If rail passenger service to Peoria is feasible, it would involve same-train service to and from Union Station in Chicago. But the Amtrak/IDOT study initiated in 2006 but not completed until 2011 called for a East Peoria-Normal rail shuttle to connect passengers with existing Amtrak service.
I’ve already explained why this is a bad idea. Unfortunately, the plan’s boosters keep making it worse, slower and costlier.
They’re now proposing an interurban-type service between Peoria and Bloomington airports, with stops in between in downtown Peoria, East Peoria, Morton, Goodfield, Carlock, Normal and downtown Bloomington.
You read that right. The news transportation idea to link Peoria with the nation’s intercity rail passenger network is going to require a circuitous routing with all new right-of-way, serve both downtowns and stop five more stations in between. One who boards in downtown Peoria will be lucky to reach downtown Bloomington (and that bus connection to the Amtrak depot in Normal) in under two hours.
Something similar has already existed. Not between the two airports, but between Peoria and Bloomington downtowns. The Illinois Traction System began this service on April 21, 1907. Multiple frequencies catered to those traveling for business and leisure.
The ITS service was successful in those early years because it catered to local travelers whereas the steam roads did not (one could also ride the Lake Erie & Western Railway and Peoria & Eastern Railway between Peoria and Bloomington). Then came the automobile and publicly-funded paved highways.
The interurban could only survive as a freight-hauler. A portion of the route linking Peoria with Bloomington and Decatur was targeted for salvage during World War Two, but it was spared thanks to grass roots opposition in online cities and towns. Wartime gas rationing returned heavy patronage to the railroads anyway. But a short time after the war ended, people returned to the roads. The interurban lost money on its passenger service, and there was no hope for another revival.
On February 21, 1953, Illinois Terminal Railroad electric interurban passenger cars between made their final runs between Peoria, Bloomington and Decatur. The tracks between Mackinaw, Bloomington and Forsyth (just north of Decatur) were scrapped shortly thereafter. In June 1955, Illinois Terminal ended its Peoria-Springfield-St. Louis service.
The last passenger service between Peoria and Bloomington ended in June 1955 when the Peoria & Eastern’s train from Indianapolis began turning at Pekin. This train lasted until October 1957.
Interstate 74 was completed between Peoria and Bloomington between 1961 and 1966. Today, it is possible to drive between the two metro areas in under one hour. Although there is considerable commuter traffic in this corridor, origins and destinations are spread far and wide.
Unless we close Interstate 74, Route 150 and Route 9, reviving an interurban-type service is a waste of taxpayer’s money and will not attract enough patronage to sustain it existence.
I’m a hard-core rail enthusiast, but I’m also realistic. This is 2013, not 1953. Transportation infrastructure and travel habits have changed. Cities have sprawled out and population isn’t as contentrated as it used to be. Proposals in IDOT’s embarrassing 2011 feasibility study were bad enough, why make it worse?
- David P. Jordan