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Old Posted Sep 5, 2009, 9:50 PM
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Illinois looks for pair of benefits on high-speed rail travel
State wants to acquire trains for intercity passenger travel, hopes to benefit from manufacturing surge

Jon Hilkevitch

September 6, 2009

Officials in Illinois, which was once a leader in the train-building industry, are working to ensure the state benefits on both sides of the supply-and-demand equation: as a major player in train manufacturing and as a customer buying new locomotives and passenger cars.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in late August allowing the state to enter into public-private partnerships to acquire new trains for intercity passenger travel. State transportation officials estimate that the first high-speed corridors could be operating in three to five years between Chicago and other Midwestern cities.

The state's new capital-improvement program contains $400 million for high-speed rail. Officials haven't yet decided what portion will go toward buying new trains, versus spending on improvements to tracks, signals and other infrastructure.

"Depending on what we get from the stimulus package, we will determine how much we have to use. We are estimating that we will need around 12 train sets," said George Weber, chief of the railroad bureau at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Each train set would consist of 250 to 300 seats, he said, and could be as small as four or five coach cars.

Once an order is placed, the first trains would be delivered in three years, Weber estimated, adding that the schedule dovetails with plans to inaugurate high-speed service.

State officials hope Illinois will be awarded about $2 billion of the $8 billion available for high-speed rail from the federal government.

So far, Wisconsin is the only state to use federal stimulus funds to order new trains. In July, it contracted with the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo for $47 million to build two sets of 14-car trains in Wisconsin.

The trains will operate on Amtrak's Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago. The train cars could be used in the future for high-speed service between Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, officials said.

The Talgo trains are capable of cruising at 125 m.p.h., officials said.
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