Improving passenger service on the slowest portion of Illinois' emerging 110-mph rail corridor, between Chicago and Joliet, will cost an estimated $1.5 billion, officials said Monday.
It's roughly the same amount the state is spending so far to develop the rest of the high-speed corridor south of Joliet to St. Louis, according to data from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
No funding has been secured yet to modernize the Chicago-to-Joliet segment, where trains often creep along due to heavy congestion and rail slow zones.
And officials said it's too soon to know whether 110 mph trains are feasible on any portion in the Chicago area.
But at the first of four public meetings this week, state transportation officials on Monday presented a list of projects related to improving the final miles on Amtrak — and potentially Metra trips — to downtown Chicago.
The work, part of completing an environmental impact statement, is aimed at increasing train speeds and improving schedule reliability and safety along the approximately 40-mile Chicago-to-Joliet leg of Amtrak's 284-mile high-speed corridor between Chicago and St. Louis.
Amtrak service between Chicago and Joliet currently operates on the Metra Heritage Corridor tracks, with average speeds as slow as 30 mph and travel times as long as 90 minutes.
The Federal Railroad Administration has approved a plan to move Amtrak service to the Metra Rock Island District Corridor between Chicago and Joliet.
The goal involves reducing trip times to about 45 minutes, said Tony Pakeltis, a transportation planning manager with Parsons, a consulting firm working with IDOT.
It's a necessary component to cutting the current almost six-hour trip between Chicago and St. Louis to less than 4 hours, officials said.
Initiatives under review include closing some of the 35 railroad grade crossings between Chicago and Joliet, separating rail traffic from vehicles at crossings and adding an additional track to expedite passenger trains, officials said during a briefing for reporters at Union Station in Chicago.
Amtrak trains are running at 110 mph currently only on a 15-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac. The top speed elsewhere is 79 mph.
IDOT projects that 75 percent of the entire high-speed corridor — between Dwight and Alton — will be serving 110 mph trains by the end of 2015. The entire corridor is slated for completion in 2017, pending funding, according to IDOT.
Public meetings will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at these locations:
- On Wednesday at the Jacob Henry Mansion, 15 S. Richards St., Joliet.
- On Thursday at the Homewood Suites at 16245 S. La Grange Rd., Orland Park.
The public meetings will be followed by hearings late this year on the final environmental impact statement, officials said.
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