WEEK TV-25 is reporting on its website that US Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis met last week to discuss connecting Peoria with high-speed rail at Normal. There are numerous flaws to this plan. Let me analyze the article point by point:
“Connecting Peoria with the high speed rail hub in Bloomington-Normal is an investment in the future of Central Illinois that will give residents and visitors access to travel and business opportunities throughout Illinois,” Durbin said.
Central Illinois residents and visitors already have access to travel and business opportunities through the state. It is called driving your private automobile on taxpayer-funded highways. For passenger rail to work in Peoria, it has to give travelers a marked improvement over existing options. Forcing passengers to make a connection just to reach their primary destination (Chicago) is hardly an improvement (people can get to Chicago now without changing cars, buses, or even planes).
The Amtrak station in Normal is the busiest in Illinois outside of Chicago and a considerable amount of that ridership is from the Peoria area. According to the Economic Development Council of Central Illinois, more than 7,500 people travel between the Peoria area and Bloomington-Normal from work on a daily basis.
Two sentences, two different markets. A rail connection to “high speed” trains at Normal would service the Peoria-Chicago market, but many officials who advocate this plan consider it a potential rail commuter corridor as well. Problem is, the origin and destination for these 7,500 people are spread far and wide between the two metro areas. Relatively few would find convenient the proposed stations on either end.
It has been estimated that over 95% of these commuters travel alone in a single-occupancy vehicle. A study to investigate passenger rail options is the first step to better connecting these two hubs and reducing travel times and congestion while improving air quality in the region.
Rail is not going to reduce transit times between Peoria and Bloomington-Normal. Too short of distance. And I-74, while crowded much of each weekday, is hardly “congested.” Recent capacity expansion and rebuilding lanes and ramps in both metro areas ensures overcrowding will not be a factor for many years, if ever.
Ardis sees more than just potential work commuters from area businesses, such as Caterpillar Mitsubishi. He says potential customers between the universities- Bradley, ISU, and Illinois Wesleyan- could also bring big business for Amtrak.
ISU and Illinois Wesleyan students already have the option of using Amtrak to and from Chicago. Peoria is close enough that for students who live there, rail commuter service isn’t a desirable option, especially with the need for connectivity at either end. Take a car or bus, you might as well drive all the way.
US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, supports the addition of his hometown to the rail system. He says, “It would be a mode of transportation that currently does not exist; it would be an opportunity to really connect the region.”
That’s LaHood’s position now. Wait ten minutes.
In summary, rail passenger service will only work for Peoria if it provides a direct, same train connection to Chicago. Peoria-Twin Cities commuter service isn’t needed and forcing passengers to make a connection at Normal eliminates any advantage of so called “high speed” rail service. A plan such as this costs far more than it is worth.
No wonder politicians support it.
- David P. Jordan