High-speed train a-comin’

By Stephanie Saviola

During President Barack Obama’s Jan. 27 State of the Union address, he introduced plans to use stimulus money for transportation projects, such as high-speed trains, throughout the country.

The federal stimulus money won’t be allocated to build a new track, but rather to renovate and upgrade current Amtrak rails. The upgrade plans are still in the works, but according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the concept is to have a high-speed train route that runs from Chicago to St. Louis.

“The problem is the stimulus money had to be used on projects that were ready to go and nobody in the Midwest had that high- speed project ready to go,” said Richard Harnish, executive director for Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

The current Amtrak train on the route travels at a maximum speed of 79 mph. With the upgrades, the plan is to have the train run 110 mph. With the speed increase, the five-and-a-half-hour trip is supposed to be reduced to four hours.

“When a lot of people think high-speed rails, they think China, Japan, France, Spain, Brazil, etc.,” Harnish said. “We don’t have high-speed rails here and that was one reason that Obama proposed the idea. It will be very valuable, but it is not the kind of high-speed rail people think of normally.”

Plans for upgrading the tracks are scheduled to begin this summer. It is estimated that the completion will take two to three years. Illinois will be given $1.1 billion to use for these renovations. The state had originally asked for $4.5 billion. According to Harnish, there is currently no fare increase scheduled after the

renovations occur.

“I think the idea would be phenomenal,” said Victoria Patterson, junior film and video major. “It would be extremely convenient and I would definitely use it.”

Patterson, who is from a suburb of St. Louis, commutes back and forth on holidays and even some weekends.

The idea is to create jobs with the improvements of the rails and to foresee issues that might be encountered in

the future.

“What happens today is there are more passenger trains than there are freight trains, so it’s possible for one train to delay another,” said Marc Magliari, media relations manager of Amtrak Government Affairs and Communications. “We are facing capacity issues with passenger trains, which can conflict with freight trains since much of the route is single tracks.”

Besides train speed, many improvements will be geared toward creating double tracks in certain congested spots along the route so trains may easily pass each other.

There is also a plan for federal stimulus money to be awarded to Wisconsin and Michigan for rail improvements in other major cities such as Ann Arbor, Mich., Milwaukee and Detroit.

“Chicago to Milwaukee is one of our top corridor routes in the country where we have more than 750,000 passengers a year riding,” Magliari said. “There is also a plan to extend service which right now ends in Milwaukee out to Madison.”

The route from Chicago to St. Louis is named the Lincoln service because it passes through President Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Ill. The route from Chicago to Milwaukee is titled the Hiawatha train because that is the historic name of the former Milwaukee trains on that route.

As the number of trains increases, there is hope that more long-term jobs will be created. Magliari said that onboard service jobs will be available, as well as jobs inside stations with longer running hours and more frequent trains passing through.

“There is certainly hope that some of the rail equipment will be built and maintained in Chicago,” Magliari said. “The purpose here is to make permanent improvements and stimulate the economy.”