Passenger trains traveling at 110 m.p.h.--arriving in Chicago from St. Louis in under four hours--could be operating in three or four years after President Barack Obama allocated $8 billion in federal stimulus money to begin building a national high-speed rail system, Illinois officials said Thursday.Current Amtrak service from St. Louis to Chicago now averages nearly six hours, though it can take longer because the passenger train shares the rails with freight trains. (No lie: It once took me 12 hours to travel home from Chicago when a freight train derailed in front of the Amtrak.)
The stimulus funding is backed up by a pledge of an additional $1 billion annually for five years for states to improve passenger rail and offer the public a more attractive alternative to the hassles of driving and flying.
In laying out a strategic plan for high-speed rail, Obama stressed repairing existing rail infrastructure to improve travel times and increase the frequencies of service provided on routes.
Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are working with Amtrak to increase train speeds from the 79 m.p.h. top speed in most locations to 110 m.p.h., which is the maximum that can be safely handled by Amtrak's existing locomotives and coaches. Speeds higher than that would require elaborate barriers to prevent accidents between trains and vehicles at railroad crossings.