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From free Wi-Fi to purchase of new 125-mph trains, upgrades to Midwest’s rail service continues

by Laura Kliewer ~ May 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In February, free Wi-Fi service began on most Amtrak trains that operate on the Midwest’s shorter-distance, state-funded “corridor” routes. Within the next few years, some of these routes will also have new high-performance trains. These modern train sets will be capable of 125-mph speeds and will offer improved fuel efficiency and reliability compared to the 40-year-old equipment now in use.
In a procurement process led by the state of Illinois, the departments of transportation in California, Michigan, Washington and Missouri jointly made the purchases. Next-generation bi-level rail cars, meanwhile, are being manufactured for Midwestern states and California at a facility in the Illinois town of Rochelle.
The purchases were made through grants from the U.S. High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. The rail cars and locomotives are scheduled to be delivered starting in 2016, and are part of broader plans to expand and improve passenger-rail service in the Midwest.
The new equipment will be used for state-funded corridor routes that provide service between Chicago and numerous end points: downstate Illinois; St. Louis; Milwaukee; and the Michigan towns of Grand Rapids, Port Huron and Detroit/Pontiac.
Meanwhile, progress on other rail improvements is continuing in the region:
• The Illinois DOT is working with private railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration to expand 110-mph service to about 75 percent of the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor by 2017. The state will also study the feasibility of providing such service to the rest of the corridor.
In February, IDOT began holding public meetings in communities along the route to present results of federally required environmental studies and gather public input.
• Last August, the Michigan DOT contracted with Norfolk Southern to replace more than 138,000 ties and 160,000 feet of rail and to resurface all 135 miles of track on the Michigan-owned segment of the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridor between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. The $8 million stabilization project increased the speed and efficiency of the Wolverine service. Also last year, Amtrak improved the speed at which trains could travel on 40 miles of track by rehabilitating grade crossings.
• Minnesota officials, the Wisconsin DOT and Amtrak are continuing to study the feasibility of adding a second daily Amtrak train between Chicago and the Twin Cities. A recommendation is expected this summer. Also, Amtrak’s Empire Builder service is set to return to the renovated St. Paul Union Depot in May, providing improved transit connections and access to downtown amenities.
As of mid-April, Minnesota legislators were considering a $27 million bonding request to further develop rail corridors in the state.
• Customer satisfaction with the state-funded Missouri River Runner service between Kansas City and St. Louis is among the highest of any Amtrak route. Last year, the Missouri DOT completed two construction projects along the corridor, with two more planned for completion in 2014. And over the winter, despite harsh weather conditions, on-time performance along the route remained at 90 percent.

 

Article written by Laura Kliewer, director of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.