MOLINE — Work is underway to launch passenger rail service between Chicago and the Quad-Cities, although Amtrak may not operate the line.
Quad-Citians received an update on the project from the Illinois Department of Transportation Thursday afternoon at an open house at the i wireless Center in Moline. Phase I of the project is well underway, according toJohn Schwalbach, Chicago to Quad-Cities route project manager for the engineering consulting firm of URS.
Phase I work includes preliminary engineering and environmental assessment and impact studies, he said. Final design will begin when that work is completed next winter, he said.
If all goes well, rail work could begin next year in Wyanet about 50 miles east of the Quad-Cities, Mr. Schwalbach said. However, he said, it is more likely work will begin in 2014 and the rail line will open in late 2015.
The route to Moline will follow an existing BNSF railway from Chicago to Princeton, which already serves Amtrak, before connecting to an existing Iowa Interstate Railroad at Wyanet. A connection for the two lines must be built near Wyanet.
Todd Popish, IDOT project manager for the Chicago to Quad-Cities line, said only two miles of track near Aurora needs upgrading. The bulk of improvements would be made on 52 miles of Iowa Interstate Railroad track, allowing the maximum train speed to increase from its current 40 mph to 79 mph.
Other improvements include constructing a rail station in downtown Moline and Geneseo, a lay-over facility in Rock Island, rail yard improvements in Silvis, a second main line track between Rock Island and Silvis and new rail equipment.
Once work is complete, twice daily round-trip service would be offered between Chicago and the Quad-Cities with stops in Geneseo, Princeton, Mendota and Plano.
Mr. Popish said the goal for launching passenger rail service in the Quad-Cities was moved from 2014 to 2015 because planning couldn't begin until Iowa officials decided on service from the Quad-Cities to Iowa City and from there to Omaha. AlthoughIowa is conducting an environmental impact study, there currently are no plans for service to Iowa City or beyond.
Late last year, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded $177.3 million to IDOT for passenger rail service between Chicago and the Quad-Cities. The state also is contributing $45 million.
In May 2011, IDOT received $268 million to buy 48 high performance rail cars and seven quick accelerating locomotives. The new equipment will be used on eight corridors in the Midwest, including the Chicago to Quad-Cities route, according to IDOT.
Although Amtrak is the proposed operator of the Chicago to Quad-Cities passenger rail route, that choice has not been finalized, according toMiriam Gutierrez, IDOT bureau chief for high speed and passenger rail.
This isthe first time the state is buying, and will own, rail cars and locomotives, she said. Usually, the state leases equipment from Amtrak.Because the state will own the equipment, the phone has begun ringing from other passenger rail operators inquiring about running the line, she said.
IDOT has an annual contract with Amtrak for other routes in the state, running from July 1 to June 30, Mr. Popish said. Theoperation of some state passenger rail lines could be put out for bid, he said.
Another open house on the project is planned4-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Geneseo Public Library, 805 N. Chicago St., Geneseo.
Moline station work won't have to wait
Track work can start in Moline the same time it begins east of the Quad-Cities, according to Moline Mayor Don Welvaert.
On Thursday, Mayor Welvaert said officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation officials have told the city track work could begin in Moline at the same time as work near Wyanet, rather than making the Moline part of the project wait on the westward progression of the rail work.
A multi-modal station in Moline has received a $10 million federal grant for construction. MetroLINK, which is overseeing the station construction, must start spending the funds by December and begin construction by March 2013, or the federal contract can be terminated.
The IDOT decision means Moline should be able to meet the federal requirements, Mayor Welvaert said, and prepare for passenger rail service.
"We have to have some design completed in Moline to let us properly place the loading platform," he said.
Today is Wednesday, Dec. 11, the 345th day of 2013. There are 20 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: The message of Abraham Lincoln, read in congress yesterday, is published in full in our paper today, with a new proclamation relating the terms upon which states can return to the union. 1888 — 125 years ago: An appropriation has been made by congress for the improvement of the upper Mississippi River with $200,000 set aside for the portion of the river between Keokuk and the mouth of the Illinois River. 1913 — 100 years ago: Work of remodeling First Swedish Lutheran Church at 4th Avenue and 14th Street was nearly completed. 1938 — 75 years ago: An unexplained outbreak of tularemia (rabbit fever) in the state has Illinois public health officials puzzled. Ten persons have died, and 243 are officially reported ill with the infection. 1963 — 50 years ago: A dramatic, multi-million dollar riverfront improvement project for the downtown area of Rock Island was unveiled at a meeting of 200 civic leaders at noon today. 1988 — 25 years ago: For several supporters of the Dispatch Goodfellow/Argus Santa program their donation is a year long project. Emma Pugh and Anne Persinger spent a good part of their spare time this year knitting forty pairs of mittens and slippers.