The International Railway Journal analyzes improvements to The Alton Route.
While local officials are cautious about labelling the enhanced railway "higher speed," further infrastructure improvements which would double-track the entire route and provide sufficient capacity for additional services by 2030 are planned. At present only the 59.5km Chicago - Joliet section which is owned by CN, and 30.6km of the 46.7km section between Godfrey and East St Louis, which is owned by UP and Kansas City Southern, is double-track.

The Illinois Department for Transportation (Idot) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signed and issued a Tier 1 Environmental Inspection Statement for the high-speed project in November, following the completion of a $US 1.25m federally-funded study commissioned in 2010.

The study paves the way for future funding applications by outlining four build alternatives for the improved line which will provide 177km/h operation on longer sections of the corridor as well as increase frequency to eight passenger services per day. Journey times will be between 3h 51min and 4h 10min, and patronage is expected to increase to 1.7 million passengers, or 2.7% of the estimated 62.2 million trips on the corridor by 2030.

The study notes that the improvements are essential for a reliable passenger service in the long-term due to the construction of a new intermodal terminal at Joliet by UP which will increase freight traffic on the line from five trains per day at present to up to 22 within the next 10 years. However, the study rejected increasing line speeds to 200km/h "due to the magnitude of improvements that would be required to support trains travelling at that speed." Ridership was also not predicted to increase sufficiently compared with the 177km/h option to support the extra costs and environmental impacts.
The article, written for a European readership, does not explain some of the complexities of U.S. track safety standards, and a Briton familiar with 125 mph diesel passenger trains coexisting with 100 mph diesel container trains on Brunel's Billiard Table is likely to cringe.  The good news, though, is that 110 mph Amtrak trains can coexist with 70 mph (or, if Union Pacific wants to, 80 mph) intermodal trains on the Alton Route, and intermodal trains are time-sensitive enough that they're unlikely to get out of course so badly as to completely disrupt the passenger train workings.  The other point to keep in mind is that passenger trains, particularly the thousand-passenger bilevel workings possible with the new cars and locomotives on order, require additional miles of braking and accelerating distances, and it's unlikely that the headways on the Alton Route are going to tighten in the same way they have on the Northeast Corridor, with the Acela Express leaving on the hour, and the regional train on the half-hour.

It's good news all the same, and I hope the correspondents for International Railway Journal had occasion to marvel at our unit coal, ethanol, grain, and potato trains, and at the stack trains.

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