Trains and Travel meditates on Chicago.
Chicago is still the heart of passenger rail in America. It’s “home port” for most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains—nine of them originate in Chicago. It would be nice if there were more, of course, but those nine trains fan out from Chicago and cover a good deal of the country. There are regional trains with Chicago as a terminus, too—trains extending into Michigan and to parts of southern Illinois. The track between Chicago and St. Louis is being upgraded and those trains will soon be running at 110 miles an hour. And trains are already running at 110 along stretches of routes linking Chicago with cities in Michigan.

High speed rail is wonderful, as anyone who has traveled by train almost everywhere else in the world will attest. But the next logical step for the Amtrak network outside of the Northeast Corridor is to increase speeds on existing short-haul routes from a maximum of 79 mph up to 110. Shorter running times always attracts more riders.
Just as Cold Spring Shops have been urging for years.  But let's aim higher.  The E units of the early Diesel Era were good for 117 mph; for nearly forty years British Rail and successors have been running their fixed-formation Inter City 125 diesel trains at 125 mph, and those trains are good for 140.  There's little reason for all the extra spending on electrification and trackage to get another 60 to 100 mph out of the trains.  At the margin, it's spending a lot of money to shave off a few seconds.

I'd add: more frequent trains, and better connectivity among the corridors at Chicago.


David Foster said...

Isn't there a regulatory issue with running passenger trains at that speed in the US?

Stephen Karlson said...

There's a cluster of regulations governing track structure and signalling. Up to 79 mph with automatic block signalling and welded rail. Used to be up to 90 mph with cab signals and centralized traffic control on welded rail. There's something new about enhanced positive train control and four-point crossing protection that tops out at 110. Above 110, there's something about eliminating road crossings, something that's a better use of infrastructure money than most freeway widenings. But as steam trains used to push 120 on jointed rail protected by semaphore signals and retimed wig-wag signals at the road crossings, there's room for negotiation.