Metro-East News

You’ll soon be able to get to Chicago an hour faster

Wayne and Jennifer Politsch, of Alton, are Amtrak fans and wanted to know the progress of the ongoing high-speed rail project.

They said the new Alton station could even be an economic driver for the area as it attracts people from around the region.

“Like many complex projects, they run behind a little bit, so we’re getting a little impatient. We want to see the new cars and the new engines,” Wayne Politsch said. “We’re both environmental folks connected with the Sierra Club and we see it as a very efficient way of transporting people, with reduced impact on the environment.”

They were among the roughly 40 attendees at an Illinois Department of Transportation high speed rail open house Wednesday where IDOT gave an update on the planned construction projects that are expected to be completed this year.

“We’re getting close to finishing the project,” said Scott Speegle, the Passenger Rail communications manager for IDOT.

Work this year includes upgrades at 21 rail crossings between Granite City and Shipman, Speegle said.

Upgrades include putting in four quad gates to prevent cars from weaving through crossings when a train is approaching. Signaling upgrades, increased fencing and pedestrian gates, if necessary, also are planned. Most of the work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, Speegle said.

The crossings will be temporarily closed while upgrades are taking place.

“We’re coordinating with the local governments, emergency responders, and staging it as such consecutive roads won’t be closed at the same time,” Speegle said.

Each closure will vary between two to six weeks, depending on the crossing and the work necessary for the project, Speegle said.

Workers also are set to finish siding tracks near Shipman to allow a second train to keep moving in the opposite direction at the same time.

“Because of the length, they should be able to keep going,” Speegle said.

The new Alton station, about a mile north of the current station, is expected to be completed this summer, Speegle said.

Train bridge decks over Wood River and Cahokia Creek also will be upgraded.

When that takes place, the trains will be shut down and people will be bussed, Speegle said. It will take about a week.

The high-speed rail work, which began in 2010, is within budget, Speegle said. The project cost is $1.95 billion, and a vast majority of the money was through the federal stimulus program that was adopted during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Speegle said changes to the schedule should begin by the end of the year.

The project is expected to bring train travel between St. Louis and Chicago to 4.5 hours; it’s currently 5.5 hours. Travel time also is anticipated to be more consistent, Speegle said. The new or upgraded stations will be more convenient and be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It’s not just the one-hour savings and faster trains. That’s kind of the glamourous things,” Speegle said. “But the safety, the convenience and reliability. Those are important pieces to the project as well.”

Some people also had concerns about the project.

Dennis Grover, of Brighton, said the new tracks being put in moves the easement within two feet to his commercial building he uses as a warehouse. The building in the past was a grocery store and appliance store.

“We’re hoping when they look at the original plats, that they’re going to find out they’re taking 20-feet more… than they should be taking,” Grover said. “But when you’re fighting somebody as big as the railroad, you don’t have much chance of winning. It does have a big effect on our property.”

At a glance

  • For more information about the Illinois High Speed Rail project, go to www.idothsr.org
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