Trains For America

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Midwest High Speed Rail Association proposes 220 mph. for Chicago-St. Louis

The Chicago Tribune says that a new study on the St. Louis-Chicago corridor will be released today. Currently, Amtrak operates at around 79 mph. on this route and the latest plans would raise speeds to 110 mph. There is good cause to be thinking of something very much faster, according to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

By going 220 m.p.h., however, those improved trip times would be cut roughly in half, to 1 hour and 52 minutes, according to the association. The estimate includes making intermediary stops in Champaign and Springfield, while providing customers with downtown-to-downtown service and beating the door-to-door trip times of airline travel.

This is a very old railroad right-of-way, and in this case it is a good thing. Originally the Chicago and Alton, the Lincoln funeral train used this route from Chicago to Springfield. It is the old GM&O, which is my family railroad. The point is that it is straight in many places and people are accustomed to its operation.

This is a situation in which it makes a great deal of sense to relocate freight traffic and completely rebuild the line for the fastest trains possible. The $11 billion price tag tells me that the AHSRA is making a strong bid for a major slice of the federal money.

There are several excellent reasons to favor this route, including the existance of a “mature” base of consummers who already use rail transportation.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

14 Responses

  1. Andy Lynch says:

    Wow, exciting! MHSRA really seems to have their act together.

  2. A.J. says:

    I would love to see this type of speed for the proposed Minneapolis-Chicago! Any hope of that?

  3. NikolasM says:

    This is a good leg to do it on. You can then branch out to KC-Denver and south to Memphis-New Orleans and Little Rock-Texarkana-DFW in the future.

  4. Anonymous says:

    KC-Denver? Quite honestly, that should be an exceedingly low priority for HSR. There are larger cities closer together (e.g., Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashevill) that should be connected first.

    Press for things that matter, not what looks good on a map, or has some personal attachment.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Where you from Anon..? Nashville?

  6. political_incorrectness says:

    Hallelujah! Now let’s do the same for St Paul, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland since they are all probably within 3 hours of Chicago.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Anon#5 – I’m from Colorado, actually

    Just because I’m calling shenanigans on something and proposing a better alternative doesn’t mean that I’ve a personal stake in that alternative. The game we should be playing is “what will do the best for the most?”, and the corridor that I suggested is one that

    a) has an order of magnitude more poeple living at the termini
    b) has a major metripolitan area halfway, and
    c) already has a sanctioned group doing an HSR study for the southern half of the route

    I’m not of the mind that HSR has to compete with airlines (it also competes with bus travel; and anyone who’s overlooked that fact really needs to reassess their vision for achievable-within-the-next-15-years passenger rail), but there are a number of better routes than (and I just picked one that has about half the length of) a KC-Denver corridor.

    This is not about pet travel lanes; it’s about building a *working system* of passenger rail.

  8. NikolasM says:

    The first high speed rail line in America was from Denver to Chicago back in the 30’s…. And St. Louis – Denver would be the leg of something that could go on to L.A.

    The local visions that everyone has for their part of the country need to be connected so that people that don’t live anywhere near proposed lines see that it can be beneficial for them and worth some of their tax dollars. The more comprehensive the network the more users it will have.

  9. I’m thinking about expense here. I think when the tracks are rebuilt they should be rebuilt to 220 mph standards, as much as possible. The reason is that if you are going to do some work, it’s probably much cheaper in the long run to do it all. For 110 mph, you are going to want concrete ties and welded rail, just the same as for 220 mph. The differences are matters of track geometry: coming out of and into grades (otherwise your stomach flies up to your nose) and curve alignment. Maybe put off projects that require whole new rights of way (like a bypass of downtown Springfield which won’t even be 110 mph – – – and already has concrete ties now). But if you have in mind you are building a 220 mph railroad you won’t have to go back and RE-do it later, you’ll just have to finish the more expensive bits you didn’t get to the first time. That’s worth a lot.

    The two other big expenses necessary to take it from 110 to 220 mph are closing all the grade crossings and electrifying. Electrifying will double the cost.

    What I know suggests that we’ll earn a return on the investments necessary to upgrade to 220mph (but not the 110mph level – that will be a break even proposition). However the risk in such a project is too big for private investment to take it on without government involvement.

    It’s very smart to be thinking about and advocating for 220 mph service now, even if we end up only building the starter version at 110 mph

  10. Allan says:

    NikolasM – “This is a good leg to do it on. You can then branch out to KC-Denver and south to Memphis-New Orleans and Little Rock-Texarkana-DFW in the future..”

    Currently, the Chicago-Memphis-New Orleans route goes thru Illinois not thru St. Louis as on the map you referenced.

    BTW, interesting map but there are a lot of bus feeders on there. You know you’ll need to maintain the roads for them!

    I also noticed that a lot of the cities aren’t quite in the right direction from other cities. For instance, Atlanta is not due east from Memphis and north of Tupelo.

  11. NikolasM says:

    The map is a bit confusing and not pointed in a true north direction so as to fit on a single page and perhaps you are misreading what city label corresponds with which city label, but the locations are pretty much correct.

  12. patlynch says:

    I promise to look at the map and this is a great discussion. I do have a thought on Kansas City-Denver service. This would be accomplished by making a quick leg up to Omaha and continuing on established lines to Denver.

    This would be an excellent candidate for “high performance” trains (110 mph.).

    All of this is interesting speculation, but there are bigger things in the wind. I will write more soon.

  13. Cameron Slick says:

    The benefit of doing the 220mph route to St. Louis is that it goes through Champaign, which is on the way to Memphis and New Orleans. HSR is also planned from St. Louis to Kansas City, as well as Oklahoma City to Dallas. Connecting all three is important.

    If you cut the travel time from St. Louis to Chicago from 5.5 hours to 4 hours, you can get a sizable piece of the market and save people a lot of time. But if you are only cutting travel time from Dallas to Chicago from 20 hours to 17 hours, your national network isn’t getting much help.

  14. Saml says:

    My own feeling is this. If we’re going to do it, if we’re going to build a
    first class, top of the line HSR system, then don’t spend extra money
    on incremental improvements like 110mph where we don’t have to.
    Spend the extra buck, bust a gut, and put down the 225mph system
    where we can the first time. Let’s make this thing a world envy.
    At those speeds people won’t be simply considering taking the train,
    they will simply be jumping onboard as an alternative to the plane
    or another hellish drive in the car.

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June 2009


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