Officials tout high-speed rail construction

CHICAGO (AP) — The next phase of construction on a high-speed rail route between Chicago and St. Louis will begin next month, a high-stakes transportation project that could create more than 6,000 jobs, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced Tuesday.

“Today’s agreement marks another major step towards making high-speed rail a reality in Illinois,” Quinn said in a statement.

With high-speed trains eventually able to travel up to 110 mph, the travel time between St. Louis and Chicago would be cut to less than four hours.

Illinois has been awarded $1.2 billion in federal money to expand passenger rail and the state has promised to kick in another $42 million. Last year, Quinn and Durbin debuted the first $98 million in upgrades to a 90-mile stretch of track from Alton, just northeast of St. Louis, to Lincoln for the high-speed route.

The latest $685 million section of the construction project is scheduled to start April 5 and includes building new rail track using concrete ties between Dwight and Lincoln and between Alton and the Mississippi River. A modernized signal system will also be installed between Dwight and Alton, Quinn’s office said.

Trains traveling at 110 mph on the 284-mile Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor could debut between Dwight and Pontiac as early as next year, Quinn’s office said. Upgrades to the Dwight-Alton portion of the corridor are expected to be finished by 2014.

“The federally funded construction agreement announced today kick starts the next phase of the project and ushers in more than $650 million of construction, and an estimated 6,200 jobs, starting this summer,” Durbin said in a statement.

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