With the $1.2 billion high-speed rail project between Chicago and St. Louis moving apace, Illinois is moving on to bigger and faster projects.

Proposed high-speed rail lines
Proposed 220-mph high-speed rail lines. // MHSRA.

Last month, Illinois Governor Quinn announced a partnership with the University of Illinois to study the feasibility of 220-mph high-speed rail between Chicago and Champaign-Urbana and to points beyond including St. Louis and Indianapolis. The Champaign-Urbana line would complement the current 110-mph high-speed rail project by adding new passenger rail service to Decatur and decrease travel times to UIUC to less than an hour.

First proposed by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association in 2010, a 220-mph high-speed rail line via Urbana-Champaign allows for a straighter, easier, faster trip into downtown Chicago compared to the existing Amtrak line via Bloomington-Normal and Joliet. It also promises to connect St. Louis to Chicago in under 2 hours, a speed that would assuredly kill off nearly all non-connecting trips by air between the two cities.

Connecting St. Louis to Indianapolis

The rerouting of passenger trains from St. Louis to Chicago via Urbana-Champaign may benefit St. Louis in another way, as well: it may encourage a high-speed rail connection to Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

Old and new train stations in Champaign, IL. // yuan2003.

Approximately 240 miles separate St. Louis and Indianapolis with Terre Haute the only city of consequence along the way. The relatively small size of St. Louis and Indianapolis is unlikely to be able to support such a long high-speed rail line, particularly one from which Illinois is unlikely to benefit.

However, assuming a high-speed rail line is built connecting Chicago to Indianapolis, as little as 75 miles of additional track would be needed to connect St. Louis to Indianapolis via Champaign IL. Despite being more than 60 miles longer, trains would still be able to travel from St. Louis to Indianapolis in about 2 hours and to Cincinnati in under 3 hours.

Bypassing Lafayette IN

Given the short distance between Champaign IL and Crawfordsville IN, there’s temptation to route the Chicago to Indianapolis and Cincinnati line via Champaign IL instead of via Gary and Lafayette IN to reduce the overall cost of infrastructure. From the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association’s 2011 Economic Report:

Although not examined in this study, an alternative route via Champaign warrants further study. Combining this portion of the Chicago – Cincinnati route with the Chicago – St. Louis route may reduce the initial costs of construction. It would directly tie Chicago to Indianapolis and Cincinnati via one of the Midwest’s major university and research complexes. More importantly, this routing would create the ability to provide direct service between St. Louis and Cincinnati in less than three hours without building a separate line. Under this scenario, it would be critical to fully integrate the schedules of the proposed 110-mph Chicago service via Lafayette and Gary with those for the 220-mph route. As demand for services warrants (including densities along the St. Louis to Chicago route), 220-mph service to Gary and Lafayette could be introduced.

It’s interesting how favorably the report looks upon UIUC while completely ignoring Purdue University. If high-speed rail discussions ever get more seriously considered, expect a lot of lobbying from Lafayette IN and Purdue University to not get bypassed by the train.

Posted by Herbie Markwort

I like to write about transportation.

One Comment

  1. Great coverage. I think it is important for state and local leaders to commit their funds to studying and beginning to build high speed rail. As the State of Illinois under Governor Pat Quinn's leadership is willing to spend $1.25M of their capital dollars on a bullet train study, there is an opportunity for the State of Indiana and the State of Missouri to match that commitment and begin planning for high speed rail as well.

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