Amtrak begins high-speed service out of Chicago

February 15, 2012 3:21:54 PM PST
High-speed rail service has come to the region.

Amtrak is now running train service with a top speed of 110 mph. Wednesday, ABC 7 got a chance to ride along.

There were no regular Amtrak passengers on the train for the inaugural, kick-off run, a celebration of sorts for Amtrak as it brings the first high-speed rail line to the Midwest.

"Putting this type of service together, it's going to significantly increase efficiency for ridership," said Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper.

Rolling out of Chicago is still a normal-speed affair, but in northwest Indiana, just past Porter, the train gets really moving, and southwest Michigan passes by in a blur.

The increased speed will shave another 10 minutes off the travel time between Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Amtrak lines affected are the Wolverine Line, heading to Detroit, and the Blue Water Line, heading further north to Port Huron.

Nearly 100 miles of track between Porter, Indiana, and Kalamazoo is safety-ready for the top speed.

That is good news for train customers like Dave Seago, who believes the train is an excellent alternative to flying.

"By the time you check in at Detroit Metro and go to O'Hare or Midway, you just get on a train and you're there," said Seago.

It is not just speed that makes this possible, but a safety system called Incremental Train Control that continuously monitors signals, switches and crossings ahead.

Amtrak plans to expand the high-speed line further toward Detroit and also between Chicago and St. Louis.

"Ultimately, at full build-out, the trip time from Chicago to Detroit gets cut to 3 hours, 45 minutes," said the Federal Railroad Administration's Joseph Szabo. "That's superior to driving by car and very competitive to air."

The money to pay for these high-speed projects comes from combined federal and state dollars.

Amtrak hopes that its trains will move faster through Chicago once the so-called "Englewood flyover" bridge is completed in the area of 63rd and State. That will help separate Amtrak trains from slower moving freight trains in the city.