Illinois Lays Out High Speed Rail Vision

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.

Midwest high speed rail, proposed routes, Illinois

image via Midwest High Speed Rail

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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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Paul B

    Jeeze, Why is it that rail skeptics sneer at the pace of improvements to these lines that were virtually abandoned more than 50 years ago?? There has been virtually no investment in these lines in that time therefore there is a hell of a lot to do to get them up to speed, (pun intended).

    Like all major engineering projects preparation is everything so don’t be surprised if the first 12-18 months is made up planning the rehabilitation of WHOLE line and only then start the ACTUAL re-laying the lines and doing the necessary upgrades. So it comes as no surprised to an engineer that by 2012 only 20 miles of track would have been laid. Trust me, in engineering that’s not bad going!!

  • lexslamman

    It is well known that unless you are going to mobilize an awful lot of money and workers, rail improvements will happen in an incremental manner. Perhaps if the conservatives didn’t scream and whine whenever someone made a suggestion at how the power of good governance can be used to improve our lives, real 150+ mph high speed rail could be built in Illinois.

    We’d have to get rid of the GOP to do it.