Amtrak train high-speed record to be the norm

October 19, 2012 (CHICAGO)

For decades the top speed for Amtrak trains in the Midwest was 79 miles per hour. On a 15-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac, the speedometer climbed to 110 on Thursday.

The state's most prominent high-speed rail boosters were aboard for what they consider history in the making.

"This investment in high-speed rail pays a lot of dividends and if we do it right, and I think we are, we're going to have fast trains and a lot more jobs," said Gov. Pat Quinn.

Beginning next month, Amtrak trains will regularly run at 110 miles an hour between Dwight and Pontiac. In three years, 75 percent of the Chicago to St Louis rail corridor will run at 110 miles an hour.

That higher speed is possible because roughly $1.5 billion of federal money has been spent on concrete ties, welded rail, signaling and four quadrant gates.

But critics contend it's not really high-speed rail. What it is, they argue, is a financial boondoggle.

"The $4 billion we'll spend for high-speed rail doesn't make any sense when the average Illinoisan will only use the high-speed rail once every nine years," said Ted Dabrowski of the Illinois Policy Institute.

"And the idea that the stimulus didn't work is bologna," said US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said. "I like bologna better than malarkey. It's bologna."

Proponents say that stimulus spending has already created new rail industry jobs in the state, that Amtrak ridership, particularly Chicago to St Louis is up significantly, and that the prospect of reduced travel time will up it even more.

"As we increase the speed on these trains, and reduce travel times, and increase the frequency, more and more people will be saying this now works within my life schedule," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL).

On one hand, this is seen as foolishly extravagant government spending on a comparatively small audience, or the audience will grow into a means of travel that's much more affordable and that cannot be ignored at this point in time.

The ridership and job creation will once again weigh heavily in the debate on high speed rail in Illinois.

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