City, state leaders looking to bring high-speed passenger rail trains to Peoria

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria representatives are once again trying to bring the downtown train to Peoria.

State leaders said, for too long, the city has been left behind when it comes to passenger rail.

“When you look at a map of Illinois there’s no reason why Peoria does not have rail service,” Ray LaHood, former Illinois congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary said. “It’s the second-largest metropolitan area in Illinois.”

“What we want to do as a top priority is make sure that residents in Central Illinois, in particular Peoria, have the ability to have access to rail,” State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth, (D-Peoria) said.

In a closed meeting Friday morning at city hall, more than a dozen city and state leaders came together to discuss ways to bring high-speed passenger rail to Peoria and make the city part of the Amtrak system.

Dr. Rita Ali, Peoria’s mayor, said this is one of her top priorities. She said traveling to nearby cities, like Normal and Galesburg, may not be feasible for everyone in order to hop on a train.

“We’re in the heart of the country and everybody doesn’t own a car,” Ali said. “Access is important. That’s an equity issue right there. Everybody can’t drive to Bloomington or they can’t drive to Galesburg. So, we want access for everyone and that opportunity to travel whether it’s for social, cultural, business, work.”

LaHood said it’s probably been about 50 years since the last time passenger rail was in Peoria, and said it’s long overdue. Leaders said Peoria would most likely be a hub connecting to other areas.

“We’re looking at Peoria as a center of that system as a whole, not as an end destination, more so as part of the system,” Omer Osman, the state’s Secretary of Transportation, said.

“We’re talking about connecting our region to the rest of Illinois and to a multi-state region so if you wanted to get on a train in Peoria, you can end up in Washington D.C or Indianapolis, which you can’t do today,” LaHood said.

They said the first step moving forward would be creating a “pre-feasibility” study to send to Amtrak or the Federal Transit Administration.

“That takes a long time,” Osman said. “It does have to look at lots and lots of information data including ridership, including what rail system do we have.”

“You can’t just go to Amtrak with a lot of goodwill and say we’ve been left out, you have to go with ridership numbers and that’s what we hope the study will show,” LaHood said.

Gordon-Booth said they were able to put some money in a capital bill in 2019 to fund the study. Leaders said they hope the study will take six months while they also try to secure state funding as well as funding from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill Congress is trying to pass.

“Projects like this are incredibly capital intense, these projects typically cost in the hundreds of millions, if not, billions of dollars,” Gordon-Booth said. “The reason it is absolutely pivotal that we move forward quickly now is because we probably, in most of our lifetimes, will not see this much money in our system that will be available for Peoria or for anywhere in the country for that matter.”

Ali said she and LaHood are going to continue having meetings on the first Friday of every month to continue elevating the discussion. LaHood said this is a project that will take years to complete but will ultimately benefit the area in the long run.

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