially points in between. One of the most active routes in the nation is the Chicago-Carbondale "Saluki" line, which is posting double-digit gains in revenue and ridership for the past several years.

Some people ask why this line is so popular. The answer is simple – the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University, and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale are all connected. It would make sense to explore the option of connecting Western Illinois University, Knox, Bradley, Illinois State University and the UIUC together on the same line.

Our first concern is the cost, which is exactly the reason that Representative Don Moffitt and I have sponsored similar House and Senate Resolutions seeking a feasibility study to determine if the cost and ridership numbers are worth the time and money of establishing an east-west route.

I think there is a need to the east-west line that will benefit our higher educational community. There is the possibility that additional passenger service will help keep some of our best and brightest students' in-state. California serves as a model for our Illinois network as well and their lead in rail service will, we hope, yield the same results here.

Our resolution asks for the cost-benefit analysis of a two trip per-day service that runs that east-west length of the state. The key provision would be that the east-west route would hook into the Chicago-St. Louis route at Bloomington-Normal. The route would also intersect with existing Quincy and Champaign north-south rail lines.

Illinois Department of Transportation officials have already begun the preliminary discussions with the federal government and they hope to commence the study this summer. My Senate Resolution 329 calls for the support of this IDOT feasibility study and Rep. Moffitt has House Resolution 374. Both of our measures express the full backing of the Illinois General Assembly.

I will stress that whatever proposal emerges must be fiscally responsible and work in a way to ensure that it is self-sufficient through rail passenger fees. In the long run, I believe that this proposed east-west route is a "win-win" for central Illinoisans.

About the Author
Darin LaHood is an Illinois State Senator from Peoria, representing the 37th District, which includes Peoria and Galesburg.