By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have received federal approval for maximum speeds up to 110 mph along much of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, primarily between the Amtrak stations in Joliet and Alton.
This will help establish shorter schedules for the four Amtrak Lincoln Service roundtrips and the Texas Eagle. Currently, there are no timetable changes for the 10 daily Amtrak trains on the route.
“Trains will continue to operate at 110 mph for several weeks without a change in schedule to ensure everything on the system is running properly and to monitor the actual travel time between stations,” said John Oimoen, IDOT’s deputy director, Rails.
When asked how this might impact tourist travel to and from Alton, Mayor David Goins said, “We believe that the improved speeds of the Amtrak line between here and Chicago will increase the opportunities for our area to attract additional tourists and families from upstate Illinois to downstate.
“The significant outdoor recreational assets that we possess in the Alton area serve as a great attractor to families and businesses to come into our area and this transportation improvement will certainly help increase our visibility,” Goins added. “Our area can serve as a ‘green getaway’ for those who live in the Chicago region, and we can keep these dollars in Illinois,” Goins added.
“We continue to also advocate for improvements within the City of Chicago to alleviate some of the bottlenecks that impede the speed and travel time once the trains get into the city,” he said further.
In a social media post, Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau President & CEO Cory Jobe noted, “This is exciting news for Alton and southwest Illinois. The Chicagoland area is one of our fastest growing markets for visitor travel with 20 percent increased spending and bookings to the Metro North region year over year.”
Until now, 90 mph has been the maximum authorized speed on the tracks owned by Union Pacific Railroad. Amtrak operates Lincoln Service and other trains under a contract with IDOT.
“Amtrak, IDOT and the Illinois Commerce Commission work with Operation Lifesaver, an industry-sponsored campaign that educates persons of all ages on how to stay safe around railroad tracks,” said Justin Meko, Amtrak vice president, Operational Safety.
“Now is a great time for schools, companies, and other groups to schedule safety presentations,” added Meko. Volunteers make the presentations, and they can be requested by contacting the Illinois coordinator for Operation Lifesaver through the oli.org website.
Motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists are reminded to always use caution on this rail corridor, as trains are faster than they can appear, and are quieter than ever. Be sure to only use designated public crossings, and never disregard flashing crossing signals or go around lowered gates or trespass on railroad property.
If there is a problem or emergency on or near railroad tracks, the railroad company can be contacted immediately utilizing the telephone number on the blue Emergency Notification Sign located at every crossing. See StayOffTheTracks.org for more.
Special equipment, installed as part of IDOT’s Chicago to St. Louis High Speed Rail Project, monitors the trains and traffic control systems, alerting the train crews of any potential problems. Additional warning signs and fencing have also been installed in select areas to encourage safety and deter trespassing.
Regarding any concerns for safety at and around the Alton area’s crossings, or at the Alton station itself, Goins noted, “The Alton station is one of the newer stations located between Alton and Chicago and has been designed to accommodate multiple modes of transportation with a key focus on higher speed rail. The 262-mile line between Alton and Chicago, which is owned by the UP [Union Pacific], was hardened several years ago to accommodate high speed trains.
“Last year Amtrak purchased new engines and rail cars to handle the increased speeds. In addition to improving the rail line itself, the 234 rail crossings between Alton and Chicago were also upgraded with the latest safety systems. We are confident that with these improvements, travel by rail between here and Chicago will be safe and efficient for the residents of our entire metro region,” Goins said further.
As for any increased noise for neighboring residents and businesses due to increased speeds, Goins noted that there haven’t been any complaints since the new Alton station became operational, and he doesn’t anticipate any with the increased speeds.
“Amtrak has been a longtime community partner in the Alton area. We are excited about the opportunities that high-speed rail can bring to our region,” Goins said. “Our station serves the entire metro Illinois north area, and many of the communities in north St. Louis and St. Charles counties in Missouri. We believe that the station and the area around it can serve as a catalyst for new development that will complement high speed rail travel and help further anchor the retail corridor along Homer Adams Parkway.”
This story also appears in the June 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.