Today, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association released a major report studying 220 mph train service between Chicago and St. Louis. Though the project has yet to be endorsed by any government officials, the Association’s study will stimulate further discussion about the level of investment necessary for the link between the two cities. More importantly, the study’s conclusions indicate that Illinois’ existing plans for 110 mph, four-hour service between the metro regions are out of date and under-scaled to meet travel needs in the Midwest.
The study, completed by consultant Tran Systems, was commissioned by the Association to determine costs and other elements of a potential very-fast service across the state of Illinois. The main challenge of the report was to compare the existing Amtrak corridor, which runs almost directly from Chicago to St. Louis, via Springfield, with another corridor, partially unused, which runs via Champaign and Decatur before continuing on. The latter route was found to be acceptable for a 220 mph operating speed, largely because it is quite straight throughout. The Amtrak route is constrained by numerous curves which would slow down trains considerably.
Excitingly, the study argues that trains could run express between the major cities, with stops in Champaign and Springfield, in 1h52; with more stops in Kankakee, Decatur, and Metro East, trains could complete the journey in 2h04. The study advocates hourly trips. These journey times compare favorably with operations on the very similar Paris-Lyon TGV corridor in France. According to the report, the line could be rebuilt with electric catenary for $11.5 billion in 2012 dollars, an estimate that does not include rolling stock or maintenance facilities. The study argues that the state could prevent a sudden loss of treasury by building the line in seven phases.
The short report is worth a glance-through; though it isn’t particularly detailed, it is the first step towards transforming ideas for this Illinois route from mediocrity to world-class status.
The cost of implementation for this project would be relatively minimal considering how effectively it would likely contest air and road travel along the corridor. This route is currently served by at least 41 daily round trips on a number of airlines, making it one of the U.S.’s major air links and one that would be prime territory for rail market share takeover considering the less than two hour trip made possible by high-speed trains. The route could also serve as the central corridor of a line eventually stretching west to Kansas City and south to Dallas; the connection at Chicago would similarly provide new routes to Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.
It’s two bad that this report was commissioned, then, by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, not the Illinois Department of Transportation. We need to push this route as one of America’s major transportation corridors, but few at the state or national levels are willing to take the major political step necessary to begin pushing for a financial commitment similar to California’s $10 billion high-speed rail bond approved last November. Illinois needs a push now to make this study more than simply a series of hypotheticals.
Image above: Potential routes for Express HSR service, from Midwest HSR Association