Friday marked the start of high-speed rail service in Illinois. The inaugural Amtrak train traveled through central Illinois as the view of red and golden foliage and harvested farmland whipped by.
Usually, trains traveled about 79 miles per hour through the corridor between Dwight and Pontiac, Ill., but the trains can now start going 110 mph. The inaugural train ride left Joliet around 11:00 a.m. and arrived in Normal a little after noon. By 2015, about 75 percent of the route between Chicago and St. Louis is expected to have high speed rail service, saving commuters about 55 minutes from current travel times.
Many Illinois elected officials, mostly Democrats, were on board the inaugural ride. They argued that creating these high-speed rail corridors serves future commuters.
“This is a bonanza for Illinois and it wouldn’t be happening if we didn’t have high speed rail,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told reporters on the train. Shortly before his comments to the media, he and other public officials, including Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, cheered as the train reached 111 mph for the first time.
They argued that federal stimulus money helped fund the project and created thousands of jobs around Illinois.
Meanwhile, some Republican leaders around the Midwest have rejected federal money for high speed rail.
“There is a faction in Congress that believes in zero funding for Amtrak. Zero,” said Durbin. “We have just got to work through them and show on a bipartisan basis nationally that this is a winner. It’s a winner for jobs. It’s a winner for job creation.”