Chicago Construction News staff writer
Federal, state and local officials gathered at Union Station last week to celebrate the completion of a multi-year construction project and launch 110-mph passenger train service from Chicago to St. Louis.
“Illinois is the only state where all seven of the nation’s largest railroads operate. That’s a unique economic advantage recognized by employers across the globe, helping our state attract and maintain quality jobs,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “By upgrading to higher-speed service on Illinois’ largest passenger rail line, we are solidifying our status as the transportation hub of North America.”
In addition to increasing speeds, the $1.96 billion project boosted safety, upgraded and added new stations and concrete ties along the route and improvements to bridges, culverts, and signaling systems.
Major upgrades were performed at 212 grade crossings by installing four-quadrant gates and loop detectors to help prevent collisions with vehicles on the tracks. Pedestrian gates and fencing were built to protect people crossing tracks passing through towns and neighborhoods. Thirty-nine crossings deemed at-risk were permanently closed.
New stations were built in Dwight, Pontiac, Carlinville, and Alton, renovated the Lincoln station, improved the existing Normal station, and made upgrades to the Springfield station. A separate project to build a new multimodal station in Joliet was completed in 2018, with a second phase starting in 2021.
“The team at IDOT, Amtrak, and UP has delivered travel times that will make a real difference to our customers: Less than two hours from Chicago to Bloomington-Normal and shorter than three hours to Springfield, with end-to-end St. Louis-Chicago schedules of under five hours,” said Amtrak president Roger Harris. “Between the shorter schedules and having more than half of all the new state-owned Amtrak Midwest ‘Venture’ railcars now in service, we are completing a full makeover of this corridor service.”
The project is made possible via $1.66 billion in federal funding, primarily through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, as well as $300 million in state and non-federal funds. The project broke ground in 2010 with major infrastructure improvements completed in 2018. From 2019 to 2023, IDOT has worked with project partners to install and test a Positive Train Control system that allows passenger trains to increase their speed first to 90 mph and now 110 mph while enabling technology to automatically stop a train before a collision.
“Union Pacific is proud to have been a part of this large-scale, multiyear undertaking to safely accommodate both freight and high-speed passenger trains on the same rail line,” said Union Pacific Chairman, President, and CEO Lance Fritz. “This project embodies the true meaning of partnership and underscores what can be accomplished when we come together and pull in the same direction.”