More High Speed Rail Comes To Amtrak, Sort Of

Getting from western Michigan to the suburbs of Chicago just got a bit quicker [PDF] thanks to the inauguration of an Amtrak line covering the 97 miles from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana. This stretch is the longest segment of track owned by Amtrak outside of the Northeast Corridor. The Amtrak Wolverine Service — with three daily round-trips between Pontiac and Chicago via Detroit and Ann Arbor — and the Amtrak Blue Water — daily between Port Huron and Chicago via East Lansing — both use this corridor, the main rail connection to Chicago from Detroit. The Detroit–Chicago corridor has been designated by the Federal Railroad Administration as a high-speed rail corridor.

With the opening of this service, trains will now be able to hit speeds of 110 mph on this segment. Amtrak began raising speeds on this corridor from 79 mph in 2001 to 90 mph in 2002 and to 95 mph in 2005. Sustained operations at 110 mph will shave 10 minutes from the 95 mph schedules and about 20 minutes from the 2001 schedules. Amtrak shares rail lines with freight carriers east of Chicago. This can lead to significant delays near Gary, Indiana as Amtrak trains wait for the tracks to clear. None of the high-speed rail proposals put forward to date address this specific issue.

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image via Wikipedia Commons

So far, it appears that increasing speed leads to increasing ridership. During fiscal year 2011, the Wolverine carried 503,290 passengers, a 4.9% increase from FY 2010’s total of 479,782 passengers, the highest ridership totals ever on Amtrak services in Michigan. The service had a total revenue of $18.8 million in FY 2011, a 11% increase from FY 2010’s $16.9 million total revenue.

The new, higher-speed corridor was funded $150 million from the federal government and utilizes an Incremental Train Control System installed developed by General Electric Transportation. The system, installed in the engine of the line’s trains, continually monitors the condition of signals, switches and crossings ensuring safe, high-speed travel.

But some are asking if 110 miles per hour is fast enough and why is high-speed faster in the Northeast than it is in the Midwest? The U.S. Department of Transportation defines high-speed rail as “reasonably expected to reach sustained speeds of more than 125 mph” although the Federal Railroad Administration uses a definition of above 110 mph. Currently Amtrak trains in the Northeast can travel at speeds of up to 150 mph and Amtrak is studying the feasibility of raising the top speed to twice the speed of the new Michigan line — 220 mph.

For the majority of national high-speed railways (Japan, China, Taiwan, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, UK) maximum commercial speed is about 186 mph. Maglev trains, which use magnetic levitation to suspend, guide and propel vehicles from magnets rather than using mechanical methods, have significantly higher speeds and average about 250 mph on national lines.

Steve Duda lives in West Seattle, WA with three dogs and a lot of outdoor gear. A part-time fly fishing fishing guide and full-time writer, Steve’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, American Angler, Fly Fish Journal, The Drake, Democracy Now! and many others.

    • Moniker

      HSR is a scam.  We can’t afford existing local and long-haul passenger rail service.

      This is worse than the ethanol subsidies, which even die-hard environmentalists admit are futile.  It takes about the same amount of petroleum to produce ethanol from corn as it saves, when you consider the fertilization, cultivation, transportation, and lower mpg you get with ethanol.

      HSR is mostly a way to transfer taxpayer money to political contributors and powerful special interest groups.

      HSR is also a way to make the people more dependent upon the federal government, which will control which cities are served and by how many trains.  It’s a way to make cities and regions obey and support the federal government more.

      • Jim

        If high speed rail is a scam, what is the interstate highway system?  Our nation’s freeways cost far more to build and maintain, mile for mile, than any high speed rail.

        • USA needs to have high speed rail like all other “modern developed nations” otherwise your infrastructure is rapidly becoming one of a 3rd rate country.

      • Epioch_mlr

        “Also, those regions “grew up” around rail lines, while the USA didn’t”
        Hhmmm, apparently the USA didnt have rail lines connecting both coasts of the US 150 years ago. Nope those were never built they were just something we conjured up in our imagination. Just like they didnt help spur the U.S. into one of the most industrialized nations in the world. Non of this ever happened. Moving along.
         

      • Really? With that logic, we should shut down every single road in this country! Do you realize that Los Angeles has similar densities to Paris as a whole? We will be changing development in the future to orient around transit and permit higher density notes. These high-density transit routes will then be connected to large rail stations which can get you inbetween cities.

      • ignatius1776

        Moniker has it backwards. European cities obviously did not grow up around rail lines since those cities existed far before rail was invented. However, many U.S. cities did expand as a result of rail lines, which often paralleled existing road and canal networks. As for demographics and geography, the population density in many states is equivalent to or higher than densities in Europe. For instance, Florida (353 people/sq mi) is significantly more dense than France (295 people/sq mi) and Ohio (282 people/sq mi) is more dense than Spain (236 people/sq mi)–and both France and Spain have high speed rail networks.