The Illinois legislature sent Gov. J.B. Pritzker a bill that would create the High-Speed Railway Commission, which would be tasked with developing a “statewide plan for a high-speed rail line and feeder network connecting St. Louis, Missouri, and Chicago that includes current existing Amtrak and Metra services; connects the cities of Rockford, Moline, Peoria and Decatur; and uses intercity bus service to coordinate with the rail line.”
“The commission will provide a forum that the Illinois Department of Transportation can use to go from its current wish list of projects to a true, statewide plan,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the High Speed Rail Alliance. “HSRA has been an advocate for creating this commission for more than three years. This is a major step forward for our alliance and for the nation.”
HSRA envisions a plan that would modernize intercity and commuter trains, transit systems, and buses — and integrate them into a connected network, with a 220-mph high-speed trunk line to tie the statewide network together.
“We are far past diminishing returns from investing in highways,” Harnish said. “They are a big expense for drivers, cities and municipalities, and there’s really no way to improve on that system. Trains could be a game changer. People could stay where they are and still earn a living. Companies like Caterpillar and ADM would still be here.”
The alliance, which initiated and helped draft the bill, says that, when done right, with other railroads, roads, and walkways going over or under the tracks, high-speed rail is twice as fast as driving and more convenient than short flights.
"The timing of the legislation is opportune, with the Biden Administration pushing hard for more rail funding and travel rebounding as the country emerges from the pandemic,” said Joseph P. Schwieterman, director, Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development DePaul University. “Forming the commission gives the high-speed rail movement added momentum and greater opportunity to build the intergovernmental collaborations needed to move complex projects forward."
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, and Rep. Marty Moylan, D-DesPlaines.
“Investing in a high-speed rail network gives people new options for traveling quickly and safely across the state,” Stadelman said. “With that comes economic growth, which is why connecting Rockford to Chicago though rail has always been one of my top priorities.”
Stadelman credited Harnish and the High Speed Rail Alliance “for helping develop and pass this legislation, which ultimately will provide a statewide masterplan to modernize rail travel and carry Illinois far into the future.”
The law requires the commission’s plan to include a ridership study, findings and recommendations concerning a governance structure, frequency of service, and implementation. An annual report would go to the General Assembly and the governor no later than Dec. 31 of each year.
The commission will be composed of appointees by the governor, the four top leaders in the General Assembly, the Transportation secretary, chairs of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, Interstate Commerce Commission and Metra board of directors, the Chicago mayor, a rail workers union, a rail-industry trade group, the Metropolitan Mayors and Managers Association, Illinois Railroad Association, the University of Illinois System, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Illinois Municipal League, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and regional planning agencies from the Rockford, Bloomington, and Metro East (St. Louis) areas. The commission is authorized to work from the bill’s signing through 2026.