Metro-East News

IDOT plans more upgrades as part of high-speed rail prep

IDOT Passenger Rail Marketing Manager Scott Speegle gives an update on high-speed rail project between Chicago and St. Louis

The Illinois Department of Transportation held an open house Thursday in Alton to discuss the planned 2016 work for the ongoing high-speed rail project between Chicago and St. Louis. IDOT plans to carry out upgrades at crossings this year.
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The Illinois Department of Transportation held an open house Thursday in Alton to discuss the planned 2016 work for the ongoing high-speed rail project between Chicago and St. Louis. IDOT plans to carry out upgrades at crossings this year.

The Illinois Department of Transportation plans to carry out crossings upgrades this year as it prepares to provide high-speed rail passenger service between Chicago and St. Louis by 2017.

About 20 crossing safety upgrades between East St. Louis and Carlinville are planned, said Scott Speegle, Passenger Rail Marketing manager for IDOT at an high-speed rail open house on Thursday.

Among the upgrades are ensuring crossing have four gates instead of two to prevent vehicles from weaving through crossings when the gates are down.

Most crossings have one bar on each side so people can weave through if they are determined not to wait.

Some crossings closures could be a week or two long, some could be a month to six weeks long depending the complexity of the work at the crossings, Speegle said.

“It really varies, depending on the crossing itself,” Speegle said.

He added IDOT is working with local officials to coordinate detours.

$1.95 billion The cost of the high-speed rail improvements in Illinois. Federal money is paying for most of the project

IDOT is putting in fencing to keep pedestrians out of the right of way as well as a positive train control system. The system sends a signal to an operator of an oncoming train if there is a vehicle at a crossing so the operator of train can slow down and stop the train.

“If he or she doesn’t react to the warning, the train will begin to shut down automatically to minimize and hopefully eliminate any crashes,” Speegle said.

Illinois hopes to have construction of a high-speed rail completed by 2017. The corridor will allow trains to run between St. Louis and Chicago at 110 mph. In addition, the program includes safety improvements at crossings as well as building new or improving stations throughout the corridor, IDOT said.

The new transportation hub in Alton also is expected to be completed by spring of 2017.

New locomotives are being purchased, are being delivered this summer, and are expected to be on the tracks this fall, Speegle said.

It is faster. Hopefully it will help. I’m sure more people will start riding it.

Brian Craig, of Brighton

Speegle added the improvements would help with reliability, and reduced the trip between Chicago and St. Louis to 4.5 hours from 5.5 hours.

C.J. Stern, of Alton, lives right by train tracks near to the current train stop. She said she has concerns about how fast trains would go by her house and whether there would be vibrations.

The open house did not have a representative from union pacific to answer the question, but representatives from IDOT said they would find out the answer.

She said it’s not a huge complaint, “but I know what it feels like for the trains to go past my house.”

Brian Craig, of Brighton, lives close to the line and came to the open house to see when the service would begin operating.

“It is faster. Hopefully it will help,” Craig said. “I’m sure more people will start riding it.”

He also wanted to know how freight trains would be affected.

“I wanted to see if they’re going to add existing track,” Craig said. “I know it’s a lot more money. I didn’t think they could have freight trains running on the same tracks.”

Because the money is primarily federal money, it’s not impacting the project directly. There hasn’t been a slowdown. It’s full-speed ahead.

Scott Speegle, Passenger Rail Marketing manager for the Illinois Department of Transportation

Speegle said part of the project included adding more siding tracks, where trains could pull off to side without stopping but allow another train to pass. This allows the Union Pacific tracks to be shared between freight and passenger trains.

The upgrades for the corridor are costing about $1.95 billion, and is being paid for with mostly federal dollars. Illinois has committed $300 million toward the project. The budget impasse in Springfield has not adversly affected the project, Speegle said.

“Because the money is primarily federal money, it’s not impacting the project directly. There hasn’t been a slowdown,” Speegle said. “It’s full-speed ahead.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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