Illinois is taking the lead in introducing high speed rail service to the Midwest. The benefits are significant: travel between Chicago and St. Louis that is twice as fast as by car for about half the cost of air fare; a mode of travel that is easy on the environment; and opportunities for economic development and jobs along the corridor.
The proposed Chicago to St. Louis high speed rail line is part of the "Midwest Hub," one of six rail corridors designated as potential high speed rail routes by the Federal Railroad Administration. The Midwest hub also includes the Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-Milwaukee segments. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is responsible for the planning and development of the proposed high speed rail service along this corridor. An earlier study, The Chicago-St.Louis High-Speed Rail Financial and Implementation Plan,completed in 1994, showed that high speed rail service from Chicago to St. Louis was feasible. The study indicated that the present travel time of 5.5 hours could be reduced by two hours with this service. This would be accomplished by increasing existing train speeds, which presently average 51 miles per hour (with 79 miles per hour the maximum authorized speed) to an average train speed of 85 miles per hour (125 miles per hour maximum), while continuing to utilize existing rail rights of way.
Following completion of the Grade Crossing Safety Analysis Portion of the study, public meetings were held at several locations in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. During these meetings, many questions arose concerning the impact of closing and rerouting traffic on the existing railroad grade crossings along the length of the corridor. The Department received numerous comments from concerned community leaders, farm industry groups, and private citizens. Recognizing these concerns, the Department of Transportation will be re-evaluating these impacts as part of the second phase of the project study process.
The second phase of the study involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. The Impact Statement will evaluate the positive and negative consequences, both short and long term, that would be associated with the high speed rail project. In order to carry out the evaluation, additional engineering studies will be required. These will include: a new proposed grade crossing plan; evaluation of two proposed alignments for serving the Peotone/Kankakee area; and alternatives for operating the service.
The primary route would run from Union Station in Chicago to St. Louis, a distance of 282 miles. For the most part, the route follows the existing Amtrak service between Chicago and St. Louis. This alternative would use existing tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad from Chicago to Joliet, the Southern Pacific line from Joliet to East St. Louis, and the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis tracks for the last few miles into the center of St. Louis.
The possibility of a major new airport being located south of Chicago near Peotone has caused planners to consider two alternative routes that would provide access from the airport to downtown Chicago along the Illinois Central main line to the Randolph Street Station. One alternative would use existing Conrail tracks between Dwight and Kankakee. A second would be on a new alignment between Wilmington and Peotone. These routes will be evaluated regardless of the outcome of the proposed airport project.
Previous studies anticipated that eight high speed trains would provide daily service between Chicago and St. Louis with stops at Joliet, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Alton and St. Louis. Other stops will be evaluated during the current studies. The alternative routes would serve the Peotone-Kankakee area instead
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of Joliet. The possibility of continuing some of Am-trak's current service will also be evaluated during the current environmental studies. Some communities that now have Amtrak service would lose it with the introduction of the high-speed rail service. However, current studies will explore ways to serve and connect communities not directly planned as high speed rail stops.
The existing Amtrak line through Joliet has over 300 grade crossings. Proposed guidelines would require enhanced safety measures for rail-highway crossings in high speed corridors. Options include constructing grade separations (bridges), installing upgraded crossing protection or warning devices and closing some of the less critical grade crossings. IDOT and its consultants will work closely with local communities to discuss grade crossing plans. This will be a major focus of the environmental studies that have just been initiated. New grade crossing safety improvement recommendations will also be prepared.
One upgraded crossing protection device being considered for use is the Vehicle Arresting Barrier, a net that is automatically lowered with the warning gates to block the road and catch a vehicle that fails to stop at the crossing. IDOT intends to test these barriers at three rail/highway grade crossings in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.
An extensive public involvement program will be part of these current studies. The program is designed to help IDOT understand local issues and to provide opportunities for the public to contribute to the evaluation of alternatives. Opportunities for involvement will be provided through the establishment of a citizens committee as well as by newsletters, meetings with state and local elected and appointed officials, general public meetings and public hearings. If you would like to learn more, a High-Speed Rail Information Line (toll-free, 1-800 555-3672) has been established so that individuals can call for project information, register comments or request to receive the project newsletter.
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