Sunday, December 10, 2006
The few months I have been writing this column have been filled with suggestions. How to increase tourism, how to fix the mall, wish lists galore. As an early Christmas present to our readers, I have saved my most outrageous, uh, I mean, visionary, idea for the holiday season.
I believe I have said I wish the state had put a commuter line from the Quad Cities to Bloomington or Champaign in the median of Interstate 74. In Chicago, commuter trains run on tracks in the median of some expressways. It works quite well.
In all fairness, when the interstate system was built, gas was probably about 30 cents a gallon - or less - and the commuter line would be nothing but rusted rails cluttering up I-74 by now. But that was then and this is now.
Recently I read that cities in the Illinois Valley, such as LaSalle-Peru and Ottawa, are looking at using existing freight tracks for a commuter line to Chicago. It makes sense. With the cost of gas and jobs plentiful in The Windy City, but housing very expensive, there's a good chance the line would be used. Especially if gas some day reaches $4 or $5 per gallon, as we know it will.
What about Galesburg? Ever since Maytag and Butler abandoned the Burg, many people have been paying big bucks to commute to Alcoa and John Deere in the Quad Cities and Caterpillar in Peoria. Driving that far every day is expensive, tiring and causes you to need a new car about twice a month. Why not take the train? (Because there isn't one.)
BNSF has a rail line into Peoria from Galesburg. I have no idea of the condition of that line. Geesh, I'm just the newspaper columnist. Would it take expensive repairs to handle the speed of a commuter train? I don't know, but at one time we, meaning Galesburg, looked at spending $360 million to relocate the former Santa Fe tracks south of town. Yes, the powers-that-be came to their senses and didn't pursue that boondoggle, but this has to be more practical than that. I hope.
Not only could a commuter line take Galesburg workers to Peoria, but Peoria's nearest Amtrak service is Galesburg and Normal. Not good for a metro area of about 350,000 people. I know Peorians would rather have a direct route to Chicago, but the commuter train could bring them to Galesburg, where they could catch Amtrak to Chicago and many other destinations. As it is, they have to drive now to catch the Amtrak anyway.
Yes, my wife has to make the commute every day and, yes, she almost was stuck three nights in Peoria, rather than two, by the recent blizzard because her car was buried by snow in a Peoria parking lot. That's just my full disclosure, it doesn't mean looking into this is a bad idea. (Although there may be other reasons why it is a bad idea.)
This train would bring more shoppers to Galesburg, keep people from moving away when they weary of the commute to Peoria and give Peoria indirect Amtrak service to Chicago and all points beyond. And, no $10 a gallon gasoline. Think about it.
Then, how about a light-rail system to the National Railroad Hall of Fame from downtown ... hmm, maybe not