High-speed service to Detroit, St. Louis on track for 2013

From the Chicago Sun-Times

By 2013, Chicagoans traveling to Detroit, St. Louis or Iowa City may be able to save time by leaving the car at home and taking the train.

The U.S. Department of Transportation last week announced a second round of high-speed rail investment, including $230 million to create a new intercity passenger rail service between Iowa City and Chicago and $161 million for a high-speed corridor between Detroit and Chicago.

The first round of high-speed rail funding, announced in spring 2009, brought $1.2 billion to Illinois. Most of this will be spent on boosting speeds on the route from Chicago to St. Louis, cutting two hours off the five-hour trip.

About $150 million of the money awarded to Michigan will be for the section of track between Kalamazoo and Detroit. This is owned by Norfolk Southern, which wants to sell it, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Michigan may buy it with a portion of the high-speed rail money. Discussions are ongoing about how much of the funds would be for the track and how much for track improvement, Magliari said.

Track improvements would increase speeds from 79 mph to 110 mph, which would bring it in line with the track Amtrak owns from Kalamazoo to the state line.

At greater speeds, Amtrak could double the number of round trips from Chicago to Detroit from three to six, Magliari said. Ridership on this route already has increased 8 percent in the past year.

The rest of the high-speed funding would be used to improve the connection from Pontiac to the state line.

The Iowa money will be used to build a connection between the Iowa Interstate railroad line (formerly the Rock Island line) and the BNSF line west of Wyanet, Ill. Money also will go toward new stations.

There hasn’t been rail passenger service from Chicago to the Quad Cities since the 1970s or to Iowa City since the 1960s, Magliari said.

The work on both the Detroit and Iowa City lines could take two construction seasons, 2011 and 2012.

In the northern part of the state, $60 million from the state capital bill was designated in January to rehab the old Black Hawk route from Chicago to Dubuque for passenger service.

Authorities are evaluating the condition of the route, according to Janet Fisher, co-chair of the Blackhawk Area Rail Coalition. Passenger service on the 182-mile route, which includes Rockford and Galena, stopped running in 1981.

Source: http://www.suntimes.com/news/transportation/2852402,CST-NWS-ride01a.article