Posts Tagged ‘Illinois high speed rail’

It’s The Turboliner Era All Over Again

January 16, 2019

I posted earlier this month about how the promised “high speeds” on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor have yet to materialize despite $1.95 million having been spent to rebuild the route to allow for 110-mile per hour operation.

Instead, the top speed for Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle is 79 mph, which means that Chicago-St. Louis trains go no faster than, say, Chicago-Carbondale trains.

Trains in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor did travel 110 mph for a time in what Amtrak spokesman Marc Magilari later described as a demonstration project.

So when are higher speeds finally going to become routine for Lincoln Service trains?

The latest word from the Illinois Department of Transportation is that we might see 90 mph speeds this year.

But 110 mph? IDOT won’t go there anymore in predicting when that will happen.

The explanation being given for the delay is the positive train control system that will make higher speeds possible is still being tested.

There is probably a lot of truth to that given that PTC is a relatively new form of technology.

But even when the PTC is ready to go, it will hardly make the Chicago-St. Louis corridor a high-speed operation.

IDOT has said 90 mph speeds will shave 15 minutes off the travel time from the Windy City to the Gateway City.

That doesn’t like seem like much given how much money has been spent on this project.

But then again this was never intended to result in a high-speed rail project even if it might have been framed that way.

The term high-speed rail gets thrown out a lot in this country and when it does many people think of super trains such as the Japanese Shinkansen, the German ICE or maybe even Amtrak’s Acela Express.

Some of those overseas trains have taken on mythical stature in American minds and when I give presentations on transportation history I’m often asked when the United States will have such trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

My standard answer is not in your lifetime because there is too much political opposition and not enough money to make it happen.

Even in Europe where transportation policy makers look more favorable on intercity rail transportation it can take at least a decade to develop a new rail line.

It is hardly news that even in a best-case scenario the efforts to develop the Chicago-St. Louis were never going to result in a high-speed rail line the length of the corridor.

At best it could result in a corridor with high-speed rail in some places but many other places where even 79 mph would be a dramatic improvement.

There is slower going in the Chicago and St. Louis terminals, but also in en route cities such as Springfield where city officials have been talking about putting all of the rail lines into a single corridor for as long as I can remember.

Every so often I run across a news story reporting some progress in those efforts, but it has been incremental.

No one has come up with a viable plan to boost speeds in metropolitan Chicago and St. Louis, only through the corn and soybean fields of the hinterlands.

All of this reminds me of when Amtrak introduced French-built Turboliners to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor in October 1973.

They were capable of traveling 125 mph but couldn’t go any faster than – you guessed it – 79 mph on track then owned by the Illinois Central Gulf.

Super fast running, though, was not the point of introducing the Turboliners an Amtrak official confided to the late David P. Morgan, the editor of Trains magazine.

The purpose of the Turboliners was to show Amtrak was doing something to improve intercity rail passenger service other than making cosmetic changes to equipment that had been built before, during or shortly after World War II.

Come to think of it, the same could be said about the money spent to rebuild the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

It is a way of showing that something is being done to improve intercity rail service between two cities that if they were located in Europe or Asia would already have had frequent high-speed rail service.

Presumably, Amtrak and host railroad Union Pacific will get the kinks worked out and someday trains will cruise at 90 mph and, maybe, 110 mph.

The Turboliners would have been right at home there. But they were removed from service more than two decades ago and are now just a footnote in the history of a corridor still looking to become something better than what it has been since Amtrak started 47 years ago.

Some Lincoln Service Passengers to be Bused

March 2, 2016

Track work will result in some Lincoln Service passengers being transported by bus in mid-March.

Amtrak said the affected trains are Nos. 302, 303, 306 and 307 between St. Louis and Springfield.

Amtrak logoOn March 12, Train No. 307 will operate normally from Chicago to Springfield, but passengers will be bused to St. Louis and all intermediate stations.

On March 13, Trains 302 and 306 will be replaced with bus service at all stations from St. Louis to Springfield. At Springfield, passengers will board their respective train to their destination.

The buses are expected to leave earlier than the published times for the trains in order to allow for adequate connection time in Springfield.

Trains 303 and 307 will operate normally from Chicago to Springfield where passengers will board buses for St. Louis and all intermediate stations.

On March 14, Trains 302 and 306 will be replaced with bus service at all stations from St. Louis to Springfield. At Springfield, passengers will board the respective train to their destination.

The buses will depart earlier than the published times for the trains.

Train No. 303 will operate normally from Chicago to Springfield with passengers bused to St. Louis and all intermediate stations.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that the track work is being undertaken by Union Pacific to perform track and signal upgrades in preparation for 110 mph speeds to the Lincoln Service route.

IDOT Intends to Finish High-Speed Rail Project

February 10, 2016

Despite a budget stalemate and the desire of the governor to reduce spending on Amtrak service, the Illinois Department of Transportation expects to spend all of the $1.1 billion in federal funds it has been awarded to upgrade the Chicago-St. Louis corridor to higher speed rail.

IDOT faces a Sept. 30, 2017, deadline to spend the money or else return to the federal government what it has not spent.

IDOTDuring a meeting in Lockport, Illinois, this week, IDOT officials said the budget standoff between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly won’t affect work on the high-speed rail project.

Scott Speegle, IDOT’s passenger rail marketing manager, said the department continues to work with the Federal Railroad Administration on the project and intends to meet the 2017 deadline.

Speegle spoke at the Gladys Fox Museum at the invitation of the Blackhawk Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

The high-speed rail program began in 2010 and involves upgrading the corridor in some places to a 110 mph top speed.

Illinois is providing $850 million of the cost of the $1.95 million project, which includes $637 million for track and structure improvements; $194 million for grade crossings, fencing and bridge improvements; and $609 million for rolling stock and equipment.

“I don’t think it’s a secret, certainly not to most folks, but right now we’re in some respects in a holding pattern primarily due to the [state’s] budget and financial situation,” Speegle said in reference to the budget fight.

Also in limbo are other rail and station improvement projects, including an extension of Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford and the Quad Cities region.

“None have been canceled, but until funding is identified, they probably won’t be moving forward at this point any time soon,” Speegle said.

The Chicago-St. Louis corridor has 11 stations and is served by four daily Lincoln Service roundtrips and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Quality Leader Names for Illinois Rail Project

June 27, 2015

Philip Stephens has been named by Parsons Brinckerhoff to serve as the quality task leader for the Chicago to St. Louis high speed rail program.

Stephens, who has more than 20 years of management experience in the application of quality standards for the design and construction of large transportation infrastructure projects, will provide oversight, direction and audits of all program management sub-consultants and contractors.

Parsons Brinckerhoff is serving as program manager for the $1.6 billion project to increase speeds along the 284-mile route.

Before joining Parsons Brinckerhoff, Stephens worked at a Chicago construction engineering firm where he was also involved with quality assurance activities for the Chicago-St. Louis high-speed rail project.

Previously, he was a construction quality assurance manager with a construction management company, providing quality assurance services for Chicago Transit Authority projects.

 

Bills Introduced for EIS for Illinois High-Speed Rail

March 29, 2015

Some Illinois lawmakers are continuing to push for high-speed rail in the state even in the face of threatened cuts to the existing state-funded Amtrak service.

Senate Majority Leader Clayborne, D-Belleville, and Representative Ammons, D-Champaign, introduced identical bills seeking $15 million for a Tier I environmental impact statement for a Chicago-East St. Louis/Indianapolis high-speed line.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has pushed for the over the past few years and says that a Tier I EIS is a critical piece of planning work needed to design a route.

The proposed route would connect O’Hare Airport, Chicago Union Station, McCormick Place, Champaign, Decatur, Springfield and East St. Louis. It would also feature a branch to Indianapolis from Champaign.