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Milk trains ain’t fast

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* I’m all for high-speed rail. It can spur quite a bit of

According to Zhang Gui, a professor at the Hebei University of Technology, Chinese planners used to follow a rule of thumb they learned from the West: All parts of an urban area should be within 60 miles of each other, or the average amount of highway that can be covered in an hour of driving. Beyond that, people cannot effectively commute.

High-speed rail, Professor Zhang said, has changed that equation. Chinese trains now easily hit 150 to 185 miles an hour, allowing the urban area to expand. A new line between Beijing and Tianjin cut travel times from three hours to 37 minutes. That train has become so crowded that a second track is being laid.

Now, high-speed rail is moving toward smaller cities. One line is opening this year between Beijing and Tangshan. Another is linking Beijing with Zhangjiakou, turning the mountain city into a recreational center for the new urban area, as well as a candidate to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

* So, who knows, maybe Dwight will become an exurban paradise some day

A high-speed rail linking Chicago and St. Louis is taking a big step today. The Daily Journal reports that a groundbreaking event will take place this afternoon in Dwight, Illinois, marking the construction of the first station that will service the rail line, which promises to exceed speeds of 120mph.

But, really, why is Amtrak still stopping in Dwight? It has a station mainly because it once had a state prison, which is now closed.

If we want to increase speed and efficiency, shouldn’t we be getting rid of the tiny town stops along the way and confine the stops outside Chicago to Joliet, Bloomington/Normal, Springfield and St. Louis?

posted by Rich Miller
Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:35 pm


  1. AMEN!

    Comment by 4 percent Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:36 pm

  2. Dwight is small, but not “tiny” /s

    Comment by JS Mill Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:37 pm

  3. ==If we want to increase speed and efficiency, shouldn’t we be getting rid of the tiny town stops along the way and confine the stops outside Chicago to Joliet, Bloomington/Normal, Springfield and St. Louis?==

    Yes, quite right. Governor Quinn never could tell small town mayors “no” to their pipe dream requests, however. Maybe this Governor will put efficiency over political expediency. And they also need to get to work on grade separations down the line to keep things efficient and safe,

    Comment by Bored Chairman Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:40 pm

  4. My thoughts exactly Rich. I’m a huge fan of high-speed rail, but this doesn’t add up. If nothing else, shouldn’t Dwight, Pontiac, etc. be limited to perhaps one stop per day? The rest of the time it should get the “express train” treatment (ala Metra) and simply skipped over in order to improve service times? Not sure spending $3.77 million in Dwight is an effective use of funds:

    Comment by Sweetchuck Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:43 pm

  5. And it still has a state operated facility for persons with developmental disabilities, Fox Developmental Center.

    Comment by steve schnorf Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:47 pm

  6. My spouse has relatives in a small Illinois town and AMTRAK is such a lifeline for them. And really 120 miles an hour compared to most places in the world is not fast. I say keep most of the small stations, not all but most.

    Comment by Honeybear Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:47 pm

  7. I would agree. Unfortunately though to have true high speed rail such as Japanese maglev or German ICE we would require serious investment in our rail infrastructure. I’m not sure where that would come from.

    Comment by Stones Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:50 pm

  8. yes

    Comment by Nick Danger Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:51 pm

  9. I agree with Sweetchuck. Don’t eliminate the towns completely but definitely have express trains. I would think you could have an express or two a day from Chicago to St. Louis and skip all the other towns.

    Comment by Been There Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:53 pm

  10. I’m not sure I have the energy to argue about Dwight. /s

    High Speed rail is supposed to be an alternative to air travel. I know of no flight from O’Hare that stops in Dwight or Pontiac on the way to St. Louis.

    Comment by A guy Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:53 pm

  11. I take Amtrak every week to Chicago. The fact is the passenger trains will still have to wait for freight traffic and pull over for other late passenger train. So high speed rail and taking time off the journey is a bit misleading. After all the delays while work is being done, not to mention the $ spent, and the condition of the trains themselves, you wonder what a good cost benefit analysis would show. We have mid-twentieth century service and do not seem to be moving to anything better.

    Comment by Professor Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:56 pm

  12. High speed rail to St. Louis. Yes. Should add Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Cleveland.

    Comment by Cannonball Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:59 pm

  13. There’s another reason for all the small town stations. If you know your history, the old railroad work rules had ‘mileage limits’ in place, where every 135 - 160 miles they had to change crews.

    That’s a long time ago, and a lot of these stations were holdovers from those days. At the time, couldn’t just drop off those crews in the middle of nowhere.

    These days, it’s hard to close a existing railroad station, because it does negatively affect those small communities.

    Comment by Judgment Day (on the road) Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 1:59 pm

  14. 120 mph. Wow. Pretty soon the trains will almost be able to keep up with the lawmakers.

    Comment by Michelle Flaherty Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:07 pm

  15. Off topic, but I wish Peoria still had passenger rail service.

    Comment by Tournaround Agenda Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:09 pm

  16. the dwight stop is particularly superfluous when there’s a pontiac stop very close to it.

    but people saying there should be express stops straight from chicago to st. louis are shortsighted imo. the springfield and bloomington and joliet stops serve a lot of riders and the stops only take a couple minutes.

    Comment by hisgirlfriday Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:12 pm

  17. Dwight would be the station the Kankakee/Bradley/Bourbonnais area would use…

    Comment by Stu Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:12 pm

  18. There should only be one train per day to the small towns, there simply aren’t enough passengers getting on or off there to justify the stops all day. Put in only 1 central stop for all the rest of the trains. You could rotate it between Bloomington and Springfield, so every other train stops in 1 or the other. Maybe even a 3 way rotation with a town further south.

    Comment by mcb Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:13 pm

  19. This whole thing is a boondoggle. First of all, it’s not “high speed” — it’s just faster (allegedly.) We’re not talking European bullet trains.

    The fact is that we are spending more than a billion dollars to shave the trip from Chicago to Springfield from 5 hours to 4 hours. Constant stops for freight, rickety rails, and stops that serve nobody will continue and are the only thing that can be relied upon with Amtrak. It’s a breathtaking waste.

    Comment by LincolnLounger Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:13 pm

  20. First, if a higher speed train stopped in Dwight it might grow. Second, you try telling the people of Dwight that they have to deal with the headache of a train going through their town, the noise, the traffic delays, and the separation of a town, but the train doesn’t stop there. Third, the passenger trains have to share tracks with the freight trains and their speeds are limited, it isn’t like they can save time by not having to stop at Dwight.

    Comment by Not it Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:15 pm

  21. After constantly being delayed on Amtrak I gave up on rail travel. Road construction is annoying, but I can drive at my own pace, have plenty of arm room, and travel to and from the city for about the same price (if not less).

    Comment by Roadtrip Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:23 pm

  22. As long as the congestion issued in the Chicago and St Louis metro areas aren’t cleaned up, (as in how the new Englewood Flyover was built on Chicago’s south side to remove the grade crossing between Norfolk Southern’s freights and Metra’s Rock Island Dist commuter trains) then there will never be any true ‘high speed rail’.
    The points in between add pretty minimaly to the delays to the trains, and UP’s traffic over the line AMTRAK runs on itself is not all that much, but enough to cause some headaches I’m sure.

    Comment by train111 Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:26 pm

  23. As long as the congestion issued in the Chicago and St Louis metro areas aren’t cleaned up, (as in how the new Englewood Flyover was built on Chicago’s south side to remove the grade crossing between Norfolk Southern’s freights and Metra’s Rock Island Dist commuter trains) then there will never be any true ‘high speed rail’.

    That’s what we call “the last mile”. It’ll be the last thing fixed and the most expensive, on each end. BTW, East St. Louis is pushing pretty hard to add yet another station to the route.

    Comment by Six Degrees of Separation Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:35 pm

  24. ==Off topic, but I wish Peoria still had passenger rail service.==

    Agreed. Even when it existed, it only went to Chillicothe, 20 miles north. There is also no direct highway connection to Chicago. For a metropolitan area of its size, Peoria’s interstate transportation options are lousy.

    Comment by charles in charge Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:47 pm

  25. The gov’t in China doesn’t have to kowtow to its citizens the way ours does. Any politician who behaves in such a manner is excoriated as a tin pot despot. I bet I don’t even have to mention an example.

    Comment by dupage dan Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:49 pm

  26. And as long as the line is single track instead of double track, there will be choke points. Two 120 mph passenger trains meeting at speed need a siding track a minimum of 5 miles long and special high speed turnouts to make a passing maneuver, and if either of them misses a 30 second window or so, one of them will have to slow down to let the other pass. Not ideal for “high speed rail” to say the least.

    Comment by Six Degrees of Separation Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:49 pm

  27. While Joliet is large, isn’t it serviced by the Metra? And so doesn’t really need an Amtrack stop going north.

    Comment by A Jack Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:51 pm

  28. I wish Peoria still had passenger rail service

    Bring back the Peoria Rocket!

    Comment by Six Degrees of Separation Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:52 pm

  29. While Joliet is large, isn’t it serviced by the Metra? And so doesn’t really need an Amtrack stop going north.

    It’s the only suburban stop of any consequence (if anything they should get rid of Summit where hardly anyone boards), and a ton of people board there…there’s something like a half million people in a 15 mile radius of the station, and a lot of revenue to give up. Metra and Amtrak have a non-compete agreement where you can’t ride Amtrak from Chicago to Joliet or vice versa unless connecting to or from another Amtrak train.

    Comment by Six Degrees of Separation Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 2:55 pm

  30. Some good comments here. I use the train every week between bloomington and Chicago. Summit is a waste - no stop needed there. The idea of express trains make sense. High speed is a waste as long as the tracks are owned by freight companies and Amtrak is forced to stop for their traffic. Ridiculous, and limits the usability of Amtrak. Also agree that Peoria needs rail service, but local politicians have decided that local festivals and restaurants take priority over using the rails for real trains.

    Comment by Gmma Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:02 pm

  31. Peoria had non AMTRAK passenger service until 1978. It was a joke however given the deplorable condition of the Rock Island’s trackage.


    Comment by train111 Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:12 pm

  32. Yes you limit stops to blomington springfield and st louis for your main runs. Then you run short lines from those hubs to other locals, or of their is sufficient need you run non standard schedule trains that stop at those other places

    Comment by Ghost Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:17 pm

  33. Beijing’s population is 11.5 million, Tianjin’s 7.5 million, Tangsha’s 1.7 million, and Zhangjiakou’s 900,000.

    Comment by Jimmy Jazz Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:19 pm

  34. Jimmy Jazz, you nailed it. The train fan boys trying to compare us to Europe and China forgot a few things. Our land use isn’t set up European style; i.e. Dense urban core, countryside, dense urban core. And we simply do not have the population densities that China has to provide the demand for rail.

    Comment by Bored Chairman Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:26 pm

  35. Those tiny stops make a big difference in time when you count slowing down, stopping and then speeding up.

    The big thing they need right now is to add the second line so that the passenger trains are not being slowed or sided for the freight trains. This really isn’t high speed rail, it’s a slightly higher speed, but decreasing down time and increasing reliability is a huge step forward for Amtrak.

    Comment by Ahoy! Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:40 pm

  36. Get rid of the small town stops and trains traveling 120 mph would be full here also. It should be connecting cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee.

    Comment by Anonymous Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:45 pm

  37. In Mexico and other nations considered way more backward than the United States, buses offer both comfort and convenience. You can take an overnight bus from Mexico City to the coast, sleep well on a reclining seat and wake up on the Pacific Ocean. They even hand out free snacks and beverages. And it is all accomplished by the private sector, no public subsidies whatsoever.

    People in the United States need to get over their hangups over bus service. I don’t take the train between St. Louis and Chicago, and I resent subsidizing train service for those who do. If there were no other alternatives, that would be one thing, but there are alternatives. Absolute, pure foolishness to pour billions of public dollars into passenger train service that can never be reliable or fast because the tracks belong to freight railroads.

    Comment by Go Greyhound Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:50 pm

  38. ===Chinese trains now easily hit 150 to 185 miles an hour===

    The French TGV trains, which entered service about 1980, often travel at or near 200 mph as do the high speed trains in Japan. The higher speed train from Chicago to St. Louis as now envisioned is only a small step forward and decades behind both what is being done in other places, what is technically possible, and what is needed in Illinois.

    Comment by Hit or Miss Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 3:53 pm

  39. Bored Chairman, what are you talking about? Come again with the explanation of how “European style land use” is so different from the United States?

    Are you suggesting that large European and Asian cities don’t have suburban sprawl? Where did you get that idea?

    Comment by Wordslinger Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 4:02 pm

  40. Once talked to an old Amtrak conductor on the Chicago to St. Louis line. He was talking about the “high speed rail” hype coming out of Springfield. Turns out he’d worked for years on the GM&O, which used to own the route. “In those days, when we owned the rails, the engineer would put the petal to the metal and we’d roar down the rails at full speed, which was 109 mph,” he told me. Now the state is talking about going 110 mph. Progress!

    Comment by Forest City Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 4:02 pm

  41. Illinois’ iteration of “high-speed rail” has been a disappointment from the start. Edgar’s election of 150-180 MPH “tilt trains” instead of 300-600 MPH TGV-style vehicles may preserve competition with local air carriers, but it ignores the larger economic potential. An up-to-date high speed rail system should stop in Springfield (and maybe Bloomington near the airport) between Chicago and St. Louis. Anything else is $billions for a retrograde system.

    With a TGV system, Springfield could become a Chicago bedroom community virtually overnight once you consider existing commuting, property tax, insurance, utility, and other costs, and the economic development would be a bonanza for the entire area.

    Comment by David Starrett Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 4:03 pm

  42. Like Train said, it’s not so much the stops in the small towns that make for Amtrak delays, it’s the backups caused by trains trying to get in and out of the city.

    Comment by Wordslinger Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 4:04 pm

  43. Can you really in good conscience call it “high speed rail” if I can still beat the trains in a race from SPI to STL if I concentrated?

    Comment by Duke Silver's Saxophone Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 5:43 pm

  44. The idea sounds great. I question whether it will be Amtrack, a money loser? And how are we going to pay for the unknown anount of capital needed to get it running?

    Comment by FormerParatrooper Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 6:01 pm

  45. You have to balance access to ridership markets with travel time. The more stops you eliminate, the faster the trip but the more potential riders you also exclude.

    Comment by NoGifts Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 6:11 pm

  46. Forest City: GM&O wasn’t the only passenger service to run over 100 mph: IC routinely ran that fast south of Champaign and Milwaukee Road and CNW sometimes reached 120 on the Chicago - Minneapolis run. Passenger’s reminiscences mention seeing “Reduce speed to 90 mph” caution signs.

    True high-speed service will only occur on lines completely separate from freight service. In the meantime, along I-55 you can see new, longer passing tracks being built on the Chicago-St. Louis route and bridges & culverts being widened to accommodate a future second main track.

    I don’t anticipate passenger rail coming back to Peoria as it’s not along a main line to anywhere. However, one route that I think could work would be the old CNW route of Chicago-Geneva-DeKalb-Rochelle-Dixon-Sterling/Rock Falls-Clinton, IA.

    Comment by Curmudgeon Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 6:15 pm

  47. I just came back from a workshop in Hawaii on China. One of the presenters talked about how she teaches at Shanghai and lives in Nanjing, about 190 miles away. Her commute by train takes less than 90 minutes.

    Comment by G'Kar Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 6:56 pm

  48. High speed rail is just another phrase for corporate welfare for the railroad freight corporations. All of the government funds has been used to fixed the aging tracks under the guise if “fantastically” improved passenger service.

    What a crock.

    Comment by Rufus Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 7:02 pm

  49. The three heaviest used stations listed by service size are Chicago, Normal, Springfield and Galesburg.At this point I think Normal is the 4th busiest in the midwest.

    Comment by Tyrone Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 8:16 pm

  50. A Jack — your post works under the assumption that nobody from the south would want to stop in Joliet, which is an incorrect assumption.

    Comment by Not it Tuesday, Aug 11, 15 @ 10:57 pm

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