Getting back on track in Illinois: Investing in rail to improve Midwest mobility

Map of Illinois showing major train lines from Chicago to Carbondale, St. Louis, Quincy, Moline, and Rockford, among others.
Illinois rail map, with new lines in green (Amtrak)

There is good news for Amtrak riders in Illinois. ELPC has long supported expansion of inter-city rail service in the Midwest. Choosing rail travel over driving or flying reduces air pollution that contributes to climate change and harms public health. In the spring 2019 legislative session, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly dramatically increased funding for Amtrak to support existing passenger rail projects and expand the Illinois rail network to other cities.

The Illinois General Assembly passed and Governor Pritzker signed a $45 billion infrastructure bill. While ELPC had concerns about portions of the infrastructure bill, there were positive transportation elements, especially for mass transit and rail. These projects include Chicago Transit Authority improvements, Metra extensions, downstate transit improvements, and a significant expansion of the Amtrak Illinois rail network.

Two New Rail Lines

Rendering of new train station built in Moline to receive Amtrak passengers from Chicago on new Illinois rail line
New train station in Moline, IL (Quad City Times)

Amtrak projects included in the Illinois infrastructure program include two new passenger rail lines. $225 million was included to complete the passenger service from Chicago to Quad Cities. The Quad Cities line has been in the works for many years and ELPC is hopeful that after many years of delays, the project will move forward. When completed, this line will offer twice-daily round trips between Chicago and Moline. The line would include stops in Princeton, Mendota, Plano, Naperville, LaGrange, and Chicago Union Station.

Icon for the old Land O'Corn train line from Chicago to Waterloo, Iowa. Shows an Illinois passenger rail train crossing a river behind corn stalks
Land O’Corn line brochure (Illinois Central Railroad)

According to Visit Quad Cities, this line would have a $25 million annual economic impact and bring in hundreds of permanent jobs to the Quad Cities. Looking further ahead, we hope this spurs sufficient interest in Iowa to extend the line to Iowa City and Des Moines.

Also in the infrastructure bill, $275 million was appropriated to restore passenger rail service from Chicago to Rockford. A service called the Land O’Corn line once ran through Rockford from Chicago to Waterloo, Iowa. Later, the Black Hawk line ran through Rockford to Dubuque but service was discontinued in 1981. The restoration of service has been in the works for years, but was put on hold in 2015. This appropriation is welcome news for the Rockford area.

New Support for Existing Rail Lines

The infrastructure program also included $100 million for track improvements on the Illini/Saluki Line which runs from Chicago to Champaign to Carbondale and $122 million for the Lincoln Service Springfield Rail Improvement Project. The Lincoln Service runs four times a day from Chicago to St. Louis and 2019 saw record ridership on the line. The 310-mile-long Illini/Saluki Line also had increased ridership in 2019 over 2018.

Improvements in both lines will lead to better service and help students attending the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Eastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Illinois State University, and the University of Illinois-Springfield. The two new lines and the significant rail improvements to existing lines will lead to better train service throughout Illinois.



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