Illinois Boosts Chicago–St Louis High-Speed Train Funding

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Chicago-St. Louis high speed train route (ILDOT)Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced on Wednesday a $102 million capital investment by the state in improving high-speed trains in the state.

Together with federal funds from the high-speed rail stimulus program in the Recovery Act, the capital will allow the Union Pacific Railroad and Illinois Department of Transportation to construct a new bridge and double-track a busy corridor on the Chicago–St Louis high-speed train line, used by Amtrak’s Illinois Service. The map at right shows the route of this key intercity train corridor.

The improvements will enhance safety and capacity and boost speed on parts of the line from 79 mph to about 110 mph, much as the Acela has cut times on the Washington–Boston run. They will carve the ride between cities by an hour and enable more daily round trips. The Chicago–St Louis high-speed train trip compares favorably with travel by car (almost 5 hours at non-peak times) or Metrobus (4.5 hours). It lowers stress on the traveler considerably, involves fewer climate-altering emissions than other forms of travel, and eliminates airport waits, delays, and cancellations.

Laying new rail track (Union Pacific)Check out the video from the Illinois DOT here for more on recent developments. In total, the state has committed $358.8 million to improve the Chicago–St Louis route, with the federal government funding the other $1.2 billion for high-speed train track overhaul, signal systems, and stations.

As we reported in March, Illinois DOT has also ordered lighter-weight, more fuel-efficient, and more responsive “Charger” diesel-electric locomotives from Siemens to serve this corridor. These trains, used widely in Europe, involve less maintenance and lower environmental impacts than locomotives currently used on the route.

To give you a sense of why high-speed train improvements along this route are significant, here’s a quote from the Encyclopedia of Chicago History:

Chicago is the most important railroad center in North America. More lines of track radiate in more directions from Chicago than from any other city. Chicago has long been the most important interchange point for freight traffic between the nation’s major railroads and it is the hub of Amtrak, the intercity rail passenger system. Chicago ranks second (behind New York City) in terms of the volume of commuter rail passengers carried each day.

City of St. Louis (public domain)

It’s worth noting that although St Louis is a relatively small city, it is the nation’s third-largest freight rail hub and also provides access to the Mississippi River transportation corridor from an almost 20-mile riverbank port. By trip-ton miles for an inland port, it ranks second in the nation, and third-largest by tonnage. The river handles more than 32 million tons of freight from St Louis annually.

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