Equipment upgrades next for high-speed rail project

From The Illinios State-Journal-Register

Illinois is about to go shopping for a high-speed train set — 12 locomotives and 30 bi-level passenger cars at a potential cost of up to $233.8 million.

Throw in another $268.2 million to be shared with Iowa, Michigan and Missouri, and the total exceeds $500 million.

The figures represent the state’s share of more than $782 million in federal grants to Illinois, California, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa and Washington state for the purchase of high-speed rail equipment to go with track upgrades already begun.

Illinois and California are kicking in some of their own money to match federal dollars.

“It will be new locomotives and new cars,” said Mike Garcia, bureau chief for high-speed rail at the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is overseeing the multi-state procurement, including recent approval of design specifications for the engines and passenger cars. It’s not yet known exactly what the new equipment will look like, as that is part of the design process. But expectations are it would be similar to equipment already used on Northeast rail corridors, according to federal officials.

Nationwide, plans are to add 33 locomotives and 120 bi-level passenger cars.

Federal rules also require that the equipment be made in America, either by domestic manufacturers or foreign companies with U.S. plants.

Initially, said Garcia, Amtrak will use existing equipment in Illinois at speeds of up to 110 mph. The goal is to have new equipment ready for the start of full service in 2014. Test runs on the north end of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor are scheduled for 2012.

Aging equipment

According to figures from Amtrak, most of the passenger cars used on the three Illinois corridors — Chicago-St. Louis, Chicago-Carbondale and Chicago-Quincy — are 20 years old and travel an average of 150,000 to 200,000 miles annually.

Engines average about 140,000 to 150,000 miles yearly.

In response to steadily increasing passenger numbers, the carrier has renovated older cars to be returned to service, said spokesman Marc Magliari.

“To the casual observer, there’s no difference (in the cars),” said Magliari, “but that cupboard is pretty bare.”

Amtrak ridership nationwide was a record 30.2 million in the federal fiscal year ended Sept. 30. The St. Louis-Chicago route, which includes Springfield, was down 4 percent to a little more than 549,000 as a result of disruptions caused by high-speed rail construction.

Magliari said the carrier has yet to see the prototypes of the high-speed engines and cars for Illinois.

Equipment not the issue?

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood again defended the high-speed rail program before the U.S. House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee last week.

Some members of the Republican-controlled committee questioned whether an estimated $10.1 billion in track upgrades and equipment procurements nationwide would truly result in high-speed passenger service.

There also were questions about a recent announcement by the rail authority in California that the cost of high-speed rail there has doubled to $98.5 billion.

LaHood compared the early days of high-speed rail to construction of the interstate system, adding that the administration would not be dissuaded by “the naysayers and the critics.”  He said high-speed rail also is creating jobs and that the United States was in danger of falling behind other countries in delivery of modern transportation systems.

“We used to be the leader. If we don’t catch up pretty quick, we’re going to be in second place,” LaHood was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Transportation industry analyst Ken Orski, who is editor and publisher of Innovation NewsBriefs, also was among those to testify at last week’s congressional hearings.

Orski said there is an argument to be made for improving rail-passenger service, but that speeds of up to 110 mph would not qualify as “high speed” in most of the world.

“According to generally accepted definitions, high speed is an average of 150 mph,” said Orski.

Even after delivery of new engines and cars, he added, speeds on the Chicago-St. Louis route would average only 60 to 70 mph.

“The equipment they have now will go up to 110 miles per hour. There still will be frequent stops because passenger traffic is sharing the tracks with freight traffic (Union Pacific),” said Orski. “What you need for trains at up to 200 mph is a dedicated track and dedicated right-of-way, which Illinois doesn’t have.”


Rail equipment money

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of federal money awarded for the purchase of high-speed rail equipment. The federal funding is through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

* Midwest area: $268.2 million (shared among Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan); seven locomotives and 48 cars.

* Illinois: $233.859 million (includes $11.7 million in state funds); 12 locomotives and 30 passenger cars,

* State of Washington: $70.197 million; eight locomotives.

* California: $85 million ($17 million state); four locomotives, 15 cars.

Source: Federal Railroad Administration

Read more: