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Deadbeat, bankrupt Illinois now in charge of high-speed rail buying spree

By   /   April 1, 2013  /   News  /   12 Comments

By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is looking for the railroad equivalent of a unicorn — a super-fast, super-clean, super-cheap locomotive that is not real.

The Federal Railroad Administration has placed Illinois in charge of buying 35 new, “next generation” locomotives to serve the to-be built high-speed rail lines in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, California and Washington, even though the locomotives do not yet exist.

COMING SOON: IDOT’s Schacter says IL will find someone to make new high speed trains.

Currently these are not being manufactured,” said Joe Schacter, high-speed rail point man for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “We are fully confident that such a locomotive can be manufactured and will be manufactured.”

Schacter said Illinois has $175 million to spend — $5 million per locomotive.

It may end-up being more expensive,” Schacter added, though he noted California did not spend all of its $352 million for high-speed rail passenger cars.

The $175 million comes from federal grants, but Illinois will end-up owning the high-speed trains when they are delivered. Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, said that should worry anyone who knows about Illinois and its current fiscal state..

“The state of Illinois should (not) be in the habit of buying anything right now,” Rasmussen said as she pointed to Illinois’ $9 billion in unpaid bills.” If anything, they should be selling off assets to get rid of things we can’t afford.”

Schacter said Illinois, Missouri, and Michigan still have to work out who will own which locomotives. Schacter said those states want to make sure Amtrak can “share” the new engines.

“I hope locomotive makes are willing to wait, given Illinois history of non-payment,” Rasmussen added.

Rasmussen calls Illinois’ high-speed rail project a “boondoggle” that has seen government spend a lot of money in the hope that high speed rail will succeed.

SO MUCH MONEY: Rasmussen says IL is spending so much for so little.

“(Locomotives) are a huge asset to purchase, not knowing what energy efficiency will look like,” Rasmussen said. “Ten years from now, who knows what technology will look like. But (the state) will be locked into what will then be last-generation technology.”

The FRA has already spent $1.3 billion on new railroad tracks and will spend millions more to upgrade train signaling along the Chicago to St. Louis route.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn bragged on the new track last year when an Amtrak train hit 110 mph over a short stretch between Pontiac and Dwight. Quinn was bragging again last month, when the FRA tapped Illinois to buy the new locomotives.

“This decision by the federal government is a testament to Illinois’ role as a national leader in high-speed rail,” Governor Quinn said.

But Schacter is more realistic about Illinois’ role.

“At the moment we’re running only 5 or 6 percent of (the Chicago to St. Louis corridor) at 110 mph,” Schacter said. “The total 110 mph time, at the moment, is seven or eight miles.”

But Schacter said even the few miles, between Pontiac and Dwight, that see a few 110 mph runs each day is a “good test.”

Rasmussen said taxpayers shouldn’t be paying so much for a test.

“They may be going super-fast for 10 miles, but 10 miles further down the stretch you come to a complete stop to let trains pass you,” Rasmussen said. “You are not seeing the kind of major improvements people thought they’d be seeing out of high-speed rail.”

IDOT has said it hopes to have the Chicago to St. Louis corridor ready for high-speed trains by 2017. But even then, the fast trains will only run from about 70 miles south of Chicago to about 20 miles north of St. Louis. The trains will have to slow down for the seven stops and other towns along the way.

Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected]



Ben formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • hanmeng

    You spelled his name wrong. It’s apparently Shacter. But I don’t see how he has a suitable background for this. He has master’s degrees in Journalism and Business Administration. Before his current position, he spent 18 months as an consultant to the Illinois EPA, four years at the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, and before that 12 years in the museum industry. Or maybe he wants to saddle us with museum pieces?

  • While there will always be boondoggles and graft/corruption in politics, I wouldn’t count the HRS as a complete failure, the tracks have needed upgraded for years, I’ve seen some good jobs and commerce come out of some of these efforts, plus it isn’t costing IL a thing yet providing jobs and infrastructure for the future. We should be spending even more money improving infrastructure. If we don’t , we are in danger of losing what little manufacturing we have left. Austerity never built anything… Ever!!

  • Micah

    Still can’t tour the Whitehouse? And we wonder why we are 16 trillion in debt? Sure is seems like a drop in the bucket, but the bucket is filling up with this kind of irresponsible stewardship of our countries funds… This is Obama’s folly…High speed rail….who is giving the money for this? Let’s have some names responsible please! They need to be properly chastised…

  • OMG!! this is such a Joke!!!! I was on the project 7 years ago to build the high speed rail. first things first, its already been built. Secondly I stood at a rail crossing in Lexington with a state trooper and clocked the test train at 109 MPH. so its done and has been tested. all the new signal controls were built. But now the Union pacific and amtrak just want more money. One big political scam after another. and one more thing…. Who cares>>> no one takes the train now, those cars pas by all the time and they are half full, if that. put the money into our schools instead, not into some rail road investment that just leaks into polititcians pockets. dont we have enough corruption already?

  • OldTimerMO

    Ill tell you going to happen, first off after the new toy we have to ride fun is over and nobody’s uses it they and the Feds will give all the welfare crowd free or almost free ride passes then your going to have thugs, gang bangers, drug dealers, hoods, Prostitutes riding the train back and forth between Chicago and St Louis just like the subways in NY. And just like AMTRAK the tax payers will be paying high dollar Union employees to ride the train back and forth.

  • Good old ‘Moonbeam’ Jerry Brown is chasing the same (boondoggle) unicorn in California.

  • reality bites

    IDOT……hmmm…. isn’t there a missing “I” there somewhere?

  • RightWired

    And the whole gets deeper.

  • james

    Slush fund. The dims love them some slush funds. Republicans, too.

  • High speed trains are an excellent idea! All the U.S has to do is squeeze all it’s citizens into an area the size of Japan,and it’ll work just fine.

    “Boondoggle”,with a capital “B”!

  • The schools would make no better use of these millions.

  • Fisker is looking for a new Greenie Con Game so they can fleece $hundreds of $millions more from American taxpayers.

    Seems like a perfect fit. They know how to play the Great Greenie Grift, they know how to put a lip-lock on the public teat and since they are currently out of business, they are probably looking for a new con.