April 2013
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Passenger rail plans go from bad to worse

The Journal Star has a report on the latest passenger rail scheme dreamed up by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.

Essentially what’s now being pitched is a multi-stop commuter rail line running from Peoria’s airport to Bloomington’s, with stops in each city’s downtown area as well as in the bedroom communities between the cities.

And, before you object, there’s this:

Though there’s been some pushback and some doubt expressed by folks in the area, the time for laying the plans and attracting support needs to be now, [Tri-County transportation planner Kyle] Smith says.

So we all need to get behind this terrible idea, see? When faced with pushback and doubt, it’s best to make a clarion call for groupthink — especially when it involves lots of taxpayer money.

The original (and logical and good) plan for direct passenger rail service to Chicago was deemed too expensive because we’d have to fix up some existing track and it wouldn’t be high-speed. Now we’re talking about acquiring all new right of way, constructing all new track to make some of these connections, and slowing down the travel time to Bloomington/Normal by making a bunch of commuter stops. Really, what’s not to like about this slower, costlier alternative?

Peoria’s airport has free parking. Bloomington’s airport has free parking. Normal’s Amtrak station has free parking. Neither community is compact; both are sprawling metro areas. Neither community has frequent or convenient mass transit. It’s easier to drive in both communities than to take other transit alternatives. Translation: This passenger rail plan will not draw sufficient ridership to justify the cost of constructing and operating it. It will be much more convenient for people to drive.

Think about it. Pretend you live in Peoria and work at State Farm in Bloomington. You decide you’re going to take this swell new commuter train. You can catch it either at the airport or downtown, but odds are they’ll charge you to park downtown. So you opt for the free parking at the airport. Then you get on the train, and it takes you to the Bloomington airport — in about an hour and a half, maybe. You get off the train, and … how do you get to work? There’s no bus service between the airport and State Farm. You can walk (50 minutes) or bike (15 minutes). But there are no sidewalks along Empire, and it’s a four-lane highway. So, given the time and obstacles, and the fact that you can drive to work in 45 minutes door-to-door with free parking, maybe the commuter train isn’t going to be your best option.

In contrast, Chicago does not have free parking. While large, downtown Chicago is a compact urban area. It has frequent and convenient mass transit. It’s easier to take other transit alternatives than to drive. Plus, it’s a major transportation hub. And Chicago is a destination city. That’s why direct passenger rail service to Chicago would have sufficient ridership to justify its establishment and operation.

But hey, TCRPC, don’t listen to any “pushback” or “doubt” you may be hearing. It’s only taxpayer money. Let’s see if there’s anything else we can come up with to make this idea more inefficient and unlikely to succeed. What if we put the train station someplace where it can only be accessed by ferry?

For further reading: David Jordan has a little pushback and doubt of his own.

13 comments to Passenger rail plans go from bad to worse

  • A Mama

    This will be-assuming they can somehow ram this through in this financially broken state-another debacle, much like the Lakeview/Peoria Riverfront Museum. I would MUCH prefer a direct, Peoria-to-Chicago train route, and I think that a plan like that would actually generate a lot of revenue and be quite successful. But, hey, what do I know?? I’m just a mom…….

  • David P. Jordan

    Excellent write up, CJ! Thanks for the mention.

    I thought “pushback and doubt” comment was irritating. I mean, these guys are clueless why rail passenger service left the area in the first place.

  • David P. Jordan

    Furthermore, if you look at the map accompanying the PJStar article, it is obvious that a considerable portion of the line between the airport and downtown Peoria would require an elevated right-of-way, not to mention a new Illinois River bridge to East Peoria. And how do they propose to route this line through Bloomington? On city streets? I doubt Norfolk Southern will allow interurban-like commuter trains to operate on their line between East Peoria and Bloomington.

    The money spent on such a boondoggle could go towards upgrading the old Peoria Rocket route via Chillicothe, Bureau, Ottawa and Joliet for passenger trains.

  • Yep, Sounds like something the Peoria Bureaucracy would come up with all right.

  • Leslie

    The Normal Amtrack station doesn’t have free parking. We took the train yesterday and parking will be $6.00 a day when the ticket machines are completely installed.

  • Leslie, I take the train regularly. There is free parking:

    Instructions for free long term parking for transit patrons, available on the top floor of the College Ave. Deck only:

    1. 1. Take ticket from dispenser when entering deck.
    3. 3. Take ticket with you when you park and leave your car.
    4. 4. Before departing on your trip, stop at the Parking Information Desk located inside Uptown Station and provide the attendant with the Make, Model, Color, and License number of your car.
    5. 5. Upon return from your trip, stop at the Parking Information Desk located inside Uptown Station. Provide proof of your trip (bus or train ticket/stub) and attendant will provide you with a parking voucher.
    6. 6. Insert original parking ticket followed by parking voucher in machine at gate when exiting deck.

    *FREE long term parking is offered on the top floor of the College Ave. Deck only. Long term parking in any other area will result in being charged the standard fee of $8 per day.

  • Leslie

    Free long term parking. What constitutes long term? If I take the train to Chicago for the day will I get free parking?

  • Deb Roe

    ” It’s easier to drive in both communities than to take other transit alternatives. ”

    Today that statement is true. Planners have to think about long term solutions. In the future, it won’t be easier to drive…gas will be $5 per gallon and sprawl will congest the roadways.

    Are they envisioning Bloomington being a central rr hub, where central illinois riders would connect with direct lines to chicago, st. louis, indianapolis, des moines…

  • Phaedrus

    The fact that People from the metropolis of Peoria have to go to Bloomington to catch a train to Chicago, is mind boggling.

  • Sterling

    For what it’s worth, the latest round of river flooding washed out some of the IAIS tracks between Henry and Chillicothe. I saw some crews working out there Tuesday morning as I drove down Route 29. Considering all the talk about climate change making those kinds of weather events more common, I don’t know if it’d be as easy to just upgrade those tracks to passenger rail service as it seems.

    The commuter rail option is intriguing, but only if there are express trains included in the schedule. Chicago’s Metra provides local commuter service to the suburbs, but there are also express trains mixed into the schedule to provide direct service between, say, downtown Chicago and downtown Naperville. The Lincoln Service stops in Normal outside of rush hours, so a local commuter service during rush hour and express feeder service to Amtrak during the off-peak hours could be feasible.

    My opinion still stands at the rail option that makes the most sense is a Chicago-Peoria direct route via Bloomington. This still allows for a one-seat, no-transfer trip for Chicago-Peoria passengers, but also increases train frequencies between the two busiest stations in the state (Chicago Union and Normal), utilizes the 110mph track upgrades, and also provides Peoria-St. Louis service with a transfer.

  • ProudPeorian

    Forget Bloomington/Normal. Remember the awesome days of the Rock Island Rocket.I know thats it’s been talked about before. What would it take to re-utiluze the same line to bring back the “experience” for families, kids and grand parents and business people desiring a pleasant ride to the Big C and to make a day of it on the train. Morning there at 9:00 and back at 5:30ish. Have a dinner car for breakfast A.M and resonable dinner or sandwiches and conplimentary food and desert items for the P.M Folks get to see the beautiful Illinois River Valley, Eagles and many other Illinois specific back country areas most Illinoisians have missed since the RIR departed for the last time. Rail Road Buffs would flock to ride a 50’s Diesel and related equipment and tousism would pay the tab. Just like the “Spirit Of Peoria”…the train could be the same draw and you have a riverboat cruise waiting for you at the end (PM arrival at the River Station) and a stay overnight in one of Peoria’s/East Peoria’s new or re-developed Old Ladies. Could you imagine Cabbie waiting at the Depot to take people to their hotels and events publicized well in ChiTown/Greater Chicago. Peoria and it’s surrounds shotchanges it’s self constantly. Have you noticed that the IHSA believes in Peoria(area). Many families are commentling on the great amenities of the area and the lower cost. The train could be connected to visitor/tourist related packages to entice the overnight experience. I’m a Peorian who has to live in the Chicago area and I hear the comments about Peoria all the time. Well…they are a changing…comments are much more positive and non-critical. It’s great to hear on this end. Peoria and it’s River Valley truly has much to offer…Now I await the negative and destructive comments as usual. Wake up my Hometown. 2 Billion dollars invested in the past 5 years is nothing to sneeze about. Save the old neighborhoods, re-purpose, reinvent and get the 20-30’s movers and shakers and new families into a great old (the oldest in Illinois)but revitalized PeoriaHub.

  • ProudPeorian

    Sorry for the typoes in my previous proclamation…Peoria and its surrounds (communities) are short changed constantly. No community is perfect. Believe me, I see it every day in town’s “Up Here” that think they’ve got all together. So called “rich towns”. Not. Peoria has to work harder because its not on a Chicago “Cog” interstate to the Chicago area like Champaign, Bloom/Normal, Quad Cities, Rockford and Milwaukee are. I’m done. I await the comments.

  • ProudPeorian

    A little “Rock Island Rocket” history for the masses.