Exactly thirty years ago this past January, the last passenger train, the Peoria Rocket, departed from Peoria. Amtrak’s Prairie Marksman served East Peoria starting in August 1980, but service was discontinued a year later. After that, the closest Amtrak station was in Chillicothe, but service there ended in 1996. Since then, the Peoria area has been without passenger rail service. Today, the closest cities with Amtrak service are Normal and Galesburg.
But that may soon change. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Jim Ardis and Senator Dick Durbin, Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) are currently working on a feasibility study on restoring passenger rail service to Peoria from Chicago’s Union Station. The study, which is expected to be published this summer, will outline the potential demand, available routes, and estimated cost of bringing Amtrak to the Peoria area.
Why Bring Amtrak to Peoria?
Amtrak ridership is up nationwide, and Illinois is no exception to that trend. Amtrak reports that ridership on trains between Chicago and St. Louis “was up 16.5 percent in Fiscal 2008 over 2007. Ridership increased 18.5 percent on the Chicago-Carbondale route, was up 19.8 percent on the Chicago-Quincy route, and grew 25.9 percent on the Hiawathas.” This trend continues in 2009. In January, ridership between Chicago and St. Louis was up 12 percent over the same period in 2008, according to figures released by IDOT.
More people are choosing to travel by train, and more communities are requesting passenger rail access. Amtrak recently completed studies on adding train service to Rockford and the Quad Cities. Peoria, with the third-largest metropolitan statistical area in the state—over 370,000 residents—would be a natural addition as well.
Restoring passenger rail service to Peoria would connect our population to the national rail transportation system. Travelers from Peoria could go anywhere in the U.S. that Amtrak serves—and just as importantly, travelers from all over the U.S. could come to Peoria. Peorians traveling to Chicago by train would benefit from low fares (significantly cheaper than the cost of driving to and parking in Chicago) and no traffic congestion. By leaving the “driving” to Amtrak, transit time can be used for work or leisure. Likewise, college students, businessmen and women, and tourists will find Amtrak to be a convenient way to travel to Peoria and enjoy our community. Bringing Amtrak and its ridership into the community will have a positive economic impact on the region.
There are also environmental benefits to passenger rail service. The U.S. Department of Energy found that Amtrak is more energy-efficient than either automobile or commercial air travel. “Amtrak energy intensity was 2,935 British Thermal Units (BTUs) per passenger-mile and commercial airlines were 3,587. Commuter rail was 2,751 and automobiles were 3,549 BTUs,” according to the DOE’s Transportation Energy Data Book. By taking the train, we can lower the carbon footprint of our trips. It is simply more energy-efficient to take the train directly from Peoria than to drive to Chicago, or even Normal or Galesburg, to catch the train there.
Nationally, a greater emphasis is being placed on sustainable transportation networks—with less dependence on the automobile, and thus, less oil consumption and dependence on imported oil—and passenger rail is part of that national strategy. Last October, Congress passed and the president signed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which authorized $13.1 billion for Amtrak over the next five years. The recent stimulus bill included $1.3 billion in additional Amtrak funding, as well as $8 billion for high-speed rail. Locally, Senator Durbin has been supportive of adding new service to Illinois cities and improving existing service, and the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission’s long-range transportation plan lists as a top priority: “connect with Amtrak.”
Finally, consider that transportation is an essential service, imperative for the safety and mobility of Illinois citizens. Improving our transportation options improves our overall infrastructure, and our economy benefits from the jobs brought by infrastructure improvement. The economy is also helped by making our city more attractive to potential employers and employees, who are increasingly looking for greener cities in which to live and work.
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