Illinois is making plans to ask for yet another extension to complete work on the Chicago-to-Moline passenger rail connection, according to a state official.
No final decision has been made yet on whether to seek the extension, the official said, but if it happens, it would be the second consecutive year that Illinois has asked for more time.
The federal government awarded a grant in late 2010 for the rail connection, with $177 million devoted to the link between Chicago and Moline.
Despite initial pledges that the service would start as early as in 2013, the project has been delayed. Last fall, the Federal Railroad Administration granted Illinois' request to give it extend the federal funding through the end of September. At the time, the state it also would submit a detailed schedule to the federal government.
Asked about the schedule this week, Kelsea Gurski, an Illinois Department of Transportation spokesperson, said in an email its plan had been filed with the federal government last year. "No new plan has been submitted, though IDOT is planning to submit paperwork later this year to extend the grant," she said.
Gurski said in a later email that no final decision had been made about an extension but noted that it had said last fall that this was an option.
The state recently said that it had come to a memorandum of understanding with the Iowa Interstate Railroad to reimburse it for engineering costs associated with determining what improvements need to be made to accommodate passenger traffic. And Gurski said that work is proceeding and "will inform a schedule going forward."
Iowa Interstate owns the approximately 50 miles of track between Wyanet, Illinois, and Moline.
A Federal Railroad Administration official said it was his understanding an extension was in the works.
Jeff Nelson, general manager of MetroLINK, said Tuesday he hadn't heard there would be an extension but he saw it as a commitment the state is still willing to move forward.
"I would assume an extension means they’re still interested in moving forward instead of terminating the project," he said. The state is expected to commit $45 million to the project.
Last year, after Quad-City officials lobbied Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state said it would move forward on the project.
Meanwhile, it appears the multi-modal station that will receive rail passengers still is on track. Nelson said it would be ready later this month. Developers of the new Element hotel, which is being built at the same site, expect to open it this fall.
Despite the rail project lagging behind initial expectations for its start, there have been some signs of progress. In addition to the agreement with the Iowa Interstate Railroad, just last month, Paul Nissenbaum, associate administrator in the Federal Railroad Administration's office of railroad policy and development, told a congressional panel the federal government still is committed to partnering with the state on the project.
The rail project is aimed at establishing a twice daily service between Moline and Chicago with four stops in between and an average travel time of about three and a half hours, with train speeds at up to 79 mph. It also would leave open the possibility of speeds up to 110 mph. The last time there was passenger rail service to the Quad-Cities was in the 1970s.