The new Pontiac train station, a sleek structure with modern amenities, was christened Monday afternoon by officials from the city, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The depot opens today, and passenger trains will now stop at the new facility instead of the smaller previous stop only a block away.
    With a construction price tag of $2.65 million, the new, 1,350-square-foot facility features a number of improvements, including air conditioning and heating, free public wi-fi, restrooms and a parking lot with space enough for 29 vehicles. The complex also features bicycle and pedestrian paths, and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    Funding for the project was part of a federal High Speed Rail Initiative grant administered by IDOT to introduce better performance and higher speeds on the Union Pacific Railroad between Chicago and St. Louis, Mo. New stations also are being built in Lincoln, Carlinville and Alton, while the Normal and Springfield stations will receive upgrades. Dwight’s new station has already been opened.
    At Monday’s ceremony inside the station, Mayor Bob Russell called the new station a “big deal,” promising that the city would keep a close eye on it to make sure it was well-maintained.
    “We have a lot visitors in from around the world, we’ve got a lot of business people traveling through here, given our location from Chicago to Springfield, where we’re right in the middle,” he said. “We want people to come to our city, get off the train and have a nice experience … It’s just so important, peoples’ first impression when they step off a train, and this is going to do the job for us.
    IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn called the opening of the station a “truly historic event” and a “major milestone” for Pontiac.
    “Starting (Monday), this modern, eye-catching building becomes the official stop for Pontiac,” he said. “This is the second new station we’ve opened in our high-speed rail program. Approximately 16,000 riders a year use Pontiac, whether they’re regular commuters, students, business people or people just passing through, and we’re hoping that number grows …
    “The bottom line is, we’re committed to improving the quality of life of Illinois residents with convenient options on how they wish to travel, giving them choices on how they get to St. Louis, to Chicago, to Springfield, to Bloomington, is an important way we need to think about transportation in the 21st century.
    Mike Franke, senior director of state government contracts with Amtrak, also spoke highly of the station’s significance.
    “The good news about Amtrak stations in Illinois this year starts in Pontiac, and I cannot think of a better place,” he said. “This is a significant upgrade for the more than 15,000 Amtrak customers who use this stop in Livingston County every year.”
    Franke was briefly interrupted by the arrival of an Amtrak train on the Texas Eagle route. He noted that Monday would be the final time that that train would stop at the old station house.