Twenty miles of rail line between Chicago to St. Louis will be upgraded to 110-mph service by 2012 under an agreement announced between the federal government, Union Pacific, Amtrak and the state of Illinois. That’s a small portion of the planned 284-mile connection, but it will put Illinois in the lead in pursuing the Obama administration’s high-speed rail vision.
In January 2010, the administration awarded Illinois more than $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds for high-speed passenger rail projects in the state, including corridor improvements on the route from Chicago to St. Louis. In September, Illinois announced the beginning of upgrades on a 90-mile segment at the south end of the line, between Alton and Lincoln. With the latest agreement, the state said, construction will continue in early spring from just south of Lincoln to Dwight, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago. But in 2012, only a small segment between Pontiac and Dwight will have the new, enhanced grade crossing warning protection necessary to handle the faster trains.
Union Pacific owns the rail line and Amtrak will run the service between Chicago and St. Louis. According to the press release, upgrading to 110-mph service will result in “reductions in travel time of as much as 48 minutes between Chicago and St. Louis,” shortening the trip to “as little as 4 hours, 32 minutes.” While the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center saluted the agreement, the free-market Illinois Policy Institute was not impressed.
Noting the fairly modest reduction in travel time, Kristina Rasmussen, the organization’s executive vice president, told the Springfield State-Journal, “Man — it’s like we went from high-speed rail to moderate-speed rail to moderately low-speed rail. Sometimes, good government involves stopping and realizing that the path you’ve been going down isn’t the right direction and moving on with other things. In this case, we may be at that point.”
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