IL: LaHood Pledges 160-mph Trains in Illinois in Five Years

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in Springfield Thursday that, within five years, passenger trains will make the trip between Chicago and St. Louis in a little more than two hours and travel 160 mph.

That's much faster than specified in current plans for high-speed rail, which are being funded with nearly $2 billion in federal grants.

The money is paying for a system on which trains will travel no faster than 110 mph on tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad and shared by freight and passenger trains, according to state grant applications. The applications say a one-way trip would take about four hours once the system is finished.

The only plans for a faster Chicago-St. Louis rail system made public to date are for passenger-only tracks that would go through Champaign. Such a system is in the early planning stages. No money for construction has been appropriated.

LaHood gave no further details in his speech to the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. He bristled when a reporter asked questions about criticism of high-speed rail funding by the U.S. General Accounting Office.

The GAO in March reported that the Federal Railroad Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has not provided an adequate rationale for granting billions of dollars to states to build high-speed rail projects. Documentation of the reasons for selecting projects were vague, the GAO said.

LaHood would not say how the Department of Transportation will respond to the GAO report.

"If you give me your card, I'll get back to you on that," LaHood said. "You're the only one in the room who cares about that."

Before taking questions, LaHood told the audience the Department of Transportation has spent $48 billion in stimulus money during the past two years on 15,000 projects that have provided 65,000 jobs. He said the administration has "jump-started" high-speed rail.

"I don't care what the criticism is, high-speed rail is coming to America," LaHood said.

LaHood, a Republican, said that he will not participate in fundraising for either party in the coming elections. He said he remains a Republican, though he works for a Democratic president.

"I really feel like I've had a front-row seat in watching history, and I feel like I've had a front-row seat in making history," LaHood said.

Bruce Rushton can be reached at 788-1542.

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