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Railway czar says Illinois merits high-speed train cash
Chief also calls CN merger a done deal
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Joseph C. Szabo, of the Federal Railroad Administration


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Published: 1/16/2010 12:01 AM

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Illinois certainly deserves federal cash for high-speed rail, but so do other states was as far as Federal Railroad Administration Chief Joseph Szabo ventured Friday.

Szabo joined other state and federal officials at a rail transportation summit organized by Gov. Pat Quinn in Chicago.

A railway expert and former south suburban mayor, Szabo drew rapt attention as his agency is the one that will recommend how to split up $8 billion in economic stimulus money promised for high-speed rail in the coming weeks.

Illinois has joined with eight neighboring states to lobby for funding for fast trains. Routes include Chicago to St. Louis and other destinations like Milwaukee and Detroit.

"It's quite obvious that the Illinois application - as do many others - have significant merit," Szabo said.

Illinois is competing against 23 other states that have collectively asked for $50 billion. The decision will be merit-based with the railroad administration considering factors including ridership, the ability of states to execute the projects and the impact on "livability" of communities.

Szabo said funding will be announced this winter but wouldn't say how far along the process was.

The railway issue that's garnered the most attention in the suburbs recently was the merger of the Canadian National Railway with the smaller EJ&E. CN is moving its freights from congested tracks to the less-used EJ&E, a semicircular line between Waukegan and Gary, Ind.

The merger approved in 2008 was controversial, drawing opposition from towns that would receive more freight traffic, which are fighting the ruling in court.

Asked for his opinion Szabo said, "it's done. It is what it is. Now it's a matter of managing it."

The summit was also sponsored by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Northwestern University Transportation Center.

Quinn said high-speed rail projects will be essential for creating jobs.

"If you talk about getting the economy back on track, a great way to do it is rail," he said.