23.3.11

FASTER, PLEASE.  The restoration of the Alton Route continues.
Illinois has reached an agreement with Union Pacific for the next phase of upgrades to the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor used by Amtrak Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle. This phase includes $685 million of work between Lincoln and Dwight, Ill., and between Alton, Ill., and the Mississippi River near St. Louis.


Upgrades for faster speeds between Chicago and St. Louis began a decade ago, but the pace sped up last fall with the acquisition of a federal grant through the high speed rail program. Last year’s work focused on the line between Alton and Lincoln, Ill. The work lined up for this year extends the upgrades in both directions. The work will eventually enable 110-mph passenger train speeds, in an effort to reduce city-to-city travel times to around 4 hours.


In an effort to give track workers unimpeded access to the line, Amtrak is diverting trains 21 and 22, the Texas Eagle, during three periods this spring. The trains will run over Union Pacific’s ex-Chicago & Eastern Illinois trackage via Findlay, Ill., April 2-9, April 16-24, and May 1-9.
Those reroutes suggest the Lincoln Service trains connecting Chicago, Bloomington, Springfield, and St. Louis will be annulled or replaced in part by buses. Such a development wiped out a planned spring break trip to the Lincoln Presidential Library. Fortunately, the special exhibit dealing with Mr Lincoln's Cabinet will remain until August.

Some Illinois officials are enthusiastic, others less so.
"The governors of these other states that have given up their money can stand by and wave at our trains when they go by. We’re going to move people, we’re going to freight, we’re going to set a standard for America. It starts right here in Chicago," [Democratic Senator Richard] Durbin said.


But not everybody in Illinois is gung-ho about fast trains. Freshman Congressman Joe Walsh said the government can’t afford to spend the money and he doubted their cost effectiveness because Americans love their cars. He said governors like Scott in Florida had the right idea by giving up federal money for rail projects.


"I respect the governors who have done that, that clearly is not what Pat Quinn is about," Walsh, whose district is in northern Illinois.


Illinois’ other senator, Republican U.S. Mark Kirk, supports high speed rail including federal funding and believes it should be a private-public partnership so that trains move with the speed and reliability to serve consumers who would otherwise would fly, Kirk spokesman Lance Trover said.


When high-speed trains are eventually traveling up to 110 mph, the trip between St. Louis and Chicago could be cut by 90minutes to less than four hours.
That car-love the right honorable gentleman refers to might not be so attractive in the face of five bucks a gallon to fuel up the land-yacht.  You'll pay more for the privilege of being fondled by airport security and waiting half an hour to be seated in your aluminum sardine can, which you'll then have to wait for half an hour to disembark through one door.  Even a conventional train looks good compared to that.
U.S. airlines have raised fares at least six times this year as they try to offset rising jet fuel costs. The last attempt failed when other airlines decided not to follow American Airlines when it raised prices earlier this month, also by $10 per round trip. Cheap seats will be harder to find this year, said Rick Seaney, chief executive officer of travel website FareCompare.com.
That's the same American Airlines that once, famously, attempted to entice Braniff to match its price increases in Texas. Good old dominant strategy strikes again!

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