Could Peoria Be the Next Amtrak Destination?

by C. J. Summers
Peoria Passenger Rail Coalition

Exactly thirty years ago this past January, the last passenger train, the Peoria Rocket, departed from Peoria. Amtrak’s Prairie Marksman served East Peoria starting in August 1980, but service was discontinued a year later. After that, the closest Amtrak station was in Chillicothe, but service there ended in 1996. Since then, the Peoria area has been without passenger rail service. Today, the closest cities with Amtrak service are Normal and Galesburg.

But that may soon change. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Jim Ardis and Senator Dick Durbin, Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) are currently working on a feasibility study on restoring passenger rail service to Peoria from Chicago’s Union Station. The study, which is expected to be published this summer, will outline the potential demand, available routes, and estimated cost of bringing Amtrak to the Peoria area.

Why Bring Amtrak to Peoria?
Amtrak ridership is up nationwide, and Illinois is no exception to that trend. Amtrak reports that ridership on trains between Chicago and St. Louis “was up 16.5 percent in Fiscal 2008 over 2007. Ridership increased 18.5 percent on the Chicago-Carbondale route, was up 19.8 percent on the Chicago-Quincy route, and grew 25.9 percent on the Hiawathas.”  This trend continues in 2009. In January, ridership between Chicago and St. Louis was up 12 percent over the same period in 2008, according to figures released by IDOT.

More people are choosing to travel by train, and more communities are requesting passenger rail access. Amtrak recently completed studies on adding train service to Rockford and the Quad Cities. Peoria, with the third-largest metropolitan statistical area in the state—over 370,000 residents—would be a natural addition as well.

Restoring passenger rail service to Peoria would connect our population to the national rail transportation system. Travelers from Peoria could go anywhere in the U.S. that Amtrak serves—and just as importantly, travelers from all over the U.S. could come to Peoria. Peorians traveling to Chicago by train would benefit from low fares (significantly cheaper than the cost of driving to and parking in Chicago) and no traffic congestion. By leaving the “driving” to Amtrak, transit time can be used for work or leisure. Likewise, college students, businessmen and women, and tourists will find Amtrak to be a convenient way to travel to Peoria and enjoy our community. Bringing Amtrak and its ridership into the community will have a positive economic impact on the region.

There are also environmental benefits to passenger rail service. The U.S. Department of Energy found that Amtrak is more energy-efficient than either automobile or commercial air travel. “Amtrak energy intensity was 2,935 British Thermal Units (BTUs) per passenger-mile and commercial airlines were 3,587. Commuter rail was 2,751 and automobiles were 3,549 BTUs,” according to the DOE’s Transportation Energy Data Book. By taking the train, we can lower the carbon footprint of our trips. It is simply more energy-efficient to take the train directly from Peoria than to drive to Chicago, or even Normal or Galesburg, to catch the train there.

Nationally, a greater emphasis is being placed on sustainable transportation networks—with less dependence on the automobile, and thus, less oil consumption and dependence on imported oil—and passenger rail is part of that national strategy. Last October, Congress passed and the president signed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which authorized $13.1 billion for Amtrak over the next five years. The recent stimulus bill included $1.3 billion in additional Amtrak funding, as well as $8 billion for high-speed rail. Locally, Senator Durbin has been supportive of adding new service to Illinois cities and improving existing service, and the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission’s long-range transportation plan lists as a top priority: “connect with Amtrak.”

Finally, consider that transportation is an essential service, imperative for the safety and mobility of Illinois citizens. Improving our transportation options improves our overall infrastructure, and our economy benefits from the jobs brought by infrastructure improvement. The economy is also helped by making our city more attractive to potential employers and employees, who are increasingly looking for greener cities in which to live and work.

How Would Peoria Connect With Amtrak?
Under consideration are three possible routes. The cost and feasibility of each route will be included in the final study to be released this summer. Although we don’t know as of this writing what these conclusions will be, we do know some information about each route.

The first route is the one used by the old Peoria Rocket, which would come into downtown Peoria on the old Rock Island (now Iowa Interstate) tracks that run along Route 29. The train could possibly use the old Rock Island Depot (now known as the River Station) or the new Rock Island Depot (located by Constitution Garden at Morton and Bond streets). The latter depot is located where the City’s Economic Development department is interested in putting new townhouses and a street with a river view. There are several advantages to this route. It would be centrally-located for the region, two potential terminal buildings already exist, and it would bring the train into the heart of the city, which would support revitalization efforts there. The area is pedestrian-friendly and near other transportation options, such as city bus service. However, there are questions as to whether there would be enough available parking to support a depot downtown, and the cost of upgrading the old Rock Island tracks so they can support a 79-mph passenger train may be high.

The second possible route would be down the Union Pacific mainline on the northwest side of town. The train could terminate on the spur near Allen Road north of Pioneer Parkway. One advantage of this route is that the Union Pacific tracks are already suitable for passenger service. However, UP has quite a bit of freight traffic on this line which could cause delays for passenger trains. A new depot would have to be built if this route were chosen, but presumably there would be ample land available for parking. While the train would be near the growth area of the City, it would actually be terminating in an industrial park, and the only way out of the station would be by car—there is no bus stop, pedestrian access or restaurant/retail establishment nearby. This could give the rail passenger the feeling of being “stranded” upon arriving in Peoria.

The final possibility is to resurrect the old Prairie Marksman route, which would bring the train into East Peoria instead of Peoria. This route would follow the current Lincoln Service route from Chicago toward Normal, but would turn west either at Chenoa (bringing the train through Eureka and Washington), or Bloomington (bringing the train through Carlock and Goodfield). This route, similar to the Rock Island route, would have the advantage of being centrally-located, but would also have the same questions regarding parking availability. Depending on the termination point, however, a new depot could be constructed in a pedestrian-friendly area with adequate parking. For example, it could be incorporated into plans for East Peoria’s Downtown 2010 project. Track conditions between Chenoa and East Peoria are similar to those on the old Peoria Rocket route, and thus would need to be upgraded for passenger service. Track conditions are better between Bloomington and East Peoria.

One thing to keep in mind is that the long-term viability of these routes depends not primarily on track conditions and termination points—that just affects the cost of initiating service—but on ridership. When choosing a route, it’s important to consider the cities, towns, and villages through which the train will travel and how much ridership can be picked up from those communities. It’s best, if affordable, to pick a route with many towns that are not currently served by passenger rail to capture as much new ridership as possible.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Once the feasibility study is completed, local leaders will have some decisions to make. The first one, of course, is which route to pursue. Once that is determined, they will have to decide if there is enough support among the members of our community and other communities on the line to fund it. The money to fund it comes from a combination of state and federal dollars. Congress has increased funding to Amtrak, and that money can be used not only to improve existing service, but to expand it to new communities. The federal money is given to the states, which then decide on which rail projects to spend it.

That means, if we would like to see Amtrak service in Peoria, we must contact our state legislators and let them know. They are the ones who would need to secure the money necessary to make passenger rail service here a reality—and they’re only going to secure that money if they are convinced there is enough demand for it.

If this is something that interests you, I would encourage you to contact your state representatives and senators directly. And there is another way to let your voice be heard. The Peoria Passenger Rail Coalition is a new, grassroots organization that advocates on behalf of its members and the Greater Peoria Area for restored passenger rail service. Anyone can join, and membership is free. The mission is simple: to speak with one voice to governmental agencies and elected officials in favor of restored passenger rail service to Peoria, and to keep the community informed of progress being made toward that goal. You can get more information by visiting

Passenger rail service is still sometimes seen as the transportation system of the past. But in communities around the world, more and more people are recognizing it as the transportation system of the future. Access to passenger rail transit benefits communities economically, socially and environmentally. Let’s make those benefits part of Peoria’s future. iBi

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I have been taking Amtrak from Bloomington to Chicago. Unfortunately since 2008, the trains are often sold out and it is getting tougher to find free parking in their lots. A Peoria stop would definitely help ease the congestion.

Regarding the Amtrak line that runs through Bloomington/Normal: The Canadian National railroad owns the track that runs from St. Louis through Normal to Chicago. That company has already stated numerous times that it has zero interest in high speed rail from St. Louis to Normal to Chicago. So high speed rail will never happen though Normal. Period. Why should the Peoria area have to rely on Bloomington/Normal for anything? It is bad enough to watch an eclectic “Uptown Normal” being built while “Downtown Peoria” continues to decay. By the way, the Amtrak station in Normal is located in "Uptown Normal." Fast, clean, efficient, reliable, affordable, and safe transportation would make the Peoria more attractive to businesses and tourists. Perhaps it would spur the creation and growth of an "Uptown Peoria" with a first-rate childrens museum. Bottom line: Therefore, we need at least four electric high speed rail lines: 1.) Peoria---->Ottawa ?? --->Chicago 2.) Peoria---->Quad cities 3.) Peoria---->Springfield--->St. Louis. 4.) Galesburg--->Peoria-->Goodfield-->Normal--->Farmer City-->Champaign-->Danville We have a transportation secretary from Peoria, and we have Aaron Schock. What are we waiting for? Let’s get it done!

Sadly enough, it looks like a high speed route to Peoria will not happen. Go to the above link, and click on the map. Do you see Peoria anywhere near the proposed high speed routes? Peoria looks far away the designated "Other Passenger Rail Routes" on the map. I thought that since LaHood is from Peoria (and therefore understands Peoria), that Peoria would at least be a stop on a Chicago to St. Louis high-speed route. Peoria is ignored once again. I would gladly like to see myself proven wrong.

James, First, Union Pacific owns the majority of the Amtrak route between St. Louis and Chicago. Canadian National only owns the Chicago - Joliet portion. The State of Illinois funded track and grade crossing protection improvements between Springfield and Dwight that permit 110mph speeds, and Union Pacific makes limited use of this line, especially north of Springfield. They're not opposed to high speed trains (or conventional trains, for that matter). Second, we need incremental improvements to our national rail passenger network. Those potential corridors which currently have no service should start with conventional passenger train service. if ridership is significant, then high speed service could be developed at a later date. Third, a route between Galesburg and Champaign was proposed in 1989, but dropped due to low ridership projections. The problem now is that the then-Conrail line that would be used east of Bloomington is either abandoned or "rail-banked," with only the Mansfield - Urbana portion remaining. Construction of new lines and/or relaying track on old railroad corridors is extremely costly, and not justified when ridership projections would be so low (Intercity passenger service in this corridor ended in 1957, long before parallel I-74 was completed). Fourth, If rail passenger service would work in Peoria, Chicago must be the first destination. With 3 million population and a metro area totaling 9.5 million, Chicago is THE destination for midwestern intercity rail passengers. If Chicago - Peoria generates heavy ridership, then Peoria - St. Louis service should be studied.

Peoria will have to be an end point for any rail passenger service. Chicago - St. Louis rail passenger service already exists, so there is no reason to duplicate it via a slower route.

There is the problem of Peoria's being an endpoint.  Of all the railroads servimg Peoria, only the Chicago and Northwestern (now Union Pacific) and Toledo Peoria and Western went through. These had no more passenger service than a mixed train with passengers riding in the caboose.   The Rock Island was the only railroad with a luxury passenger train, the Peoria Rocket.  The Big Four, Nickel Plane,and Chicago and Illinois Midland had only local passenger trains that stopped at every grain elevator and carried mostly mail and express and had no food nor sleeping car service. There were Pennsylvania, Gulf Mobile and Ohio and Burlington Lines and Minneapolis and St. Louis lines with no passenger service.  


Peoria was an end line location from the manner the railroad lines servcied the city. The Peoria and Pekin Union Railway, jointly owned by all the lines serving Peoria, served to switch cars from one line to another. It is now the Genesee & Wyomubng owned Tazewell and Peoria, as well as the Illinois & Midland. Chicago was dropped from the name, as it never got closer to Chicago than the Peoria and Pekin union, of which C&IM Owned 15%.


When Amtrak was Formed, The Rock Island was unable to pay the fee, and so elected to contunue with its two remaining passenger trains, The Peoria Rocket and Quad Cities Rocket.  These trains received a subsidy from the State of Illinis and continued to run through December 31, 1978. When the dining car broke down service was dropped in 1975.  The trains were down to two coaches, with limited sandwich and bevrage service provided from a refrigerator in the restroom lounges, and an attendant drawing severance pay from his former dining car career.

The tracks were on poor condition, so the trains were rough and slow. They were not "Rockets" But "Rock-IT!" They rocked.  Seats were dirty and windows cracked and dirty. 


There was not a connection between Santa Fe and "Rotten Tie-land" Railroad in Chillicothe. 

The Prairie marksman started running in 1980. after Peoria Rocket was discontunued. There was not a corresponding train for the Quad Cities.  

The Prairie marksman used the Union Pacific (ex-GM&O) line to Chenoa, then had to stop and call the dispatcher

to receive permission to use the TP&W.   The line is without signals, so speeds were limited to 59 mph for Amtrak on the Toledo Peoria and Western..  Thae station was a small portable metal betal building, with only a ticket office and no restrooms, in the east Peoria yard. It required a cab ride from downtown.   Since the TP&W has been without passenger trains since the Prairie marksman was discontinued, the tracks have deteriorated tom 25mph safe speed.


Ridership was less than anticipated, so the train was discontinued in Fall, 1981.

We need a train on the Iowa Interstate railroad, now that track has been improved, serving a downtown station.  The Peoria station as used by the Amtrak-era Peoria Rocket is demolished.

If the track were imroved, it might be posible to have a Peoria train that stops in Peoria, en route from Chicago to St. Louis.  It would take the former Chicago and Northwestern L&M District, from Pekin to Barr, a junction with the Illinois and Midland Railway near Athens.  Then proceed southeast to Ridgely Junction in Springfield, to Join the Unuion Pcific Railway.  The former C&NW and Illinois and Midland are dark territory, so track would need to be upgraded and signals installed, to enable 79mph passenger service.


Amother possibility would be to use the Canadian National Peoria to Mattoon line to Lincoln  and then join the  Union Pacific at Athol Junction at Lincoln.

It was extremely shortsighted to abandon or railbank the former Peoria and Eastern.  Most of the rails are in place, but they have been out of service so long that trees are growing between rails and some bridges are all but fallen into the river.  Most highway crossing have been blacktopped over and all flashers and gates have been removed. Signals are gone and crossings with other railroads are taken up.   The line is railbanked rather than abandoned altogether, because a major fibre optics line is using the right of way.

The line has been taken up altogether between Urbamna and danville, IL< including the bridge over I-74. From Covington, IN to Crawfordsville, IN, the line is gone.

It appears it is out of the question to restore passenger rail service along the line when only the Galesburg to peoria and Peoria to Bloomington portions (of the former Nickel Plate) are intact.


Decatur needs to have its passenger service restored.  The former service used Canadian National, then Illinois Central Gulf, trackage from Chicago to Tolono, then a stop to call the dispatcher, to take Norfolk Southern to Decatur.   Amtrak would have had to pay Illinois Central Gulf to turn train around, so they used a push pull consist , like the Chicago suburban trains.   That Illini train was discontinued July, 1983 and Illini went from Chicago to Carbondale., as is still does.


I wish there were a train to St. Louis that went through Decatur and follwed the Norfolk Southern To Springifeld, then South on Union Pacific Railway to  Carlinville, to Alton and St. Louis.

Jacksonville needs a bus connection to Amtrak Trains.  The Burlington Line Beardstown Division has quite a lot of coal traffic and no signals, so probably could not handle an Amtrak train. 


I wish we had RDC's  for connections to Amtrak.  Had we still ahad RDC's and if the old Peoria and Eastern Line were upgraded and intact, we might be able to have the connection train from Quad Cities, through Galesburg, to Peoria, through Bloomington, through Champaign, Danville, Crawfordsville,and Indianapolis.


We must settle or the existing Amtrak Throughway Bus Connections .











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