With the help of a $1.2 billion federal grant, Illinois began construction on a High-Speed Rail line from St. Louis to Chicago in September 2010. Since then, significant upgrades have been made to the stretch of track from Alton to Joliet. Now the sights are being turned on the leg between Alton and the Amtrak station in downtown St. Louis. That’s what the engineering firm of EFK Moen LLC is working on.
According to company vice president Mary Lamie, EFK Moen has been selected to working as part of the High-Speed Rail team to evaluate alternative routes between Alton, Ill. and St. Louis, Mo. and to figure out how to bring the Amtrak trains across the Mississippi River.
Currently, Lamie says, Amtrak uses the MacArthur Bridge just south of the Poplar Street Bridge. But portions of the MacArthur Bridge only have one track and it is shared with a steady traffic of freight trains. The upper deck of the bridge was historically used for motor vehicles, but it has been closed to that traffic since 1981.
“Part of the study,” said Lamie, “is to find out if there’s a possibility that that upper deck could be removed and converted into an upper track level for High-Speed Rail. Another alternative that we will look at is whether or not you would need to construct a new four-track structure adjacent to the north side of the existing MacArthur Bridge.”
Lamie says there are many alternatives between Alton and the MacArthur Bridge that are being considered and evaluated. Moen will provide structural engineering, drainage studies, coordinate utilities and do the preliminary engineering necessary to evaluate each alternative.
The Illinois Dept. of Transportation and the Union Pacific Railroad have been steadily making upgrades to the line, including state-of-the-art signaling and significant technological and safety advancements. Last November, a stretch of track between Pontiac and Dwight in northern Illinois was opened for use at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour. In addition, Illinois has received a federal grant of $268 million to fund new bi-level, high-speed passenger rail cars. The first of the new cars are scheduled to start going into service in 2015.
Amtrak ridership in Illinois has jumped 85 percent since 2006, with most of the growth coming along the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. Ridership on the Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service has doubled in that time period.
By 2017, IDOT expects to have upgraded the rest of the route to enable trains to run at 110 mph for 75 percent of the line. The 284-mile stretch from Chicago to St. Louis usually takes more than five hours, but the new service is expected to shave off more than an hour of travel time.
Currently there is no funding for construction of the enhanced Mississippi River crossing once the structure has been determined, but since first allocated in 2009, Illinois has been the unexpected recipient of federal funds as other states have rejected them.