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Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009 04:35 am

High-speed rail should use 10th St. tracks

It has taken many years, a lot of hard work, tax dollars and private investor dollars to turn our downtown into a revitalized, vibrant central city brimming with tourists, commerce and nightlife.

But all this may come to a screeching halt if the Third St. rail corridor is improved with our federal tax dollars to carry up to 16 high-speed passenger trains and 24 to 44 slower speed passenger and freight trains, for a total of 40 to 60 trains a day! This is the plan being cooked up by our Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Union Pacific railroad (UP) to take advantage of the $8 billion the Obama Administration has offered to build high-speed rail networks, including a line from Chicago to St. Louis.

 This overuse and abuse of the four-mile Third St. rail corridor will also devastate the medical district, Enos Park and the other residential neighborhoods it cuts through. It would nearly cut the medical district in half, impeding the goals for which the district was created. What start-up medical company would locate in the district if for 3.5 to 5 hours a day it was impossible to go from one side of it to the other, or if the train vibrations made it impossible to use sensitive medical equipment?

 High-speed rail and freight trains are great, but they should be routed so as not to destroy neighborhoods and business districts. There’s an easy answer — the 10th St. rail corridor. According to a July 20 report by the Springfield Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission (RPC), the 10th St. corridor contains less at-grade road crossings than Third St. In addition, 10th St. runs mostly through non-residential areas.

 Unfortunately, IDOT officials appear to have turned a blind eye to the problems with Third St. This is strange because Gov. Pat Quinn has always tried to implement public policy by carrying out the will of the people rather than the private interests, like UP. Quinn’s favorite slogan is “Make the will of the people the law of the land.” But on this issue, IDOT and UP already agreed to use the 3rd St. corridor. No citizens committee was appointed and no public hearing was held.

 UP objects to 10th St. because it fears loss of control of its freight traffic to Norfolk Southern, owner of that line. But this could be easily alleviated by building a third track on 10th St. that UP would control. There’s room for this, and building a third track would likely be cheaper than the overpasses and other “mitigation” construction needed for Third St.

 The RPC study determined that 40 trains a day would result in traffic at grade crossings being delayed 1.67 times an hour for 8.5 minutes per hour, for a total of 3.4 hours per day. If it were 60 trains a day, delays would be 5 hours per day. The study also noted that a 50-car train would be more than a half-mile long, stretching from Capitol to Carpenter.

 Even if overpasses were built at a few crossings to avoid some of the delays, the distance of up to two blocks on either side of the crossing needed for the gradual slope, would result in large areas being virtually landlocked.

 Mayor Tim Davlin and County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter on Aug. 20 wrote to the Federal Railroad Administration requesting a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) since the last one in 2003 is completely outdated. The old EIS only considered Third St.; it did not consider double-tracking and it only considered eight high-speed trains a day (and no freight trains). The letter asks that the reevaluation review the Third and 10th St. tracks and include a comparative cost/benefit analysis.

Such a study should be done, and public input should be sought before billions of our own federal tax dollars are poured into this project. If you agree, let Sen. Richard Durbin, Gov. Pat Quinn and IDOT Secretary Gary Hannig know. The start of October is the deadline for the state to get its final request to the federal government, so there’s not much time left.

Attorney Sam Cahnman is alderman of Ward 5.
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