The Louisiana approach draws lessons from the Hiawatha service.
In 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) turned away federal high-speed dollars for a Madison-Milwaukee-Chicago high-speed link at the insistence of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Today, WisDOT instead is focusing on upgrading the Milwaukee-Chicago portion of the corridor, over which Amtrak Hiawatha trains operate. A study is being conducted to determine options for adding three additional round trips, for a total of 10, between the two cities, says [transportation consultant Alan] Tobias.Just as I have been suggesting for years.
“Because the corridor is only 90 miles long, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to save a lot of time, so the focus is on increasing frequencies so people have more options,” he says.
On a relatively short corridor, there are still opportunities to run the trains fast.
Many states still are interested in high-speed rail — HNTB [a transportation planning firm] is involved in “quite a few studies across the country” that prove it, says Tobias — but in many regions, an incremental approach might make more sense.Exactly. On the Hiawatha service, four three-car rakes on 92 minute timings with two intermediate stops have bloomed to seven six-car rakes on 89 minute timings (often 84 minutes in practice) with a third intermediate stop, and that with a few stretches of track now good for 79 mph rather than 70. In steam days, The Milwaukee Road was contemplating a 60 minute nonstop timing for Hiawathas.
“We tend to get hung up on that high-speed number, and it is appealing,” says Tobias. “But the best way to go faster is to not go slow. You can make incremental improvements to conventional services that help to improve travel time, increase frequencies and improve reliability, and sometimes that’s just as important, if not more.”
Give the Hiawathas free rein to 110, or 125, and post those 60 minute schedules (Airport at 0:10, Sturtevant at 0:18, Glenview at 0:42, Chicago at 1:00). Is it too much to ask for a bar car?
In Louisiana, start with two or three trips on times more suited for business than for the beginning or the end of the business day (and for Louisiana State games, where the bar car will do a brisk business) on timings faster than those posted by the old Flying Crow, and develop from there.