29.9.06

THE SPEED RESTRICTIONS ARE MISGUIDED. Illinois tax dollars have been going into signaling and crossing protection upgrades to make possible safe operation at 110 mph on the old Alton Route from Dwight to Springfield. But that speedup, which is now seven years in the making, has not yet materialized.

With new safety gates and other improvements, 126 miles of track that stretches north from Springfield is ready to whisk passenger trains about 30 miles per hour faster than they now travel.

But more than a decade after Illinois set its sights on high-speed rail, trains are still chugging along at their usual 79 miles per hour, throttled as officials reevaluate new safety technology to ensure faster trains can coexist with freight trains and cars that cross over rail lines.

Specifically,

PLAN: Boost speeds from 79 mph to 110 mph along a 280-mile corridor from Chicago to St. Louis, where trains make nine stops between Alton and Summit. Travel time would be trimmed from about 5½ hours to less than four hours.

STATUS: Crossing signals have been upgraded along the entire corridor. Along a 126-mile stretch from Springfield to south of Joliet, track has been upgraded for a smoother ride and nearly 70 four-armed safety gates have been installed at crossings.

HOLDUP: State officials are reevaluating high-tech safety systems that can automatically slow or stop trains to make sure they can coexist with slower-moving freight traffic and cars that cross rail lines.

TIMETABLE: Once an automated safety system is chosen and approved by federal regulators, trains could speed up along the improved central Illinois track. No target date has been set to begin high-speed service along that route, which would trim about 45 minutes off of the Chicago to St. Louis trip. No money is earmarked for upgrades between Springfield and St. Louis or from south of Joliet to Chicago.

COST: Illinois has spent about $80 million on rail and crossing improvements along the central Illinois stretch. Costs to complete the entire corridor are expected to be about $400 million.

Passenger Rail, who located the article, notes,
But let's not just give Passenger Rail priority, let's separate freight from passenger. There will be no true next-generation, high-speed or not, if we don't separate freight from passenger. The Illinois project isn't going to do that, and it is just a revamp.
If Illinois aspires to mimic Britain's InterCity 125 or the German diesel ICE trains, yes. But perhaps the problem is with the rules. Zephyrs and 400s and Hiawathas were routinely cruising at 110 mph (American-style high-speed rail) on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals and in the latter two fleets, with steam power. Intermodal trains routinely reach 79 mph where track conditions permit. Perhaps it is the rules, not the infrastructure, that require a revamp.

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