DWIGHT — A test of high-speed trains could begin in July on a section of track between Dwight and Pontiac.
Administrators in both towns say work remains to be done before the trains can travel at speeds up to 110 mph. IDOT is “pushing really hard” to have the first run in July, said Pontiac Mayor Bob Russell.
The test is “on schedule,” said Josh Kauffman, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, but he could not provide a specific date.
The test — it’s unclear if a single train will run once, or whether several trains will run several times — will determine how the trains, tracks and crossing equipment respond to the higher speeds.
In Pontiac, the test will affect up to four crossings from the depot to the north end of town. Speeds are not expected to surpass 75 mph in Pontiac because the rail line curves near the RR Donnelley plant, Russell said.
Still, he said, trains moving that fast are “like a missile.” Trains now run nearly 80 mph on average.
Twenty miles to the north, in Dwight, village Administrator Kevin McNamara said four crossings still need upgraded safety work, including two that each cross two streets in an X design. He thinks work could begin this spring on the other two crossings, which need new timing mechanisms and gates on both sides of each crossing.
The speedier trains will cause more of a disruption in Dwight, whose downtown is bisected by the tracks and where the work will force closure of one of the city’s two pedestrian grade-level crossings.
Later this year, more track upgrades are expected between Pontiac and Joliet, according to IDOT. New track and rock beds were laid last year from Alton to Dwight.
Before the high-speed test, the Pontiac-Dwight section will have received all required upgrades, including concrete ties, premium rail, signal equipment, switches and safety improvements including four quadrant gates, pedestrian gates and fencing, IDOT said.
The complete upgrade between St. Louis and Chicago should be finished in 2014.
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