All the upgrades are expected to reduce the entire five-and-a-half-hour train journey from Chicago to St. Louis by about an hour. Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains currently run at a maximum speed of 79 mph along the route, save for a 15-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac, Ill., where trains began running at 110 mph on Thanksgiving Day 2012.
Since then, the project’s leaders have continued to forge ahead in the face of several hurdles, including pushback from local communities, difficulties associated with implementing positive train control (PTC) and stringent environmental documentation requirements. Although there’s still work left to do, they’ve logged a series of accomplishments — from the completion of track rehabilitation along the corridor to breaking ground on the line’s first new station — and stand ready to tackle the project’s final phases within the next few years.
“We are challenged by some of the requirements for consensus building when it comes to grade crossings, in particular,” said Phil Pasterak, who heads the Parsons Brinckerhoff team charged with managing the project.
He made the remarks during a presentation he delivered last month at Railway Interchange 2015 in Minneapolis.
The route includes nearly 300 crossings, and the project team must gain approval from each community along the way.
Another challenge for project planners: implementing PTC for higher-speed trains without adequate federal guidance.
Like Class I routes, the Chicago-St. Louis passenger line will feature an Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS), but there’s one important difference: “We are now the only corridor … in the country where I-ETMS needs to operate at speeds of up to 110 [mph],” said Pasterak.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued some PTC guidelines for running trains up to 90 mph, but not yet for trains exceeding that speed. UP’s signal team is working closely with the FRA to get rules governing trains traveling beyond the 90 mph mark, Pasterak said.
In the interim, UP is installing a new fiber trunk line along the entire right-of-way to prepare for PTC implementation.
Because the federal government is covering most costs associated with the $1.9 billion project, planners also must comply with a hefty set of environmental reporting requirements.
So far, the project’s leaders have begun working on nearly 50 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Tier II documents, which examine the line’s potential impacts on wildlife, habitats and other natural resources.
The reporting process has taken “a lot more time than anybody ever imagined when we speculated and started designing this project,” Halsted said. “But we are continuing to trudge through this.”