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Feds approve Amtrak running 110 mph along Chicago to St. Louis routes

Eric Stock
WGLT file

The federal government has signed off on higher speed Amtrak passenger trains between Chicago and St. Louis, running through Bloomington-Normal, completing more than three decades of effort to bring high-speed rail to the state and the nation's passenger rail service.

At 110 mph, the speed is 20 mph faster than the previous limit along the corridor.

Congress finally approved the $1.95 billion project that included tracks and other upgrades more than a decade ago during the Obama administration. The infrastructure work was largely done by 2017, but other federal approvals took until now.

Amtrak said its trains will operate at the higher speed for the four Amtrak Lincoln Service round trips and the Texas Eagle on 10 daily trains, primarily between Joliet and Alton. There are five daily round trips on the 284 miles of tracks.

“Trains will continue to operate at 110 mph for several weeks without a change in schedule to ensure everything on the system is running properly and to monitor the actual travel time between stations,” said John Oimoen, Illinois Department of Transportation's deputy director for rails.

Amtrak said at 90 mph for most of the route, it takes about five hours to go from Chicago to St. Louis — about the same as driving. The rail service said the goal is to make it demonstrably faster than driving. The change is expected to save about an hour.

The increase in speed comes after significant safety upgrades at all of the crossings along the 300-mile route, said Scott Speegle, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"They now have what are called four-quad gates which means there are two gates on each side of the crossing so that the intersection and crossing is blocked completely. There are also pedestrian gates," said Speegle.

Special equipment, installed as part of IDOT’s Chicago to St. Louis High Speed Rail Project, monitors the trains and traffic control systems, alerting train crews of potential problems.

Amtrak said it also has upgraded service in Michigan and has plans to do so in other parts of Illinois and the Midwest over several years.

The tracks are owned by Union Pacific Railroad. Amtrak operates Lincoln Service and other trains under a contract with IDOT.

"Motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists should always use caution on this important rail corridor, as our trains are faster than they can appear and are quieter than ever. Only use designated public crossings. Never disregard flashing crossing signals or go around lowered gates or trespass on railroad property," Amtrak said in a news release.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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