Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) releases results of a feasibility study and public survey for the proposed Peoria-to-Chicago passenger rail route. Also, Brightline welcomes two more trains to Orlando and a new mural is installed at LA Metro’s Leimert Park Station.
A feasibility study prepared by Patrick Engineering for the City of Peoria in Ill., and IDOT for the proposed Peoria-to-Chicago passenger rail route that would run along the Illinois Rover through LaSalle-Peru, Ottawa and Morris before branching up to Joliet, and ultimately, Chicago, puts an initial cost estimate of around $2.5 billion on establishing the route, WCBU reported on July 21. That figure, however, is subject to change as a 40% contingency is currently built into the estimate.
Additionally, of the more than 31,000 responses to City of Peoria’s public interest survey, 95% indicated that they would be likely to use the passenger rail service, which would “presumably” be operated by Amtrak and include a locomotive, café, business car and two coaches, and would operate at speeds up to 79 mph. Approximately 39% say they would ride one to five times a year, and just more than 4% say they would ride the train more than five times per week.
A ridership forecast conducted by engineering consultant Kimley Horn projected an average of 600 riders per day would utilize a passenger rail service running five daily round trips from downtown Peoria to Chicago’s Union Station. Most people, according to the forecast, say they’d be willing to pay somewhere between $10 to $30 for a one-way ticket from Peoria to Chicago.
“It is a viable option. We have a green light to move forward. And I am very, very encouraged,” said Ali.
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says he’s “optimistic about what he’s seen so far,” based upon two meetings with Amtrak’s CEO, and a meeting with the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
“We not only have a good plan, and a good survey, and the interest from our community, but we have the interest at the federal level, which is absolutely critical. This project cannot be done unless we get the attention and the acceptance of the federal government,” said LaHood. “And I think we’re well positioned.”
Passenger rail service ended in Peoria in 1978, making it the current largest city in Illinois that is unserved. The region was last served by passenger rail in 1981, when the Prairie Marksman briefly ran from East Peoria.
Restoring passenger rail service to Peoria has been discussed a few times throughout the past decade, including in 2011 when an Amtrak feasibility study played with the idea of a new Peoria to Normal passenger rail line. Commuter bus service from Peoria’s airport to Amtrak’s Normal Station has also been considered. But LaHood says this time is different because money is now available to make this happen thanks to the $66 billion for passenger rail through the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year.
If the project moves forward, negotiations with such railroads as Tazewell and Peoria Railroad (TZPR), Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAISRR), CSX, Metra, Amtrak and potentially Canadian National (CN) (depending on the final route selected from Joliet to Chicago, which is not yet determined in the study) will need to take place as the passenger route would run along existing rail lines currently owned by the six different freight and rail companies.
According to WCBU, the route will mostly follow that of the former Rock Island Rocket line, except for a final stop at Union Station rather than the LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.
LaHood, who acknowledged that negotiations with freight rail companies can be difficult, says he “has experience in that realm through previous negotiations working with then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and freight rail companies to improve a passenger rail line running from Chicago into Southern Illinois.”
“It was difficult, and it took us a couple years to get the agreements, I would say that we’re going to have to work with these freight rails that own the tracks. And some parts of the tracks are being utilized and some aren’t,” said LaHood. “So, we’ll enter these negotiations eyes wide open, but with the with the idea that you can accomplish shared agreements with the freight rails, but it takes some negotiation to do it. And I think we’re up to it, and I think eventually it will happen.”
According to WCBU, the host railroads weren’t consulted for the feasibility study, which assumes all involved railroads would require capacity upgrades and additional maintenance to run both existing service and the new Peoria route.
The Peoria passenger corridor will be included in IDOT’s passenger rail plan this fall. Mayor Ali said the next step is gaining inclusion in the FRA’s corridor and identification program, which would bring additional financial and technical assistance to the Peoria proposal’s Phase 1 study.
“For now, the FRA has only requested expressions of interest in this program. We’ve submitted our expression of interest along with about 15 others across the country,” Ali said. “This fall, they will release a notice soliciting project proposals, and we have every intention to apply.”
LaHood added that getting the Peoria passenger train on the tracks will not be a fast process and could take at least 10 years.
Brightline’s Bright Pink 2 and Bright Green 2 arrived on July 21 at Brightline’s Vehicle Maintenance Facility in Orlando after traveling the 3,000 miles across 10 states from the Siemens Mobility North American rolling stock facility in Sacramento, Calif.
The two, six-car trains, which will carry passengers between Orlando and South Florida, consist of two locomotives and four passenger coaches each. The trains are among five new trainsets to arrive in Florida in preparation for the opening of the Brightline station in Orlando. Brightline’s Orlando extension project will reach substantial completion in early 2023. The first train, Bright Red 2, arrived in October 2021 traveling through Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach Counties to its destination in West Palm Beach. The second train, Bright Blue 2, arrived in Orlando in February 2022. The final trainset is expected to arrive in Florida later this year.
“This is an exciting moment as we welcome not one but two brand-new trainsets, Bright Green 2 and Bright Pink 2 to our Vehicle Maintenance Facility site in Orlando,” said Michael Cegelis, EVP, Development and Construction, Brightline. “These trains, and our entire fleet, are built with the consumer in mind. They are modern, eco-friendly and equipped with conveniences such as hi-speed wi-fi and plug-in connections at every seat. All of which makes for a comfortable, seamless ride.”
In partnership with Siemens Mobility, the newest train sets, Brightline says, represents the company’s commitment to invest billions in American infrastructure, creating the country’s first and only private high-speed rail network. The stainless-steel coaches are made with components from more than 160 suppliers across 27 states. They are designed for luxury and comfort, featuring special ergonomic seating, contemporary communication systems and enhanced Wi-Fi. Thanks to wide aisles, wheelchair storage and fully accessible restrooms, the Venture train set exceeds Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements from end to end.
Brightline’s Orlando extension project is currently 80% complete and is expected to be complete in late 2022, carrying passengers in 2023.
A new video posted by LA Metro shows artist Mickalene Thomas walking in the Leimert Park Station on the Crenshaw/LAX Line (K Line) admiring the texture and color in her glass mosaic mural, which is now fully installed at the station, “capturing the quality of light and the cultural and visual richness of the neighborhood.”
Thomas was commissioned by Metro Art, whose goal is to “enhance the customer experience with innovative, award-winning visual and performing arts programming that encourages ridership and connects people, sites and neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County.”
In her original design, Thomas used photocollage techniques to construct the layered composition of iconic landmarks, which include the Leimert Park Fountain and the Vision Theatre. The photocollage was then translated into durable glass mosaic by skilled artisans who worked with Thomas to realize the mural.
Glass sheets in custom colors were created for this mural and cut by hand into millions of small mosaic pieces and assembled to create the 68-foot-long artwork. The mosaic mural was then transported to the station and installed in segments.