Since September 2010, Illinois has been busy upgrading 90 miles of track on the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor to support speeds of 110 mph for passenger rail service. This particular project will cost $110 million and if it hasn’t already, should be completed soon.
This particular project is spending but one part of the $1.1 billion Illinois has received from the federal government to upgrade the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor to support speeds of 110 mph.
Before utilizing the rest of the high-speed rail funds, Illinois is preparing an environmental impact study and has set up a project website at idothsr.org where more information can be found. Public meetings will be held beginning in early March; a meeting in Alton will be held on March 9.
What about trains traveling 220 miles per hour?
Back in 2009, two groups presented proposals for building true high-speed rail (speeds in excess of 155 mph) on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association prepared a feasibility study that suggested building a 220 mph high-speed rail line via Champaign, Decatur, and Springfield. The French National Railway (SNCF), operators of the famous TGV, submitted an Expression of Interest in response to a request from the FRA, but proposed a high-speed line to roughly follow the existing Amtrak route, instead. Both proposals suggest the possibility of running times from Chicago to St. Louis of less than 2 hours.
So while Illinois continues work to upgrade and double-track the existing line to support 110 mph operations, it’s promising to see that the state is still interested in pursuing more ambitious proposals. From the announcement of the environmental impact study:
The Chicago-St. Louis 220 mph High Speed Rail Express is a project concept being pursued by IDOT. This service, at speeds up to 220 mph, may utilize existing rail corridors, a new corridor, or a combination of both, and could serve different travel markets. The 220 mph concept is intended as a complementary service to the Chicago-St. Louis high speed rail service that is being evaluated by this EIS. […] IDOT intends to further study the 220 mph project concept, including development of an investment-grade business plan and the preparation of a separate Tier 1 EIS.
And from the Illinois High-Speed Rail – Chicago to St. Louis project website:
IDOT embraces the idea that a network of different but connecting rail services operating at up to both 110 miles per hour and 220 miles per hour may best serve the state’s travel and economic development needs. IDOT recently submitted a grant application to the Federal Railroad Administration for an Alternative Analysis and environmental studies for 220 miles per hour service–however, the application was not selected for funding.
And… in my inbox today,—–Today, Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, called upon Governor Quinn and the Federal Railroad Administrator to begin designing a 220-mph high-speed rail line.There is a project underway to modernize the Chicago–St. Louis Amtrak corridor, which will increase cruising speeds to 110 mph and yield a reduced trip time of 4 hours 37 minutes. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association fully supports this initiative and thanks Senator Durbin and Governor Quinn for working aggressively to get the project underway.But the Obama administration has made it clear that the goal should be two-hour trip times between major cities. Vice President Biden specifically cited this goal for the Chicago–St. Louis line in a document issued in August 2010.Achieving that goal will require constructing new, dedicated tracks for trains capable of 220 mph. High-speed rail is a proven technology with a nearly 50-year track record. There are already 8,000 miles of high-speed rail corridors in operation worldwide.All of our economic competitors – all industrialized nations and now some emerging economies – are already enjoying the lower cost, more dependable, and more productive travel that bullet trains deliver. We need to get the design work underway now if we are ever to catch up.Twice, Governor Quinn has applied for federal funds to design a bullet train. Twice, Washington said no. We believe that the third time will be a charm and urge Governor Quinn to apply once again.President Obama has outlined an exciting vision of transforming the economy with high-speed trains. The first step towards realizing that vision is to get design work underway.Illinois can beat California to be the first state operating 220-mph bullet trains. The goal should be to have bullet trains operating in Illinois before 2020.
If the Obama Administration wants to promote true HSR, it should forget about Florida and shift its focus to the prez's own backyard. The Express plans that MWHSR and SNCF proposed are examples of how HSR SHOULD be done. Follow existing lines where there is proven rail service.If funding is ever approved, letting SNCF and/or a third operator like Veoila run the route would complement and compete with Amtrak's upgraded Regional service.The true sticking point will be stations at each endpoint. Chicago's Union Station is an overcrowded messs and Amtrak partially owns Gateway Station in St. Louis, so that will be a problem for any competitor. As a result, SNCF could follow its own recommendation to serve O'Hare Airport and St. Louis Union Station. If MWHSR does go with someone else for its own HSR route, it could also use those stations and provide transfers for anybody who needs to take Amtrak to Milwaukee or Kansas City.
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