Amtrak Lincoln Service 110 mph not so fast

Unfortunately I think some of the general public are under the impression that Amtrak in Illinois is now running at higher speeds. After a recent much hyped test run with politicians on board – I think many people just read news article titles and skipped the actual story. Amtrak trains in Illinois are still a long ways off from operating at faster speeds.

Testing of new safety equipment after it has been installed – needs to be done. General operating procedures and hardware all need to be put through their paces and tested.

The much hyped political news event was just the start of that testing phase. There are many quotes that this wasn’t a dog and pony show put on for the media. But I have to wonder how true that really is.

Two days after all the hype ( October 21 2012 ) – I took a trip to Joliet Illinois on Amtrak’s Lincoln Service. The portion of track testing higher speed operation is between Dixon & Joliet. This is where the 111 MPH speed was achieved during the media event.

The video above shows the speeds Amtrak Lincoln Service achieved on my trip up and coming home. On the northbound portion I fired up the GPS a bit before Dixon. It is very clear that the highest speed reached that day was 83 MPH. Keep in mind there are a variety of reasons a particular train might not be running at the top allowed speed on any given day.

Some of these are track conditions, maintenance being done on or near tracks, weather and traffic congestion – to many trains trying to use that portion of track at that time. Those are a just a few reasons that come to mind.

What I have to wonder is did those conditions still exist two days later? Weather going up to Joliet was good – conditions were heavy rain coming home. I headed home after a two day stay in Joliet ( October 23 2012 ) – this is four days after the media hyped dog and pony show. Heading southbound on Amtrak’s Lincoln Service that day top speed reached was 82 MPH. That was leaving Joliet heading to Dixon. The GPS was up and running after we had left the outskirts of Joliet. I did lose power to the GPS unit for a few minutes. I highly doubt during this time we hit anywhere near 100 MPH. For the record before recording the trip data was reset. So the data there was for that ride only.

I feel my testing was more than fair – especially heading northbound. For whatever reason higher speeds where not being tested on the Dixon Joliet portion of track when I was a passenger. On my way home I wasn’t the only one who was aware that Lincoln Service wasn’t traveling at faster speeds. But I do think several business class riders that day might have been confused or misinformed.

The women seated in front of me couldn’t stop talking about and debating the pros and cons. They were very much in favor of taking the train. Both seemed to prefer it over driving or hassling with traveling by air. Both liked how the train allowed you to depart right at a city’s downtown. From their conversation it sounded like they thought Illinois Amtrak trains were traveling at new higher speeds already. I resisted the urge to interject my thoughts into their discussion.

Lets move onto the somewhat rowdy sports fans coming home to Springfield IL from the Chicago Bears game. I hate passengers who can’t seem to get it through their head that business class should be treated like a quiet car. Most of us choose this upgrade to get peace and quiet – also with the hope of better service and less drama. That being said this group was also discussing the speed of the train. I think they may have seen me using the GPS and decided to join the “party” with their phones. Again I got the impression that they expected the train to be running at a higher speed.

On the way up to Joliet I don’t recall any speed discussions. It was coming home where I heard all the talk. To me it seemed many people where unaware that a testing phase was taking place and it would take sometime before this route would be operational at faster speeds. This misconception started with the media dog & pony show – but also shows people don’t take the time to read. Or maybe they just read what they want to see.

I understand politicians need to show that they are fulfilling their promises and that progress is being made. But hyping a 5 minute run at 111 MPH with such joy is rather ridiculous for several reasons. The first being this is just the start of a long testing phase. Second Amtrak passengers on that route are going to expect to see the same thing. As my video clearly shows Illinois Amtrak passengers aren’t getting the same ride. I think it’s also very obvious that many of these people aren’t aware this is a testing phase.

Like myself others are going to feel this was all a staged event for the media. If it wasn’t – why 2 to 4 days after the event weren’t Amtrak Lincoln Service passengers seeing the testing going on between Dixon and Joliet? All this does is add fuel to the many Amtrak and high speed rail haters. They use this as an example of nothing being achieved and everything just being political smoke and mirrors. The last thing anybody who supports faster passenger rail speeds should be doing is giving idiots more ammunition to try and validate their close minded ignorant views.

In the United States there is a lot of negativity towards financing high speed rail projects. Some of this debate is valid in regards to spending money and only seeing incremental speed increases. But those who take that viewpoint would scream bloody murder if they were asked to support higher spending for a real high speed rail network to be constructed. When you have dog and pony shows this just gives the opposition more ammunition.

To me anyone who claims to love America should be ashamed that countries less advanced than ours have surpassed us in high speed rail development and other technologies. For decades we have lagged behind other nations in regards to high quality passenger rail. Many Amtrak passengers visiting from other countries are shocked at how many years behind we are. They fully expected to see rail service at a higher level than what they get at home here in the USA. They quickly find out it’s not to be found within the borders of the United States.

Here in Illinois we see there is high demand for passengers rail service. The current demand may lessen if current rail speeds and quality are kept. There is a big opportunity to keep those passengers if serious progress is made to improve service. The Union Pacific tracks being used now are pretty optimal for high speed service. Not a ton of curves, fairly straight shot. If capacity agreements could be developed – it would be easy to power high speed service with green energy. All along the Illinois Amtrak route are operational wind farms producing clean energy. If some of that could be diverted towards the rail tracks – this could power passenger and freight trains.

Unfortunately this is not the example many in the United States want to set. No matter how many times they are shown this is good for the economy and job creation. You would think at the very least they would have some pride in wanting our nation to be equal to or greater than others. These people beat their chest with pride but have nothing but antiquated technology to show for it. While other nations continue to kick our ass in many ways.

Rail moves more people than an airplane. Trains do this somewhat cleaner when comparing fuel usage. When powered by clean energy resources this benefit increases. Passenger rail reduces congestion on our highways. When done right – rail service can compete effectively against air travel. In the USA it seems we have become less and less about competing and more about stopping competition from operating.

Hopefully this dog and pony show will become more than that. Lets hope at some point Amtrak passengers start seeing the testing speeds. The preferred outcome of all this would be if the politicians can make this a stepping stone to true high speed rail in a couple of years. I’m not feeling positive that this will be accomplished. America is just stuck in to much of a brain dead rut to understand we need to change our ways of doing things.

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