Two new rail agreements valued at $1.1 billion (Chicago and North Carolina) were approved by the Federal Railroad Administration this week. They are expected to significantly improve and expand passenger rail in Illinois and North Carolina while bolstering local economies.
In North Carolina, $461 million in federal funds will be made available to the state as a result of an agreement the North Carolina Department of Transportation reached with Norfolk Southern Railway Co., Amtrak, and the North Carolina Railroad Co. In Illinois, $685 billion will be made available for rail improvements to the St. Louis-Chicago corridor. Work is slated to get underway as early as April 5 following successful negotiations between the Illinois Department of Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad.
The agreements were announced Tuesday by top federal, state, and local officials in Illinois and North Carolina.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement regarding the North Carolina agreement that it "is the sixth agreement between the states and a host freight railroad for a major high-speed-rail corridor funded under the recovery act, and it ensures that these grants will improve passenger rail service in North Carolina, while preserving the world-class freight-rail system we have today."
Gov. Bev Perdue said the funding will help modernize the state's rail system while bringing 4,000 jobs to the state.
"Rail is a critical component in North Carolina's economic development infrastructure," Perdue said in a statement. "Improving speed and efficiency for both passenger and freight services demonstrates our commitment to the future."
Perdue noted the federal money will allow the state to proceed with 24 construction projects in 11 counties that include adding double tracks between Charlotte and Greensboro as well as building a dozen new bridges to eliminate at-grade highway crossings that will relieve traffic congestion and improve safety. Also included is funding to refurbish locomotives and rail cars, and add a fourth daily round trip between Charlotte and Raleigh.
"We’re grateful to Norfolk Southern for partnering with us in putting people back to work and better serving shippers in North Carolina," said North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti. "We’ll be providing an improved transportation alternative for travelers that also saves energy, reduces carbon emissions, and protects the environment."
Illinois Project to Increase Train Speeds Between Chicago & St. Louis
In Chicago, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo joined Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn; Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Dan Lipinski, both D-Illinois; and Union Pacific officials at the Amtrak Locomotive Facility to announce a $685 million agreement to begin construction on new track that will enable trains to travel up to 110 mph on the Chicago-St. Louis line by next year.
The agreement "kick starts the next phase of the project and ushers in more than $650 million of construction, and an estimated 6,200 jobs, starting this summer," Durbin said in a statement.
Illinois plans to contribute $42 million in additional capital funding for the passenger rail projects.
"Bringing high-speed rail to Illinois has been a top priority of my administration because of the thousands of jobs and long-term investment it will bring to our state," Quinn said in a statement. "This important partnership with the Union Pacific Railroad and the Obama administration will boost our efforts to make Illinois the high-speed rail hub of the Midwest."
Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig said his department is proud to be leaders on a project that will reduce congestion, benefit the environment, and spark economic development.
"We will see the returns on our efforts to develop the Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed corridor for years to come," Hannig said.