NORMAL — History was made Friday morning when an Amtrak train carrying a number of dignitaries, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, hit a speed of 111 mph between Dwight and Pontiac.
“That’s the fastest time outside the Northeast in American history,” Quinn said at a news conference at Uptown Station in Normal where the train stopped after its journey from Joliet. Amtrak trains normally top out around 79 mph now.
“What we’re doing will be in the history books,” said LaHood. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
Normal Mayor Chris Koos, who was among those riding the train, said the train traveled 111 mph for about five minutes. While it was hard to notice the difference, Koos said, “It was very smooth.”
Other Amtrak riders will experience the new higher speed between Dwight and Pontiac before Thanksgiving, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. That part of the line already has the high-speed track upgrades and enhanced signals, and nearly half of the at-grade crossings already had four-quadrant gates, a safety measure required for the higher speed trains.
The 110-mph service is expected to be in place along 75 percent of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor by 2015.
LaHood said he believes future funding for high-speed rail is “very bright.”
Illinois received the third largest amount of money from the federal stimulus bill for the high-speed rail project, LaHood said. He credited Quinn and his team and Durbin, who voted for the bill, for helping secure $1.2 billion in federal money.
With state dollars, the project received a total of $2 billion.
“We’ve covered a lot of territory,” Durbin said. “Not just from Joliet to Normal but the last five years.”
He noted officials in Washington, D.C., wrote off an Amtrak subsidy five years ago.
“Look where we are today,” he said, giving credit to President Barack Obama’s vision to save the economy by investing in the country’s infrastructure, including high-speed rail. “High-speed rail is part of putting America back on its feet.”
Quinn said each train station along the Amtrak line is an economic magnet for communities. Normal Mayor Chris Koos agreed, noting high-speed rail played a key role in John Q. Hammon’s decision to build the uptown Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and also influenced developers of the future Uptown One project that will be built just northwest of Uptown Station.
“There’s been $155 million in private development in uptown, and much has to do with high-speed rail,” Koos said.
Amtrak Chairman Tom Carper said the number of Amtrak passengers continues to grow: The Chicago-St. Louis line served 675,295 passengers in the last 12 months, an increase of 11 percent and a new record. Because of Amtrak’s growth, the train service provider needed $100 million less in federal subsidies this year, he said.
On a roll
During the two years of construction on 90 miles of railroad track along the Chicago-St. Louis rail line, Union Pacific Railroad crews have:
- Installed more than 237 track-miles of new rail
- Installed 619,813 new concrete ties
- Spread more than 1.2 tons of stone ballast
- Finished interim renewals of 235 crossing surfaces and approaches
SOURCE: Illinois Department of Transportation