High-speed train travel has come to the Midwest and it promises to transform transportation options in that part of the country. An Amtrak passenger train hit a regional record of 111 miles per hour on Oct. 19 in a test run that proves the viability of super-fast trains in the area.
The five-car, two-engine Amtrak passenger train hit 111 mph — a notch above the target of 110 mph — during its route between Chicago and St. Louis. The train normally travels 79 mph or slower. Although the high-speed portion of the journey only lasted about five minutes, it proved the speeds were possible.
Amtrak said the train will regularly travel at the newly proven speed on a 15-mile stretch between the cities of Dwight and Pontiac by this Thanksgiving and that the remainder of the route will be sped up by the year 2015, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The test run was attended by a number of political dignitaries, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said, "Four years ago we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it came to high-speed rail. This is a dream come true today." The federal government contributed $1.2 billion in stimulus money to make this possible.
Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Hilkevitch said the super-fast train traveled "like a jetliner slicing through calm air." Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, told Hilkevitch that the high speeds are made possible by a combination of new rails and smart engines that allow it to anticipate the speeds it will need to travel more than a mile in advance. "That locomotive can sense whether there is any mass that is violating the safe zone inside the gates," Szabo said. "If it senses a car, a human or anything, it shuts the train down or at least gets it below 20 mph depending on top-end speed."
Environmentalists praised the test run, saying high-speed rails create jobs and reduce reliance on auto and air travel, reducing carbon emissions in the process. Once the full route between Chicago and St. Louis is ready by 2015, the high-speed train will complete its journey in four and a half hours, an hour less than it takes today. It currently takes the same amount of time to drive between the two cities as it does to take the train, so the high-speed route could eventually be an attractive option for travelers.
Others expressed doubt that this particular route will generate enough income to make the high-speed rails worth the investment. "We're yoking ourselves to trains that will obligate taxpayers to provide billions of dollars in future subsidies," Kristina Rasmussen, vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, a free enterprise-focused think tank, told Bloomberg.
Interestingly, the route between Chicago and St. Louis was once much faster. Coal-powered trains traveled as fast as 124 mph 70 years ago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
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