A project to increase speeds on the most popular Amtrak route in the Midwest has provided the Illinois Department of Transportation a unique opportunity to grow ridership, transform communities and improve quality of life up and down the state.
Infrastructure improvements wrapping up include the reconstruction of 262 miles of track with concrete ties and stone ballast that provide a smoother ride for passengers, largely paid through a federal stimulus grant.
The potential for faster speeds have sparked public interest. By working with host railroad Union Pacific, IDOT will allow Amtrak to eventually reach speeds of 110 mph – up from the conventional 79 mph. The trip between Chicago and St. Louis eventually will be reduced by up to an hour, driving up ridership and driving down automobile trips on the busy Interstate 55 corridor.
In exchange for the rebuilt line, the UP has guaranteed on-time performance of 85 percent, up from the 40 to 50 percent prior to construction. Ridership is anticipated to double on state-supported service to 1.7 million by 2030.
But the project is measured by much more than minutes and miles per hour.
New stations with many features that enhance the customer experience, such as climate-controlled waiting areas, Wi-Fi and connections to bike trails, were built in Dwight, Pontiac, Normal, Carlinville and Alton as the centerpieces of downtown redevelopment efforts. The station in Lincoln was part of a historic restoration that locals envision as a new gateway for tourism.
Finally, 33 new locomotives are in service, providing greater fuel efficiency, fewer emissions and lower maintenance costs. New passenger cars have been ordered and will be delivered by 2021, the final piece of a puzzle to remake a passenger rail line for the 21st century.