The rails are almost complete, but one advocate says they aren't fast enough for the future. (WJBC file photo)
By Jim Anderson
PONTIAC - Don’t call it high-speed rail, an advocate for high-speed rail says.
Illinois will inaugurate 110-mph passenger trains this coming Friday on the 18-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac. Rick Harnish, director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association, says true high-speed rail is 220 mph, and getting there is not going to happen gradually.
“The break point is the point at which you need to have a completely separate track, just like the interstate, where you have no intersections at all, and that’s a significant investment, and once you make that investment, you might as well take it all the way up and go 200 miles an hour,” he said.
Harnish says the upgrade to 110 mph will be a benefit nevertheless. Not only is it an improvement over the current 79 mph, but the tracks have been rebuilt between Alton and Joliet, providing a smoother ride, and new signals are being installed, which will allow the trains to travel at top speed more of the time, rather than spending time waiting for cross-traffic on freight tracks to pass, or backing into a siding to allow a train going in the other direction to pass on the single-track facility.
The next step is to extend 110 mph service between Alton and Joliet, and eventually all the way between St. Louis and Chicago. The cost: $1.2 billion.
The new coaches and locomotives that are coming in 2015 and 2016 will be improvements too, Harnish said.