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PONTIAC — Pontiac Mayor Bob Russell had no idea where to start when comparing Pontiac’s new passenger rail station to the previous one, built nearly a century ago.

“You could start with the parking lot,” he said Monday during special ceremonies to officially open the $2.65 million station. “In the old one, we had about five spaces. Now, we have 29 and it’s great that they are all full to celebrate this day.”

In what was described as another step toward the completion of the Illinois high-speed rail Chicago to St. Louis corridor, the new depot officially opened Monday with an official ribbon cutting.

“This is a big deal for our city,” said Russell. “We have a lot of visitors from all over the world and we have a lot of business people traveling through from Chicago to Springfield. We are within one mile of being right in the middle of those two.”

The new station will begin hosting passengers on Tuesday, but about 75 people attended the grand opening. The station is located a block south of the old station on city-owned property at 711 W. Water St.

“This building will become a centerpiece of downtown Pontiac and provide travelers a safer, more reliable and convenient option to get to where they want to go,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. “This gives them choices on how to get to Springfield, Chicago, St. Louis or Bloomington.”

Construction costs for the 1,350-square-foot station were funded by a federal grant to IDOT as part of the high-speed rail program to introduce better performance and passenger speeds up to 110 mph on the Union Pacific Railroad line between Chicago and St. Louis. New stations also are being built in other smaller communities, including Lincoln, Carlinville and Alton. A new station in Dwight opened last year.

The Pontiac station includes waiting room, interior and exterior seating, free Wi-Fi, bicycle parking, a passenger pick-up and drop-off zone, modern security systems, bike and pedestrian paths, and various energy-efficient features. The platform is 360 feet long.

“The good news about Amtrak stations in Illinois this year, starts here in Pontiac,” said Mike Franke, Amtrak senior director of state government contracts. “This is a significant upgrade for the passengers who use this stop every year. We are confident that Amtrak service will be the next big step in the ability to cross the state.”

According to Amtrak officials, about 16,000 people use the stop in Pontiac every year.

“This is a major milestone for the state of Illinois,” added Blankenship. “It is the second station we have opened, but we need to think about how we get to our destinations in the 21st century and we need to invest in our communities. I am very proud that Pontiac is one of our first, earliest efforts with this. There is no better place to start than right here in Pontiac. It’s a stopping point on the old Route 66 and has always been a true gathering place in Central Illinois.”

Russell agreed that the way people use transportation is changing.

“For instance, people who live in Chicago have found that they can get by without a car or even a driver’s license,” he said. “When they travel, trains are becoming more and more common and facilities like this will only encourage that.”

The Illinois high-speed rail project is about 284 miles long with Amtrak trains operating primarily on Union Pacific Railroad track.

​Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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Staff Writer for The Pantagraph.

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