7.6.17

HOW MANY YEARS WILL REBUILDING THE ALTON ROUTE TAKE?

Five years ago, I made an end-of-semester train trip turning at Longview, Texas, to experience what rail enthusiasts refer to as "rare mileage."  In this instance, the Texas Eagle deviates from the Alton Route on the rails of Union Pacific's former Chicago and Eastern Illinois to give construction crews uninterrupted time to Make the Alton Route Great Again (or at least capable of 110 mph operation, currently between Dwight and Pontiac, ultimately between Joliet and Alton.)  The speed gains in the countryside are still at risk thanks to congestion in Chicago and St. Louis.  The May detour is again on offer this year, and again, the traveller bound for Springfield or Bloomington or Carlinville might be on a bus for some or all of the journey or face some train cancellations.

In Texas, there are detours of the Eagle until 22 June, involving different maintenance windows for Union Pacific, and directional running of the trains.
The westbound Eagle runs its regular route past Longview to Big Sandy where it backs onto the former Cotton Belt, then heads west to Corsicana on tracks that last saw a passenger train in the mid-1950s.

At Corsicana, the train connects to what was once the Southern Pacific Texas subsidiary Texas and New Orleans’s main Dallas-Houston artery, home of the Sunbeam and Hustler, but by 1957 only the coach-only Owl operated overnight. Amtrak ran a Houston section of the Texas Eagle (through cars connecting at Dallas) between Nov. 15, 1988, and Sept. 10, 1995, on this section as far south as Hearne.

That’s where the westbound train switches to a route once used by the Laredo section of the original Texas and Pacific/Missouri Pacific Texas Eagle west to Taylor, which is on the current Amtrak route.

Eastbound, the detouring train backtracks from Taylor through Hearne directly east to Longview.
There have been some delays to trains account freight train interference.  On occasion, the trains have to wait for connecting buses that get stuck in traffic.

But when will we see that 110 mph running on the rest of the Alton Route?

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