The Illinois Department of Transportation on Tuesday broke ground on the first phase of a $255-million project to restore passenger rail service between Chicago and the region's Quad Cities, located near the Illinois-Iowa state line.

Initial work will focus on executing $23 million in track, signal and capacity improvements to accommodate additional trains at a BNSF rail yard in Aurora, Ill., once service between Chicago and Moline, Ill., commences. Additional work will involve grading and drainage upgrades, with renovations scheduled to conclude next summer.

As planned, a future phase will include track, signal, station and rolling stock improvements on 53-miles of trackway between Chicago and Wyanet, where new track will link to Iowa Interstate Railroad, carrying service to Moline. 

In addition to a $177-million grant from the Federal Railway Administration, the project has received $78 million in matching funds from Grov. Pat Quinn's Illinois Jobs Now! Program.

The Chicago-Moline line is due for completion by December 2016. Service initially will include two round trips between Chicago's Union Station and Moline per day at speeds of up to 79 mph, with stops in LaGrange, Naperville, Plano, Mendota, Princeton and Geneseo. Future plans call for increasing the frequency of round trips and achieving speeds of 90 mph, or 110 mph, once additional infrastructure is in place.

“Restoring passenger service between Chicago and Moline is critical to development of a Midwest pasenger rail network that will connect the 40 largest markets in the Midwest,” Federal Railroad Adminstrator Joseph Szabo indicated in a statement on Tuesday.

Passenger rail service between Chicago and the Quad Cities ceased in 1979.