Friday, August 31, 2012

Illinois bill sets rail construction authority

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Illinois bill sets rail construction authority MHSRA

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) says Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed state House Bill HB4078, strongly backed by the association, “which allows the Illinois Toll Highway Authority to use all of its existing powers to construct railroad tracks.” Such authority is generally, and often explicitly, banned in many states within the U.S.

"Now, Illinois has another entity that can assemble right-of-way, design the civil works, issue bonds, and manage the construction of high-speed tracks, MHSRA said. The association called the measure "one of our top priorities, due to its wide range of benefits."

The bill in part states, “The Authority may charge an access fee to any passenger or freight rail operator who wishes to use tracks which the Authority has constructed using the powers granted by this Section. Moneys in the Road Fund may not be used to implement this Section. Authorization must be granted to the Authority for each individual and distinct railroad track project.”

At a signing ceremony Aug. 24, Quinn (holding bill, photo above left) took time to highlight the need to connect Rockford, Ill., to O'Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago with high speed rail. The next step is for the Toll Authority to conduct a feasibility study of the O'Hare-Rockford segment of the overall network, MHSRA said.

MHSRA Executive Director Rich Harnish told Railway Age Friday the Illinois Department of Transportation already is using its existing authority to reconstruct the Chicago-St Louis route for 110 mph speeds, and to add new Amtrak service to numerous cities, including to the Quad Cities in Iowa. "We are glad these projects are moving forward," Harnish said.