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.