The Illinois Department of Transportation says a $1.95 billion rebuilding of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is close to being finished.
IDOT officials say that 75 percent of the 284-mile corridor will feature speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.
Among the work yet to be done is temporarily closing 18 grade crossings to allow for the installation of new gates, fencing and other improvements.
Grade crossings will receive “four-quad” gates to block two traffic lanes on each side of the track and keep vehicles from going around the gates
Sidewalk gates will keep pedestrians from crossing while a train is approaching and 3-foot-high pedestrian fences will be installed at to encourage people to cross where they should.
Officials said some service will be suspended between May 16 to 23 for bridge work in the Metro East area of St. Louis.
The suspensions will affect trains operations between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois. Chartered buses will replace trains during that period.
Much of the route upgrading, which has included laying new rails and putting down concrete ties has been funded by the federal government.
IDOT officials said increasing the maximum speed in open areas to 110 will cut about an hour off the corridor travel time.
“Currently, it’s about five and a half hours from end to end,” said Scott Speegle, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “It’ll be about four and a half once the project is finished and we’re able to run the 110 high speed.”
However, officials said that although they expect the higher speed project to be finished this year they cannot yet say when the 110 mph speeds will be allowed.
It could be in 2018, but that will depend on testing the line’s positive train control system.
“They have to be very conservative with testing,” said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.
Speegle said aside from higher speeds, the PTC system will allow for better train flow and increased reliability.
He noted that much of the corridor is a single track line hosting passenger and freight trains.
Some double track and lengthened siding have been added to facilitate meets of opposing rail traffic.
The Chicago-St. Louis corridor is used by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.