High speed rail in Illinois is getting strong support from metro-east residents, with more than 200 coming to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center on Tuesday evening for an open house style presentation from the Illinois High-Speed Rail and the Illinois Department of Transporation.
Another recurring theme from the crowd was support for a station in East St. Louis, an idea supported this week by the St. Clair County Board.
The project manager was quick to explain that high speed rail is a long process, and this is just stage two. "There's no money to build anything," said Francesco Bedini Jacobini, of the Illinois Department of Transportation, explaining that the process requires proof process and need. IDOT had only last week filed a statement of intent; now comes an enviromental impact statement and data gathering, including public input, for "those who will be beneficiarys of the services," Bedini Jacobini said.
So far, IDOT has indentified two ways to get the Chicago line to St. Louis through the metro-east: the "Merchants Route," which uses track through Granite City and crosses the Mississippi at Merchants Bridge just north of Venice; and the "MacArthur" option, which travels through Venice, Brooklyn and East St. Louis before crossing the river at MacArthur Bridge.
Dinah Campbell, of East St. Louis, was among those supporting the MacArthur option. Her daughter frequently goes to Chicago to visit family and friends, "and just to get away from St. Louis," and has taken the MegaBus during rail construction. Campbell thinks the high speed rail "is a great idea, but it also depends on the time and exactly where they locate" the station.
"There are a lot of people interested, taht's for sure. And that's a good thing," said John O'Neill, one of the consultants for high speed rail at the meeting. O'Neill was there to get public comment. He said the preferred alternative -- MacArthur or Merchants -- will be "the one that works the best." Factors under consideration include faster service, reliability, and safety, all balanced against the startup and the operational costs, he said.
The president of the Missouri Illinois Rail Passenger Association, Rich Eichhorst, takes Amtrak to Chicago about eight times a year.
"We probably won't see high speed rail like China and Europe in our lifetime," Eichhorst said, "but it will get interest. Baby steps."
Contact reporter Mary Cooley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2535.