Amtrak train from Joliet hits 111 mph in test of Illinois high-speed rail
BY TINA SFONDELES Sun-Times Media October 20, 2012 2:00AM
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 22, 2012 6:43AM
Touting high-speed trains as the future of passenger rail, Amtrak on Friday led a test ride at 110 mph between Dwight and Pontiac on the agency’s 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 screen on 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.
LaHood joked moments before as the train slowed down to 74: “Hey, should we be telling the engineer to speed up, not slow down?”
LaHood, Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin were aboard along with 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 was upgraded with new rails and stone ballast. The old wooden ties were replaced with concrete ties.
The 15-mile section also has four-quadrant grade crossings, as well as a system that monitors each crossing along the route for safety issues.
Amtrak hopes the train can reach the speed regularly before Thanksgiving, although the service is still considered to be in a test mode. The Federal Railroad Administration will make the final call as to when the trains and track are ready for the higher speeds.
The goal is to get 75 percent of the route at 110 mph by 2015, reducing travel time by more than an hour. State transportation officials say funding is available for that 75 percent.
The project is part of a $2 billion federal and state investment in high-speed rail that has supported more than 6,000 construction jobs.
Planners think the route will become the busiest in the state and usher in economic growth. It’s already seen an 11 percent boost in ridership within the last 12 months.
“We have put Illinois on the map for the next generation of transportation for the next generation,” 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 Barack 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 isn’t a new concept, just new to Illinois. Amtrak’s Acela Express trains can travel at 150 mph. But Amtrak has outlined plans to increase top speeds to 220 mph by reducing train congestion. A trip to New York City to Washington D.C. would take only 1 hour and 34 minutes under that plan.
High speed rail got a big national boost in 2009 when it received $8 billion in stimulus funding.