Chicago St Louis high speed rail project location map

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The photos included in this article were taking on 2 separate days inside the Illinois Rail Capital of America tent during the 2010 Illinois State Fair. On my first visit the young ladies stationed at this location were very uninterested in engaging fairgoers. They were more interested in blocking the display, chatting amongst themselves and texting. Not that the adult males on my next stop in were any friendlier. Everyone had a look like they preferred to be somewhere else and had better things to do. Granted I probably wouldn’t have wanted to get into any discussion with them. This doesn’t mean that other visitors might not have liked the opportunity.

Since this summer a lot of progress has been made with this project. The Union Pacific track renewal crew recently upgraded the Chatham Illinois portion of this route. This means that from St. Louis to the southern part of Springfield all track has been upgraded. Springfield Illinois won’t be a part of the track renewal process until the community gets done debating and arguing over the best solution. Currently a study ( Springfield Railroad Corridor Study group ) is being done to analyze all the various options.

The study’s second open house will be held on Tuesday, November 16, 2010, from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.

Anyone who has driven towards Lincoln on I-55 the past few weeks would have noticed the rail cars with concrete ties on them. These are waiting for the crews to arrive to install them. The local Springfield newspaper The State Journal Register recently did a detailed story on the upgrade process. Portions of the track North of Springfield are currently being upgraded. For anyone paying attention – that means that all portions of this rail line except Springfield will be upgraded before the end of the year.

One person recently wrote into the local paper stating they feel the decision on how Springfield will proceed has already been made. Their reasoning is do to the fact that our current Amtrak station which is in extreme need of repairs will be getting them. The commenter figures if the money is being invested in the current station at it’s present location then Union Pacific freight & Amtrak passenger service must not be moving. Here is what they have forgotten. The State of Illinois & federal government spent millions on a bike trail in Springfield they knew they would have to tear up a few years later. That trail required a good amount of money to be rerouted etc. So officials rarely think about the most effective logical way to manage projects. Springfield’s Amtrak could receive this long overdue maintenance only to be moved, closed or maybe even torn down a few years from now.

I’m still very confused on how no other Central Illinois communities got up in arms about this project. Other towns along the upgrade path have embraced these changes. Joliet will be giving it’s Amtrak commuter rail station a much needed makeover. Currently this Amtrak stop is less than pleasant for late evening riders. Normal is currently building a transportation hub that will outshine Springfield the Capital of Illinois. Honestly this community should be ashamed that it was not better prepared. When Amtrak riders compare terminals do you think they are more likely to visit Bloomington-Normal or Springfield? Considering Normal is embracing the rail upgrades by building a new facility – I’d venture a guess that tourist and business people will choose that city over Springfield.

I still don’t understand how all of the other Illinois cities didn’t have citizens expressing concerns similar to those in Springfield. Amtrak passenger service and Union Pacific Freight travels through many neighborhoods along this route. Why do the people who live there seem to not have any apprehension about increased rail traffic, safety and crossing closings? Are these communities not concerned about how increased traffic might affect their quality of life or their neighborhoods?

While I fully understand many of the concerns being expressed in Springfield. I’m beginning to feel that this community is getting in the way of progress. Granted this country is so far behind in regards to true high speed rail it’s almost silly to call these upgrades progress. What we really have is a subsidy given to Union Pacific to upgrade their commercial rail line with no guarantees in regards to the quality of passenger service. Unfortunately federal officials really haven’t handled this very well. Our nations current passenger rail “plan” really is lacking. This country has long been behind the curve in regards to this form of transportation. For years Japan, Germany, France, Spain, Britain and many other countries have led the way while the United States made no real effort to advance. I personally feel this current “effort” is half hearted at best. I have a better chance of winning the lottery before this nation gets true high speed rail. You’d think China kicking our sorry asses in regards to high speed rail would light a fire under our butts. Unfortunately that is not the case. It’s not just rail that China is beating America at. That nation has created new industry by embracing alternative energy companies. China is one of the biggest producers of solar panels and wind turbines. Germany is a shining example of a country that has gotten it right with solar. I’m left to wonder if there is any real pride left in America. Most people here seem to be OK with losing jobs and living in the past while others overseas advance in regards to transportation and new technology.

By the way Amtrak snack car attendant on the Lincoln Service = I’m NOT a business class stowaway. Granted on my last trip I was using Guest Rewards Points to pay for my upgraded seat. But just because I don’t look or act like the rest of the snobs who ride in that car don’t pass judgment on me. You treated me rather lousy that day and acted superior like I wasn’t “worthy”. I’ll tell this story further at some point. I’m going to do some more customer service research before covering my last Amtrak Lincoln Service adventure.

Very lousy customer service for an Amtrak employee to make a comment about how she feels there is a stowaway needing dealt with in business class to other riders being served by her.

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The tracks below have been upgraded – the photo shows the old track.

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Here is a very insightful comment form a recent State Journal Register article.

“myopinion2 – I guess I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. High speed trains will still have to slow down and stop at the 3rd Street Amtrak station. It’s not like they’re going to be going through Springfield at 90mph as it obviously takes more than 3-4 blocks to slow down a train traveling at a high speed. The bigger concern should be increased freight trains.”

Passenger service will add very few additional trains if any. This is always dictated by ridership numbers. What we know for a fact is that increased rail traffic from Union Pacific is coming in the next few years do to their new terminal in Joliet Illinois. I’ve stated both of these facts multiple times in my previous articles covering this subject. I think noise, safety, traffic delays and adverse affects to the look of the community are the concerns being expressed. Then again some of the areas that might be effected could use a serious makeover. Owners for years have neglected their property. There are many rental properties on the verge of collapse along this rail line.

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