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