Amtrak train reaches 111 mph in test run of Illinois high-speed rail
BY TINA SFONDELES Transportation Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org October 19, 2012 7:54AM
Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin are joined by state and local officials in March 2011 as they announce the next phase of high-speed rail construction in Chicago. On Friday, Quinn, Durbin and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took part in a test
Updated: November 21, 2012 6:07AM
Touting high-speed trains as the future of passenger rail service, an Amtrak train sped up to 111 mph on a test ride Friday between Dwight and Pontiac on the Chicago to St. Louis route.
About 11:45 a.m., U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Gov. Pat Quinn held on tightly as the speedometer of the five-car, two-locomotive train peaked at 111 mph.
The 15-mile demonstration lasted for just a couple of minutes as the train approached Dwight, but the ride became increasingly bumpy. Normal speed in the area is 79 mph.
Moments before the train reached that top speed, it slowed down to 74, prompting LaHood to joke: “Hey, should we be telling the engineer to speed up, not slow down?”
Also aboard were U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and other local and state leaders to show off the beginning of the 110-mph rail service.
Quinn called the ride historic: “This is the fastest time for a passenger train outside the Northeast in American history.”
It takes a lot to safely travel at 110 mph. The portion of the track tested Friday was upgraded with new rail and stone ballast. The old wooden ties were replaced with concrete ties.
The 15-mile section also has gates that stretch across both sides of the road on each side of the crossings and a system that monitors each crossing for safety issues. High-speed trains will blow their horns up to 80 seconds before reaching the crossing; gates typically are down for only 30 to 35 seconds. That means towns on the edge of the track will hear that horn blowing as it blasts by. But trains traveling faster than 45 mph don’t have to sound the horn until they are a quarter of a mile from the crossing, according to federal requirements.
Amtrak hopes trains on the stretch tested Friday can reach 110 mphspeed by November — before Thanksgiving — although the service is still considered to be in test mode. The Federal Railroad Administration will make the final call about when the trains and track are ready for the the 110 mph speed.
The goal is to get 75 percent of the Chicago-to St.-Louis route at 110 mph by 2015, reducing the travel time by more than an hour. State transportation officials say funding is available for that 75 percent of the route.
The project is part of a $2 billion federal and state investment in high-speed rail that will create more than 6,000 construction jobs.
Planners think the route will become the busiest in the state and usher in economic growth. It already has seen an 11 percent boost in ridership in the last 12 months.
“We have put Illinois on the map for the next generation of transportation,” LaHood said before boarding the train in Joliet.
“This is only the beginning,” LaHood said. “By 2015, 110 mph service will be expanded throughout nearly 75 percent of the corridor.”
The Chicago-to-St. Louis high-speed project has been paid for through $1.2 billion in federal grants that Illinois received from President Obama in 2010. The funds were to bring high-speed passenger rail service to Illinois between Dwight and East St. Louis. But it will take $4 billion to complete the entire route.
High-speed rail isn’t a new concept, just new to Illinois. Amtrak’s Acela Express trains can travel 150 mph. But Amtrak has outlined plans to increase speeds to 220 mph by reducing train congestion. A trip from New York City to Washington D.C. would take only 94 minutes under that plan.