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Illinois deputy transportation secretary: Amtrak still 'several years out'
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Illinois deputy transportation secretary: Amtrak still 'several years out'

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Doug House, Illinois deputy secretary of transportation, tells U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos that Amtrak is "several years out" from coming to the Quad Cities during a discussion on Oct. 14, 2021.

High-speed passenger rail is still "several years out" from arriving in the Quad Cities, according to Illinois Deputy Secretary of Transportation Doug House.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, brought up the issue during a Facebook Live meeting with House on Thursday as they discussed the state of infrastructure in Illinois and billions of dollars in potential funding if the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House of Representatives.

The bill, which passed the Senate in August, would bring $9.8 billion in federal aid for highways; $1.4 billion for bridge repairs or replacement; $100 million for the expansion of broadband access; and $1.7 billion to improve water infrastructure across the state of Illinois.

"We here in the Quad Cities have been waiting for a very, very long time to get this Amtrak route from Chicago to the Quad Cities," Bustos said. "We've got the station built; it's all ready, it's gorgeous. It's got an accompanying hotel right next to it and all of that."

House said IDOT still was not in a position where a formal timeline could be released.

"While the Quad Cities has been waiting, they haven't been waiting for others to act," House said. "They've acted proactively themselves. What you've seen is the construction of the depot. The state did partner with the release of historic funds to try and help to progress and move forward.

"The depot is constructed; the only thing left is the ticket folks to be standing at the counters and the train to pull up as far as the city of Moline."

House said there was "unified agreement" on bringing passenger rail to the Quad Cities. 

"There are no obstacles in terms of public officials," he said. "What there are, are challenges. You're trying to put public transportation — Amtrak — onto a privately-held entity, which is the railroad, and we're running them on those lines."

House said construction of an entirely new rail line from Chicago to Moline would be cost-prohibitive, so it's necessary to have agreements in place between the Illinois Department of Transportation and Iowa Interstate Railroad, the company that owns the rail lines. 

"We've been working very closely with the railroads," he said. "We had a conversation with the railroads recently that made us feel very positive about how it's going, and we felt both they and the Department of Transportation were bargaining and talking in good faith. We intend to follow up and work on those conversations to complete the scope for the work that needs to be completed. 

"Remember, these lines that are currently being utilized, transport freight or livestock or cars. What we're asking them to do is step up from a Class II or (Class) III and go to the highest level, where they will be transporting people, and that's a whole different thing. Safety is always the No. 1 concern, making sure we get this right with our local partners and private partners, to get a good agreement in place that will serve the citizens of the Quad Cities well, is absolutely critical to us."

House said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was "absolutely committed" to bringing passenger rail to the Quad Cities. 

"It is a priority of his; it is a priority of ours here at IDOT, and we'll continue to work together with our federal partners as well," House said. "We've been talking with federal Amtrak managers.

"But we're probably several years out yet."

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