Gov. Pritzker signs Illinois High-Speed Railway Commission Bill as Congress debates infrastructure deal

Aug. 10, 2021
The commission will be responsible for creating a statewide plan for a high-speed line and feeder network connecting Chicago to St. Louis.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed HB399, a bill authorizing the formation of the Illinois High-Speed Railway Commission.  

The commission will be responsible for creating a statewide plan for a high-speed line and feeder network connecting Chicago to St. Louis. It will be integrated with existing Amtrak and Metra services, intercity bus service and connect the Illinois cities of Rockford, Moline, Peoria and Decatur. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) and State Rep. Marty Moylan (D-Des Plaines). 

“Establishing high speed rail lines that connect Chicago, St. Louis and several other cities throughout Illinois will create thousands of jobs, spur economic growth, lower carbon emissions, improve transportation safety and relieve congestion in cities,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the High Speed Rail Alliance (HSRA).  

HSRA has been advocating for the creation of the commission for more than three years.  

Under the newly passed law, the commission has been tasked with conducting a ridership study and issuing its findings and recommendations concerning a governance structure, the frequency of service and implementation of the plan. The commission is required to provide yearly reports and be assisted by the Illinois Department of Transportation. 

“With the signing of this bill, we have taken an important first step towards creating a statewide network that feeds into the high-speed backbone,” Harnish said. “The plan would encourage coordination and cooperation between state agencies, railroads and local governments to invest wisely in targeted upgrades to the existing rail network. Improving existing tracks and connecting them to a new high-speed line would create the heart of a Midwest high-speed network and make same-day round-trips possible between all of Illinois’ major cities and destinations. 

“Every Illinosian will benefit from faster trains, but without a big-picture view, it was hard to coordinate all the stakeholders.” 

The proposed high speed rail line would start at O'Hare International Airport and take 127 minutes to reach downtown St. Louis, stopping at Champaign-Urbana in less than an hour. Springfield would be 78 minutes away from Chicago's Union Station. Champaign to downtown Indianapolis would take about a half-hour. 

"Creating a high-speed rail network would provide a fast, safe and reliable way to travel across the state," said Sen. Stadelman. "This investment in high-speed rail networks will expand travel opportunities for the residents of Rockford and the entire state." 

The Commission will be composed of appointees by the governor, the four top leaders in the General Assembly, the transportation secretary, chairs of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, Interstate Commerce Commission and Metra board of directors, the Chicago mayor, a rail workers union, a rail-industry trade group, the Metropolitan Mayors and Managers Association, Illinois Railroad Association, the University of Illinois System, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Illinois Municipal League, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and regional planning agencies from the Rockford, Bloomington and Metro East (St. Louis) areas. The commission is authorized to work from the bill’s signing through 2026. 

HRSA says the creation of the commission comes at an opportune time, as the infrastructure bill moves through both the U.S. House and Senate, with provisions that would commit $66 billion to passenger and freight rail over five years, and another $39 billion to public transit. 

The formation of the commission puts Illinois in an ideal position to move forward quickly once infrastructure legislation passes, notes HRSA. It will create a forum that the Illinois Department of Transportation can use to move from its current wish-list of individual projects to a true, state-wide railway transportation plan. 

Looking ahead, the Illinois network could eventually be connected to other cities in the Midwest and the rest of the nation through a high-speed rail network such as the one envisioned by HRSA. The national network would modernize intercity and commuter trains, transit systems and buses, and integrate them into a nationally connected network, with a 220-mph high-speed trunk line to tie the network together.