Illinois gets money for high speed rail

President Barack Obama announced last Thursday that the Midwest would receive $2.6 billion to pursue high speech rail services.

Illinois will receive $1.13 billion of that money for use on high speed rail construction, projects aimed at reducing congestion at railways and conducting an environmental impact study, said Brian Imus, director at the Illinois Public Interest Research Group.

“All of this money, regardless of whether it’s for a study or for construction, is a down payment to pay for a high speed rail network through the Midwest, and essentially a network linking all the major cities in the Midwest,” he said.

The new high speed rail route will have trains operating at 110 mph from Dwight, Ill., to St. Louis. This course is known as the Chicago-to-St. Louis route. The portion of the route from Chicago to Dwight will have trains operating at the typical speed of 79 miles per hour.

Trains traveling at 220 mph would be considered true high speed rail. However, construction to fund trains traveling at 220 mph would cost billions of dollars and require completely new construction of the railroads, said Chris Barkan, a professor in the railroad engineering program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University.

Illinois has received enough money to upgrade the current railroads and facilitate trains traveling at 110 mph.

“As a result of initial funding that Illinois received this last week, we’re going to take an important step toward gaining higher speed in Illinois. The true high speed, 220 miles per hour is going to take longer (to build),” Barkan said.

Fifteen countries have already adopted high speed rail. The international standard speed is 250 kilometers per hour, or 155 mph, he added.

Because of the new program, the journey from Chicago to St. Louis will decrease time travel by a third, Imus said.

“This is a really big deal; for the first time the federal government is investing in modern 21st century transportation that will address a lot of the problems we have with our transportation right now,” he said.

Imus said that the construction of high speed rail programs will reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, reduce the effects of global warming and lower the pollution that has come with limited transportation choices.

The new technology will utilize positive train control, which provides GPS satellites to monitor the location of the train. Regular trains use cab signaling, which employs low-voltage electrical current in the rails to show the location of the train, Barkan said.

The satellite system makes everything automated, he added.

The technology also uses computer algorithms designed to slow the train in the event that a locomotive engineer fails to stop the train, said J. Riley Edwards, lecturer in the railroad engineering program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“Technology exists to go at 220 miles per hour, this should just be the start of that,” Edwards said.