Illinois high-speed rail project hits a milestone at 111 miles per hour


A Lincoln Service Amtrak train passes Joliet, Illinois. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined United States Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood (who’s from Peoria) and Senator Dick Durbin on a special Amtrak train in Joliet on their way to Normal. They met to ride on a rebuilt stretch of track which carried their train at a top speed of 111 miles per hour (MPH).

The high-speed portion is between Dwight and Pontiac, Illinois, according to the LaHood’s blog, Fast Lane. The map below highlights the cities in this article along the route of the Lincoln Service Amtrak route to St. Louis, Missouri. NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes. “Amtrak says that by 2015, 75% of the route between Chicago and St. Louis will be high speed”.

Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and Federal Railroad Administrator Szabo celebrate reaching 111 MPH (visible in the lower-left corner of the TV). Photo by Harvey Tillis

LaHood said on the train, “Four years ago, we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it comes to high-speed rail”. Grid Chicago readers know that Illinois secured over $2 billion in federal grants through President Obama’s ARRA stimulus program to build new tracks, buy new trains, and study a possible new double-track alignment for the Lincoln Service route. Governor Quinn claimed that 111 MPH is the fastest train speed outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in America’s history; however, the Pioneer Zephyr ran from Denver to Chicago and hit a top speed of 112 MPH. The train is on display at the Museum of Science & Industry. The Northeast Corridor is fully electric and has routes that stop at Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.; Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, hits 150 MPH for a short distance.

View this map in a new browser window. Red markers indicate Amtrak stations; larger red markers highlight major stations on the Lincoln Service route from Chicago Union Station to St. Louis, Missouri. Map created using TileMill and freely available GIS shapefiles. 

Amtrak’s state-subsidized routes in Illinois have seen year-over-year ridership increases. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak. Lincoln Service trains have seen speeds improving since last year when significant lengths of brand-new track was laid. Cutting subsidies would likely slow the ridership increases which are based on Americans’ desire for additional and reliable transportation options; passenger rail provides an alternative to high gas prices.

Representative John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, whose state rejected high-speed rail funding from Washington, supports the profitable Amtrak routes (some in the NEC).

While recognizing the need for a central entity to coordinate routes nationwide, Mr. Mica said the government has no place handling Amtrak’s day-to-day operations. But he acknowledged that some less profitable routes can’t get by without some subsidies.

“I’m for the privatization, and if we can end them, we can,” he said.

The next time Representative Mica goes back to the office, concerned about the profitability of transportation routes, he should check the balance sheets for the nation’s non-tolled highways: 100% of them will be in the red.


Normal, Illinois, constructed and opened a new intermodal Amtrak station this year (in a multi-use building), along with some streetscape improvements in its downtown. Uptown Station, as it’s known, has Illinois’s second-highest ridership, after Chicago Union Station. Photo by Dan Kuchta. 

Watch the video on NBC5’s website.

29 thoughts on “Illinois high-speed rail project hits a milestone at 111 miles per hour”

  1. Thanks, Gov. Quinn for scooping up all the money that Gov. Walker of WI turned down. :-)

    Why would you refuse free money to build better rail infrastructure? A Chicago-Madison line would be pretty awesome. Or Milwaukee-Green Bay. I am travelling up to Green Bay this weekend and have to take a bus from Milwaukee because the Amtrak Hiawatha line doesn’t extend past there. You’d think there’d be plenty of demand for such an extension – especially during foot ball season. Gotta keep those drunk Packers fans off the roads. :-)

      1. Speaking of free transit

        Alweg is best remembered for developing the original Disneyland Monorail System, opening in 1959, and the Seattle Center Monorail, opened for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition.[citation needed] Both systems remain operational, with the Seattle Center Monorail still using the original Alweg trains which have traveled over one million miles. In 1963, Alweg proposed to the city of Los Angeles a monorail system that would be designed, built, operated and maintained by Alweg. Alweg promised to take all financial risk from the construction, and the system would be repaid through fares collected. The City Council rejected the proposal in favor of no transit at all.

        This goes into it in a little more depth. The first link is on Seattle the second LA.

  2. Why do the Republicans keep talking about privatizing rail? We had private rail transport in the first half of the century and it failed miserably. This is the exact reason that the CTA took over the Chicago Rapid Transit Company in 1947, and that Amtrak was created in the 1970’s. It has been seen time and time again that private, for-profit transport systems DO NOT WORK – they need federal subsidies in order to function. You’d think that the Republicans would learn from the past and not make the same mistakes again…

    1. Private rail lasted a long time (many decades) before it “failed miserably”. But part of the reason it failed was because of government regulations over how much rail operators could charge.

      1. I would also argue that big part of the reason private passenger rail failed was due unprecedented, huge public investment in to highways. If highways had been privately developed, I think fewer would have been built, tolls would have moved the cost of auto usage up, and private passenger rail would have survived long enough to begin developing high-speed rail by the mid ’70s (when it was starting to happen elsewhere in the world).

        1. I agree, the biggest factor in the failure of the passenger railroad was post-war public highway construction and the resulting instant infatuation with the automobile. The Interstate Highway System is what really did them in.

          I have to wonder, though, whether high-speed rail really would have come along in the ’70s without the American interstate highway. It may sound jingoistic, but I think it’s true that from the late ’40s to the late ’70s and early ’80s, American industry drove industry and innovation world-wide. The high-speed train may have been invented in Asia and Europe (I honestly don’t know who did it first), but it built on American ideas in engine technology, aerodynamics, and so forth. I think a lot of that American development was made possible because of the economic power the interstate system allowed us. Of course, that stuff hits a limit, and the advantage has long-since been lost, but it’s still worth considering.

          (And this isn’t to argue we have a better world because of the interstate. I think we have a more technological world because of it, but that doesn’t translate to better in my mind.)

          1. Japan was very industrious before and during the war, though their industriousness during the war and for the decade leading up to it was mostly geared toward war. The war resulted in the destruction of much of their industrial capacity, though. It was only rebuilt with the occupation and investment of the Allies under the direction of Douglas McArthur from 1945 to 1952. The war and resconstruction are what set them up to be able to make the advances they did. They have, of course, long-since outstripped us on this, but they needed the Allies to get them started.

            That said, I would have loved to have seen a steam engine that could do 120 mph.

          2. Imagine if President Eisenhower had ridden the trains in Germany instead of driving on the Autobahn…

          3. It’s really interesting, the simple little things that can change history. Eisenhower’s cross-country trip in 1925 or so left him with very bad memories of car travel. I don’t know if he would ever have gotten over that if he hadn’t experienced the Autobahn. Taking advantage of a well-built European train system really might have just emphasized bad memories and showed him a better way. The transportation funding that came down in 1955 could have gone a very different way.

          4. You really believe that story about about Ike’s drive on the Autobahn? GM and big oil had been planning the highway system years before Ike ever even went to war.


            Some of the big highway “visions” start around 12 minutes into the film.
            We blew all that money (and still do) on the highway system and it still can’t hold a candle to the one it was supposedly modeled on. Not only that but we even bombed the heck out of their country twice in less than 30 years and they still have better roads than we’ve ever seen over here.

  3. “NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration
    ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes.”

    Doesn’t that equate to over 180mph? Or do NBC speedometers use a different system that we don’t know about?

    1. Maybe only the section that is 111 MPH is five minutes long and the rest of the 15 miles is slower, but still fast enough to be considered high-speed.

  4. Is there any discussion of moving the City of New Orleans to the higher-speed segment between Chicago & Springfield? Not sure how fast its existing route via Champaign-Urbana is, but it seems like it might be able to save time using the upgraded track since it’s in the same general direction anyway. Or am I way off?

  5. Re: “check the balance sheets for the nation’s non-tolled highways: 100% of them will be in the red.”

    Nonsense. Those are the facilities that generate by far the largest surpluses of gas-tax revenues over costs.

    Most of us studying the question eventually settle on the aggregate figures collected every year in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Table HF-10. This shows that revenue from users pays more than half the direct costs of all streets and roads in the country (down from 70% earlier in the decade). Superhighways are only 1.4 percent of all roads but carry 32% of all vehicle-miles traveled. It seems only proper to allocate (in an accounting sense) the revenue stream to the facility that generates it. So I think it’s fair to say that freeways and other very busy highways are paid for entirely by their users, while about 40% of the cost of local streets is currently paid for by motorists.

  6. “NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes…” I know that ‘less than 5-minutes is an estimate, but at 110 miles an hour….Clearly a mistake!! Does anyone edit, read this before sending it to print???

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