High speed rail in the United States, despite strong support from the federal government and individual initiatives in states like California, remains in its infancy. While nations like China and parts of Europe enjoy the benefits of this form of faster mass transit, many parts of our nation continue to make use of slower trains and, in many cases, no trains at all. Amtrak, as the only real train focused organization on a larger scale domestically, has its Acela service on the East Coast, and is slowly working to get faster trains offered in other parts of the country as well.
Two recent events point to Amtrak having some successes in at least hitting the lower threshold of what we’d consider high speed rail speeds. The more recent of the two happened this past week in Illinois, though it was only a demonstration and not actual active service yet. A 15 mile demonstration segment along Amtrak’s Chicago to St. Louis corridor was used to show off 110 mile per hour speeds between Dwight and Pontiac, and was well attended by officials anxious to see this part of a $2 billion federal and state investment in high-speed rail in use. It is a significant increase from the normal 79 mph being seen by regular Amtrak service here.
The State of Illinois noted that, by Thanksgiving, trains will start carrying Amtrak riders at the higher speed along that segment. They also projected that by 2015 the 110 mph service will be in place along nearly 75% of this corridor, cutting rail travel time here by 90 minutes or so. To make the 15 mile segment possible, it first had to undergo major infrastructure improvements, state-of-the-art signaling and significant technological and safety advancements to bring it up to specifications. This will need to happen along the rest of this train line, as well as similar train lines around the country, for high speed rail to become more of a reality.
“Investing in passenger rail means more options for the traveling public, new jobs and expanding economic opportunities for communities all along the Chicago to St. Louis corridor,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “With next generation rail equipment, new track structures, and renovated and new rail stations, passengers will be able to enjoy faster travel times aboard a greater number of trains.”