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.

Getting Midwesterners on board with high-speed rail

I was surprised when Vocalo radio host, Molly Adams, asked me about high-speed rail. I imagined we would only talk about local transit and bicycling projects and issues; as a railfan, I was prepared to answer her question. She said, “How realistic is a possible high-speed rail, in the region?”

I confidently replied, “It is finally starting to happen” (read and listen to the full interview). Work finished in September 2010 to replace tracks between Alton, Illinois (north of St. Louis), and Lincoln, Illinois (north of Springfield).


An Amtrak and Metra train wait in the south part of Union Station in Chicago. Photo by Eric Pancer. Continue reading Getting Midwesterners on board with high-speed rail