Photo by Diane Cox
Alton resident Bowen Ayres examines a presentation board about the new high-speed railway at a meeting June 9 at the Atrium Hotel in Alton.
ALTON — The Illinois Department of Transportation hosted an open house meeting June 9 at the Atrium Hotel to allow the public to discuss a Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed rail project.
More than 200 residents had an opportunity to speak with IDOT representatives about the 284-mile project, including construction schedules, improvements, safety concerns and how it will affect homeowners.
“This project will be wonderful for the city of Alton and surrounding areas,” Alton Mayor Brant Walker said. “We are building nearby hotels and current hotels are being refurbished. This takes us back to a time where the state and federal government worked together on projects to improve our infrastructure and make our country stronger.”
Godfrey resident Edie Chappell remembers her son’s love of trains as a child and said she’s excited people will have a more cost-effective way to travel between Chicago and St. Louis.
“I have two daughters who live in the Chicago area, so the high-speed rail would make trips to visit them easier,” she said. “As I continue to get older, there will come a time that I won’t be able to drive up to Chicago to see them. My daughter has already been using the train to come home for visits, so this will make her experience more enjoyable. This will definitely make family connections easier and faster. I think this will benefit the Alton and Godfrey area.”
David Wind of Alton went to the meeting to have safety concerns answered by IDOT officials. His family home is just 60 feet from the track.
“We’re concerned about how close this is going to extend onto our property,” Wind said. “We are already right up against the rail-line and all they’re telling us today is that we will have a 6-foot ornamental wrought-iron fence between a train traveling 110 miles per hour and our neighborhood. We have a big hill between the train and our home; that hill is going to be gone. If that train comes off the track, what’s going to keep it from plowing down our homes?
“Things that have made our family home a great place to live are going to be removed,” he said. “What used to be a really nice wooded area that could bring a lot of money when we go to sell our house is now going to be train tracks. This will hurt our property value significantly. Now we’re having to decide if we stay or go, and from what I’m seeing here today, we’re going.”
IDOT Passenger Rail Marketing Manager Scott Speegle said the high-speed rail is slated to be completed in 2017 and will have greater reliability and at least an 85 percent on-time rating. Travel time between Chicago and Alton corridor will decrease by more than hour.
“We are doing major safety upgrades throughout the corridor,” Speegle said. “We are taking steps to help improve and minimize any chances of accidents and provide greater amenities with upgraded stations. The stations will be easier for passengers to reach and will be more comfortable.”
New locomotives and passenger cars are being assembled, with some locomotives slated for delivery later this summer.
“We are working on the locomotives and passenger cars, but there is still some testing to be done on them,” Speegle said. “Over the course of the next year, we will have a total of 33 new locomotives. The passenger cars are still having some work done on them; the schedule is still a little up in the air right now. We want them to be safe and ready for passengers when the time comes.”
Funding is being provided from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, Madison County Transit, the city of Alton and other government agencies. As construction begins, IDOT and the city of Alton expect only minor delays for motorists.
“We may have some minor traffic issues throughout the construction process,” Walker said. “Those areas will most likely be just right around the new train station. We are going from roughly 900 square feet to 9,000 square feet. Our current train station is around 90 to 100 years old. As train usage increases, the new space at the train station will make for a more pleasurable experience.”
Construction on the Alton station has begun, with all job bidding complete. The station is scheduled to be finished by spring of 2017. Train passengers should not expect too many service interruptions or delays during the construction phase. The number of stops will stay the same and there won’t be any service changes.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Jan. 28, 2010, Illinois was selected for a $1.2 billion federal award for the Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed railway corridor. According to Alton Director of Development Greg Caffey, $13.8 million of the federal award was allocated for the Alton station. The city of Alton was required to match $3.4 million toward the project. After donating $1.2 million in land value, water and sewer upgrades and utility costs, the remaining $2.2 million is being split between Alton and Madison County Transit.
More information about the project can be found on the IDOT website at idothsr.org. Questions and comments can be made by calling (855) 436-8477. IDOT is posting updates on facebook.com/illinoishighspeedrail.