April 2012
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Passenger Rail or Eastern Bypass?

Of course the title of this post need not be an either/or question. But I pose the question that way because I want to draw some contrasts between the two projects.

Peoria currently has four automobile bridges across the Illinois River (McClugage, Murray Baker, Bob Michel, and Cedar Street). Peoria does not currently have passenger rail service.

The Eastern Bypass would connect Route 6 at Mossville to I-74 near Morton via a north-easterly route in Tazewell County. Passenger rail service (as currently proposed) would connect Peoria to Chicago and St. Louis via Bloomington/Normal.

The Eastern Bypass is estimated to cost $650-700 million to build. The estimated cost to establish a passenger rail link between Peoria and Normal is $74.6 million.

Building the Eastern Bypass will require acquisition of the entire corridor via eminent domain and result in the destruction of more farmland. All that’s required to establish passenger rail service is the upgrading of existing rail lines.

There have been three public hearings and at least four major studies completed so far for the Eastern Bypass. There have been no public hearings and only one limited feasibility report on establishing passenger rail service to Peoria.

Opponents of passenger rail service (like Ray LaHood) contend that it’s convenient — or at least perfectly acceptable — for Peoria area residents to drive to Bloomington (40 miles away) to catch the train. Supporters of the Eastern Bypass (like the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission) say it’s too inconvenient for those in North Peoria to drive to the McClugage bridge (10 miles away) to cross the river, or to experience minor congestion for a few minutes twice a day.

IDOT has devoted several pages of their website to the Eastern Bypass study with encouragements to the public to get involved and a depository of study documents. The only thing on IDOT’s website about the possibility of establishing passenger rail service to Peoria is the aforementioned feasibility report which can be downloaded from IDOT’s Amtrak page.

Passenger rail is cheaper to establish, more sustainable to maintain, more ecologically and socially responsible, and covers a greater distance, yet it’s perceived as a greater cost to taxpayers than a highway that is nearly ten times as expensive, unnecessary, unsustainable, and only moves you in circles. Read the newspaper and you’ll see the cost of the Eastern Bypass mentioned in passing at the end of the article, as if it’s being included with a shrug saying, “that’s the way it is these days; everything costs money.” But read an article about passenger rail, and you’d think we needed to start mining for gold to afford it; the whole focus of the article is on the “tremendous cost to the taxpayers,” even though it’s a fraction of highway funding.

The Eastern Bypass is being pursued by IDOT et. al. with an aura of inevitability. There’s no serious question of “if” it will happen, but rather when and by which route. Meanwhile, IDOT is not giving any serious consideration to the establishment of passenger rail service to Peoria. They spent five years coming up with a “feasibility report” that didn’t even consider direct service to Chicago (which is the study that was actually requested), but instead studied feeder service to Normal, with no explanation of who authorized the change in scope.

At least as much effort should be going into the establishment of direct passenger rail service to Chicago as is going into the development of the Eastern Bypass. Local transportation officials as well as local legislators should be pressuring IDOT to do a real feasibility study–the one that we asked for in the first place. The assumption should be that we are going to get passenger rail service established, and the only question is which route is best (for ridership, cost, future expansion, etc.).

Why shouldn’t we approach passenger rail with the same aura of inevitability as the Eastern Bypass?

39 comments to Passenger Rail or Eastern Bypass?

  • C. J., as usual you have written a well researched piece here with a very reasonable and logical conclusion. The answer to your question at the end is, unfortunately, neither. The fact of the matter is you are not considering the hidden cost of subsidizing Amtrak, a failing industry which the federal government continues to bail out. People are not interested in riding trains. Oh, sure, there are a few of us romantics left who enjoy a ride on the rails. When I was single and in the Navy I would often take the shuttle from San Diego to Los Angeles to visit my parents, since my father worked nearby and could pick me up in his way home. I would imagine there are several here who would visit Chicago by train to avoid the traffic and the parking fees. However, short of an occasional pleasure trip, Americans are too attached to their gas guzzlers and personal independence to want to travel without the ability to come and go as they please. Unless you are on the company credit card, rental cars and hotels are an additional expense most business travelers will avoid. If you are relocating permanently, rail is a slow and imprecise, requiring additional arrangements to get to your ultimate destination. Comparatively, rail often takes days, versus hours via plane. I can even cite a few instances where it is quicker to drive your automobile to a destination than to ride a train.

    The bottom line is that Americans don’t ride trains, or at least not enough of them to warrant the expense of building a service that will require constant infusions of taxpayer dollars to maintain. True, highways require maintenance, but people use the highways.

  • Frederick, I think your view on this outdated and cynical to say the least. Back in the day, rail was “romantic” as you put it but today, with fuel prices on the rise, like gas, which we will never see at Newt’s $2.50 a gal. anymore, people are finding out that mass transit is cheaper in a lot of ways than cars. The big upswing in riders on our own city buses, I think, reflects that already.
    The cost of maintaining and funding AMTRAK is nothing to what we pay for road use each year. Even though Illinois puts millions upon millions into the roads, most are still crappy and most are always under construction. Chicago area? Sooner or later, with the economy and the rising price of gas, which is getting harder and harder to get because of world demand, people are going to forgo driving as much as possible. Americans have been spoiled by years of cheap gas while in Europe, they have been paying through the nose for gas for years hence the great rail and mass transit systems they have. Right now in major cities like New York or Chicago, it is cheaper to ride a cab than own and park a car.
    I think rail service should be built and if it’s to Normal, OK, but I would prefer a direct link to Chicago. My boys go to Chicago twice a month and they park the car ($40 for the day) and ride cabs around the loop the rest of the day. I would think an enjoyable train ride right into the loop and then cab around town would be a lot easier and nicer and less wear and tear on the car. Least we not forget the weather here in Illinois which can make driving down right dangerous. If more and more people took the train, less cars on the road, less wear and tear, and we would save money in road repairs not to mention less pollution. Ahh, but the Right in this country doesn’t want government in anything and that includes the train business, so we won’t have it. We love to spend our money on wars, planes, and bombs. Oh and politicians retirement funds. Because what broke this country wasn’t Bush. It was teachers, firefighters, and police officers. We must cut these instead.

  • P.S. As people, like the middle class continue to struggle, more and more will adjust their lives around mass transit instead of the automobile that back in the 50’s and 60’s was cheap to operate, and cheap to fill with gas. As long as we got people who can afford 2 ton SUVs and think nothing of a $100 fill up, mass transit, including trains will not be an issue. They think; “Hell I got mine, tough if you don’t!”

  • Just some girl

    I spent a year living in Europe when I was younger and can say that I personally loved riding on the trains. They were clean, highly efficient, cheap, and gave me an opportunity to read and relax whenever I wanted to go somewhere. I loved being able to get on the train, have personal time to do what I wanted, and then step off and be at my destination without having to worry about parking, etc. I am sure trains are not for everyone, for all times and all events, but I certainly agree that it’s another transportation option that should be given much, much more serious consideration than what it currently receives.

  • There are already enough highways, but not enough passenger rail lines.
    We need a train running along I-74 from Bloomington to the Quad Cities, through Galesburg and Peoria, so other rail connections would also be possible.

  • And the state and federal government doesn’t have the money to do either.

  • David P. Jordan

    The only real benefit to building an eastern bypass (as part of an I-474 ring road around Peoria) is that it will provide a Illinois River bridge at Mossville. There is a lot of backtracking (i. e., more miles driven and gasoline used) for those driving between Metamora/Germantown Hills and north Peoria, Mossville and Chillicothe. That said, a bridge would be costly, people have lived with the lack of a bridge, and can continue to do so.

    As for rail passenger service, Ray LaHood seems to have changed his tune after he became Secy of Transportation, but most likely for political expediency, not because of a change of heart.

    Governments typically screw things up so Peoria’s only hope may be a privately-operated/funded rail passenger service. Amtrak nationalized most of the nation’s intercity network in 1971 and is generally regarded as the only qualified operator by freight railroads. However, there are some privately-operated services that have grown out of tourist-oriented operations. One is the Saratoga & North Creek, which runs excursions between its namesakes, connecting with Amtrak’s New York-Montreal Adirondack at Saratoga Springs.

    Another is Maine Eastern, which runs excursions between Brunswick and Rockland, Maine. When Amtrak’s Boston-Portland Downeaster trains are extended to Brunswick late this year, MERR will offer connecting service.

    One holding more promise closer to home is the Iowa Interstate RR, which owns and/or operates on the old Peoria Rocket route to Chicago. Parent Railroad Development Corporation (RDC), which formed a joint venture with Hamburg-Koln-Express Gmbh and others in October 2009 plans to offer privately-operated intercity rail passenger service between Hamburg and Koln Germany. The benefit to Peoria? RDC is involved because it wants to see if private rail passenger operations can be profitable without public subsidy, and is expected to look for ways to apply the German experience to N. America.

    Finally, Florida East Coast Railway recently made public its plans to construct a 40-mile line from Orlando to Cocoa and double-track its line south to Miami in order to begin rail passenger service (some up to 125mph) as early as 2014.

  • David P. Jordan

    There are already enough highways, but not enough passenger rail lines.

    Someone is attempting to do penance for supporting the destruction of the Kellar Branch.

    We need a train running along I-74 from Bloomington to the Quad Cities, through Galesburg and Peoria, so other rail connections would also be possible.

    The same someone just don’t read very well. 🙁

  • Ed Sanders

    David P. Jordan wrote: “Finally, Florida East Coast Railway recently made public its plans to construct a 40-mile line from Orlando to Cocoa and double-track its line south to Miami in order to begin rail passenger service (some up to 125mph) as early as 2014.” Interesting point as the Florida East Coast Railway is owned by the Fortress Investment Group – FIG – which also owns Gatehouse Media and therefore Peoria Journal Star and FIG also owns controlling interest in Rail America which owns the Toledo Peoria & Western. That new Florida line will cost 1 Billion bucks which is coming from where? Perhaps by being extra stingy with Gatehouse Media and Rail America will supply some of the money for this project. It is often said that if you want to know the truth just follow the money trail.

  • David P. Jordan


    I wondered about FEC’s ability to do this, but latest the issue of TRAINS magazine notes Fortress has $43.7 billion in assets. Gatehouse Media is comparatively a small fish.

    Honestly, I’ll be surprised if this project actually becomes a reality, but I noted it for the simple fact that private industry may again be considering intercity passenger rail as a profitable enterprise. Which may be the only way Peoria will get its own passenger rail service to Chicago.

  • Cameron

    I can guarantee the bypass will get a LOT of use. I can’t say the same about rail service.

  • Mahkno

    I agree with Cameron. The rail service will depend a lot on the frequency of runs, the dependability on timing, and gas prices.

    Sharing a line with freight should only be a temporary measure. Sharing severely limits scalability.

    I believe Cat would like the bypass… therefore it will happen. Area real estate developers would probably like it too as the freeway would make some areas more attractive to sprawling development.

    A new highway just makes it easier for people to leave Peoria.

  • Dennis in Peoria

    Cost of gas to drive from Peoria to Midway airport to park: about $30.00
    Cost to park for one day at Midway airport: less than $10.00
    Cost of Metra/CTA train from Midway airport to Wrigley Field: $3/person
    Watching the Cubs destroy their opponent last July: priceless

    Frederick, when was the last time you have been inside Union Station?
    If you don’t think people ride trains much, then why are all the lounges full of people waiting, and long lines to get on trains when it’s time to board. Sometimes I think Union Station is almost as busy at O’hare as far a people traffic. At the Normal Amtrak Station waiting on the Northbound train to Chicago, their parking lot and lobby is always full as the train time approaches. At various stops at smaller towns on the way north, you see at least 5-10 people board.

    I prefer using Amtrak when going on business to downtown Chicago as long as I am not having to haul any video gear. In 2010, I took my wife on Amtrak for a Chicago day trip for our wedding anniversary, and she enjoyed it.

    Keep in mind why some powers to be continue to emphasize more routes for the automobile vs. more routes for the trains: Big Oil. The more gas people have to buy = more profits for Big Oil, which = more campaign donations for the Elephants and the Donkeys to squash any initiatives for passenger rail service. More highways = more maintenance, which, if asphalt is used, = more oil needed. (Isn’t asphalt is partly made of oil vs. concrete?)

    More people using the train = less gas purchased which = less profits for
    Big Oil. Follow that money trail.

  • clayton

    I wish I could get behind the train thing, but I had too many negative experiences on trains when I lived around Chicago.

    I would like to see a bridge across the river at Mossville, but more for a route connecting to I-55. I realize that isn’t a popular viewpoint on most blogs.

  • soothsayer

    A Chicago-Peoria-St. Louis train route makes sense. Our area leaders don’t want it, which makes me want to support it all the more. We don’t need any moiré highways or urban sprawl.

  • CEEJ: I’d love to wake up and find there is rail to Chicago. Most people wouild prefer to drive, I’m afraid.

  • I wanted to take the train to Chicago last weekend…for 4 of us to go round trip it was over $200.00…we drove for less than half of that including parking. Why would I take a train and pay more money?

  • In reply to some of the comments:

    • Frederick Smith says that “Americans don’t ride trains” other than “a few of us romantics.” In fact, 30.2 million passengers rode Amtrak in fiscal year 2011. Ridership on Illinois trains hit over 1.7 million passengers last year, an 85% increase since 2006.

    • Smith also says that train service is “a service that will require constant infusions of taxpayer dollars to maintain.” All public transportation requires tax funding, and highways get by far the largest amount. In 2012, $1.4 billion has been appropriated for passenger rail (Amtrak), $12.5 billion for aviation (FAA), and $39.9 billion for highways (FHWA).

    • Walk of Shame says a train trip to Chicago was over $200 for four people, and thus, driving was cheaper. Yes, the more people you have the more economical it is; that’s the whole premise behind mass transit. If you own a bus and take 60 people to Chicago, you’ll find that’s a lot cheaper than taking the train as well. However, if you look at the cost of driving to Chicago alone in your car and parking versus taking the train, you’ll find the train is much more economical. Also, if you get your tickets further in advance, it’s more economical as well. I don’t know why you had to pay $50 a ticket–I can usually go for between 20 and 30 dollars round trip.

  • aaron

    “An inventor who had created a better shovel visited a work site in anticipation of seeing his invention in use. Upon arrivel, the inventor saw that workers continued to use the old, less efficient shovel. Puzzled, he asked the site manager, ‘Why don’t you have the workers use my invention on this project? It would take less workers and be completed sooner?’
    The manager replied plainly, ‘Then those workers wouldn’t have jobs.’
    The inventor paused. ‘If it’s jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.'”

    Moral of the story: The eastern bypass provides money whatfor politicians to provide to middlemen parasites, like TCRPC (include Heartland, EDC, consultants, et al.) to provide to construction companies, to provide to unions to provide…ad nauseum. The tacit return on this money is re-election, re-appointment…

    It isn’t necessarily efficient, or necessarily what is best (I make no value judgment on either project), but it keeps the money and influence flowing through the system.

    I do not know, but ask, how much has already been spent on the project?

  • Ramble On

    When I checked the train for a trip to Detroit, it would have taken 15 hours because of the lay-over in Chicago. It is an hour flight and a 7 hour drive to my actual destination. When I drive, I take Route 24 to I55. If my destination were downtown Chicago, the train would be great, but that is seldom my destination.

  • Ramble On — You can take a later train to Chicago to shorten the layover. For instance, if you take the first train out of Bloomington at 7:30 a.m. (Lincoln Service), it gets you to Chicago at 10 a.m. The train for Detroit (Wolverine) departs at 12:16 p.m. CT and arrives in Detroit at 6:46 p.m. ET. Total time on the train = 8 hours. With layover = 10 hours, 15 minutes. Total cost round trip = $94.

    The good news about taking a plane to Detroit is that Peoria has a direct connection via Delta, so you don’t have to layover anywhere. That isn’t the case with all destinations, obviously. The flight is an hour and 27 minutes and the round trip cost is currently about $256.

    Driving to Detroit takes about 7 hours, as you said. It’s 408 miles given the route you indicated, or 816 miles round trip. If your car got 25 miles a gallon, the trip would require 32.64 gallons of gas, which at $3.87/gal. comes to $126.32. That, of course, doesn’t take into account wear and tear on the vehicle. If we take the IRS mileage reimbursement rate of 55.5 cents per mile, which is supposed to account for the “fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile,” it comes to $452.88 for a trip to Detroit.

    The train is not for everyone, but it is a perfectly viable and cost-effective way to travel for millions of people.

  • The Mouse

    Passenger rail would probably be more acceptable in Illionis if it cost more and therefore allowed more potential for corruption.

  • David P. Jordan

    The Mouse wrote: Passenger rail would probably be more acceptable in Illionis if it cost more and therefore allowed more potential for corruption.

    Too late, Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano’s embezzlement (unapproved vacation, supporting three homes, etc.) cost the Chicago commuter agency some $3 million. Rather than face human justice, Pagano committed suicide in May 2010 by stepping in front of one of his own trains.

    Illinois can corrupt anything, and it has.

  • David, how come you didn’t chastise the Mouse over is spelling of ILLINOIS? You wasted no time on me over Duecy. oops

    Anyway, back on topic, don’t worry guys and gals, Ryan is getting out of prison and Blago can’t be far behind. Illinois will be back in full corrupt mode soon.

  • martin palmer

    Passanger only rail lines would be nice but I do not think it could work. Roads can be used for almost anything and development springs up also.

  • David P. Jordan

    Emtronics wrote: David, how come you didn’t chastise the Mouse over is spelling of ILLINOIS? You wasted no time on me over Duecy. oops

    The Mouse’s spelling was clearly a typo. 😀

    C. J. wrote; The train is not for everyone, but it is a perfectly viable and cost-effective way to travel for millions of people

    Rail passenger markets tend to be regional. Even decades ago. I have an Official Railway Guide from April 1929 showing that Peoria’s intercity rail passenger service offerings were almost completely limited to the intra-state variety. The only exceptions were M&StL trains to/from Mason City, Iowa, Peoria & Eastern trains to/from Indianapolis, an Illinois Central train to/from Evansville, Indiana and a Nickel Plate train to/from Lafayette, Indiana. Most travel was to nearby cities like Chicago (Rock Island offered four roundtrips on most days), while the Illinois Traction System offered multiple frequencies linking Peoria with Morton, Mackinaaw, Bloomington, Decatur, Lincoln, Springfield, Alton and St. Louis.

  • Mahkno

    That regionalism is true in Germany today. That is the magic… the small region feeds into a hub which feeds into a bigger hub which then feeds into interstate routes which are generally the high speed routes. Ex: Eckenforde (regional) to Kiel (larger regional) to Hamburg (high speed route) to Paris. The frequencies would be such that you had very little layover ever. No car needed.

    Peoria needs to more than simply a stop on the way to Chicago. It needs to be viewed as a regional hub that brings together smaller communities via rail. One could envision four or five spokes out of Peoria.

    For those comparing costs, don’t forget the simple cost of owning the vehicle too; insurance, repairs, general maintenance, cost to buy it. For low income folks that is a HUGE expense.

    How good would rail be for Goods Furniture? Never been there myself. Driving to Kewanee? Train maybe?

  • The Mouse

    David has a point. And Pagano wasn’t very good at it. Imagine if his trains ran as far as Dixon? Then he might have really learned how to do it?

  • Ben

    I lived in and around Chicago for many years and rarely drove. I love public transportation.

    Last month, I drove to an event at McCormick Place. I spent about $40 for gas, $21 for parking and had to walk a mile to get into the building once I parked. If there was a train to Chicago, I would be on it regularly.

    How about a high speed train between Peoria and Chicago with no or very few stops. If you want to stop at a destination before Chicago, then go to Normal and take the train from there. High speed rail is the future people. We need to embrace it, not fight it.

  • David P. Jordan

    Ben wrote: How about a high speed train between Peoria and Chicago with no or very few stops. If you want to stop at a destination before Chicago, then go to Normal and take the train from there. High speed rail is the future people. We need to embrace it, not fight it.

    Where the rail passenger train riding tradition has been nonexistent for decades, going from nothing to high speed rail is the best way not to do it. Since Peoria and Chicago are about 150 miles apart, conventional service (79mph max) is reasonable. Stops enroute will be limited anyway. If the old Prairie Marksman route is used, logical stops would be Eureka, Pontiac, Dwight and Joliet. And since existing Lincoln Service trains already stop at the last three, passengers riding the new trains would only be able to board to and de-train from Peoria.

    Still, cost of upgrading infrastructure is huge (and inflated since its a publically-funded endeavor), and both Springfield and Washington are broke. That, not critics, will prevent it from being a reality.

  • Bob

    Would a route to Chicago make money if privately funded? Or is this something that could only be supported by taxpayers?

  • Sterling

    (East) Peoria-Normal-Chicago still makes the most sense in terms of passenger rail. Peoria gets direct rail service to Chicago, lets Peoria-St. Louis trips happen with a transfer in Normal, and increases frequencies between Chicago and Normal as well.

    Direct service between Peoria and Chicago is great for the tri-county region, but if we can help out Bloomington-Normal in the process, there will be a lot more political will to get it done.

  • David P. Jordan

    Bob wrote: Would a route to Chicago make money if privately funded? Or is this something that could only be supported by taxpayers?

    At this point, private involvement (with railroad industry expertise driving route, equipment and other supporting infrastructure decisions) may be required to make it happen.

    Yet implementing Peoria-Chicago rail passenger service would be complex, and the risk probably wouldn’t be worthwhile to private investors. All potential routes use multiple freight railroads’ tracks, so a veteran organization like Amtrak (which already has a relationship with these railroads), along with IDOT involement, would probably be required to make it happen.

    Iowa Interstate Railroad parent Railroad Development Corporation (RDC) is involved in a private venture that will operate intercity passenger service in between Hamburg and Koln, Germany. If successful, they’ll look for ways to apply what they learned in Europe to N. America. According to wikipedia. Germany’s regulatory body has yet to approve HKX’s safety case.

    How this could possibly benefit Peoria is not clear at this time, though the Iowa Interstate serves Peoria and owns and/or operates on the old Peoria Rocket route between Peoria and Chicago (RDC’s railroad will began hosting new Amtrak Quad Cities trains for part of their journey in 2014).

  • Lumpenkönig

    High speed rail from Peoria to Chicago would reduce the amount of revenue derived from motor fuels taxes. Who benefits from such taxes?

    Follow the money trail:

  • I simply don’t any need for the Eastern Bypass at this point. Traffic and drive times are extremely low compared to anywhere in the car-centric U.S. The major issue is that due to the sprawl that is in full force we have to drive more miles because we can’t live by where we work and don’t want this next to that.

    Trends in urban planning and economic development that more progressive cities are implementing have nothing to do with building ring roads or extensions that don’t serve the current population. I saw an argument in the PJStar of if we don’t use it we lose it… well the conversation needs to be changed to spending on repairing and strengthening what currently exists. There are plenty of jobs to be had, not building new, but repairing the current infrastructure.

    It’s the same old same old though. Our team is still running the T-Formation while the other team has learned the forward pass. Need to breakout a new playbook.

  • Erik

    -see- any need… apologies

  • Colten

    Consider that the train would be used by visitors TO peoria as well – I travel to cities acros the country by Amtrak – sitting in the lounge with a cup of coffee or a beer os vastly superior to hours on the highway – ive often wished I could ride into Peoria for a day trip to your riverboat and art galleries. Getting on the Amtrak timetables makes your city a destination for thousands of rail travellers.

    To the critics saying its costly and a waste of money – its a TENTH of the cost of interstate, how is that not appealing? yes, amtrak loses money for every passanger, but doesnt the highway as well? Its public transit, the goal is to facilitate moving from one city to another, not make a profit – increased pedestrian traffic downtown is where the profit is at.

  • David P. Jordan

    To the critics saying its costly and a waste of money – its a TENTH of the cost of interstate, how is that not appealing? yes, amtrak loses money for every passanger, but doesnt the highway as well?

    But we don’t need a new interstate between Chicago and Peoria, do we?

    The issue should be how to do rail passenger service right. And it ain’t an East Peoria-Normal shuttle that requires passengers going to and from Chicago the inconvenience of changing trains. Either it’s same-train Peoria-Chicago or not at all.

  • I agree with a lot of the comments great flowchart. I have one comment to add (actually a request) Make sure you all vote on November 4th. I see that so many people are angry about what has been going on for the past months and even the past 8 years. Make sure you put that energy to good use and get out there to vote. We cannot have people sitting on the sidelines making comments and not acting on their duty.