Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: metraRI, JamesT4

  by Nyterider
I suppose this item could also go into either the Amtrak or high speed forums. But it concerns Metra also and you're the most knowledgable about these lines so this appears to be the best place for it. Utilizing the HC route for St. Louis high speed rail would require grade separating Brighton and probably other crossings and junctions as well. There's also a lot of freight running along this line. Would the mostly passenger RI therefore have potential as the way to reach Chicago? Connections would be needed at Joliet and Englewood to get to Union Station. If I'm understanding the track diagram correctly, main line trains currently proceed straight through Blue Island Junction. But for some strange reason, a diverging movement is used at Gresham. There must have been a purpose for this arrangement at one time, now it just seems like something that should be eliminated.

Both lines have their strengths and weaknesses. A major HC strength is that it's shorter than RI. But many other factors play in RI's favor. Maybe they've already officially decided which route they prefer. Any comments or useful links would be appreciated. Thanks!

  by Tadman
As it stands today, RI is so chock full of pokey diesel commuter trains, hospital trains of MU's going for brake and wheel jobs, and CRL/IAIS freight drags, that it's in no shape for 100+ running. On HC, both CNIC and BNSF have parallel routes - a project to move all freights to one side, or CTC single-track a highspeed passenger route, might make sense, then donating that second track to the freights that got shuffled off to BNSF. However, I don't think anybody could talk BNSF into this - they booted Amtrak over to ex-CB&Q Aurora line about ten years ago.

  by doepack
As Tadman points out, using RI for high speed rail wouldn't really be feasible, not only for the reasons cited above, but also because the trackage west of Joliet (currently CSX's New Rock subdivision, upon which IAIS has trackage rights) is single track, and good for only 25mph in most locations. You'd pretty much have to tear up the exisiting track, and construct a brand-new double-track main that will support 110mph operation. In today's climate though, CSX's overall hostility toward passenger trains in general and Amtrak in particular should not be ignored, and as such, they would likely want nothing to do with having to shell out for any sort of passenger rail upgrades...

Meanwhile, during the last decade, Amtrak, IDOT, and Union Pacific have conducted both joint and independent studies examining the cost, and the materials needed for building a high-speed rail corridor between Chicago and St. Louis, as well as the potential environmental impacts of same. Studies are still ongoing, but when/if it happens, Metra's HC has already been identified as the Joliet-CUS segment of the line to be used, since it hosts Amtrak traffic already, and except for some signal upgrades (particularly at Brighton Park), no track upgrades would be necessary north of Joliet...

  by byte
Also think of the NIMBY objections on the train speed. The HC Metra and Amtrak trains can go up to 79 mph. The RI can also do this, but it usually only happens in areas on the line where there's no residential development nearby (or it's grade separated). Adding another 31 mph to the speed of the HC would garner a lot less local resentment than sending 110 mph trains blasting through Tinley and Morgan Park.

  by Tadman
Send 'em down the suburban branch. At 110. That'd show the nimbys.

The limit can't be more than 30 now on the branch.

  by doepack
byte wrote:Also think of the NIMBY objections on the train speed. The HC Metra and Amtrak trains can go up to 79 mph. The RI can also do this, but it usually only happens in areas on the line where there's no residential development nearby (or it's grade separated). Adding another 31 mph to the speed of the HC would garner a lot less local resentment than sending 110 mph trains blasting through Tinley and Morgan Park.
According to the studies, the area between Dwight, IL (about 30 mi S of Joliet) and E. St. Louis would be the segment for 110mph running, the current MAS of 79mph on Metra's HC wouldn't change. That shouldn't bother the local folks along HC too much, but I'm sure other NIMBY's would want some sort of whistle ban or something, just to be a pain...

  by Nyterider
Thanks for the answers. There's plenty of room for improvement on the HC. The ancient Brighton crossing has to be replaced, or, better yet, grade separated. But is the inner part of the line so full of crossings, junctions, and other trouble spots that a 30 mph speed limit is required for the first seven miles? No doubt this can be rectified, at least partially. Each mile that they can raise from 30 to, say, 60 mph saves more time than a mile raised from 80 to 110.

And are the "pokey" commuter trains on the RI really a problem? Service can be timed so that intercity trains bypass them on the fast main tracks while the local is crawling along the Suburban Branch.

  by byte
Has anyone considered that this new high-speed funding might just go into making a faster State House? If that's the case, then the current routing won't be deviated from, at all.

  by doepack
Not only making Amtrak's State House faster, but upgrading the service to one or perhaps two additional round trips is the desired goal of a Chicago-St.Louis high speed rail corridor. But for now, it's in the hands of the think-tanks...

  by meh
The Illinois General Assembly has approved the funding to cover two additional round trips on the Chicago-St. Louis line starting in October 2006 (as well as one each for the lines to Quincy and Carbondale). That may not absolutely guarantee the additional frequencies, but at least it greatly improves the chances that these trains will actually start to run in the fall.

While it does take some time getting through all those interlockings, I observed last weekend that the Heritage Corridor can be a pretty fast trip. Running non-stop from Chicago Union Station to Joliet and back, we made the trip in 60 minutes each way. I'm guessing that it would cost MUCH more for the infrastructure improvements to trim 20 minutes out of the schedule in the densely-developed CHI-JOL segment than it would cost to extend the higher-speed improvements beyond Springfield in order to save 20 minutes in the schedule there.

As for those interlockings, I don't know their proper names, but...

this one has a tower (and is located farther west), and

this one has semaphores (and is located farther east)

  by MikeF
The one with semaphores would be Brighton Park. Not sure about the other one ... perhaps Argo?

  by doepack
The first photo is indeed Brighton Park, however, the second photo is taken just east of where today's CNIC Joliet District (formerly IC/ICG/GM&O/Alton, but more commonly referred to as Metra's HC) crosses the trackage of the northern end of BNSF's (former SF) Chillicothe Sub, with BNSF's Corwith yard just south of the diamonds. Argo would be about 6 miles west of here. The tower in the background is Corwith tower, don't know if it's still active...

  by Nyterider
One interesting site had some pdf documents showing the studies done on Chicago-St. Louis high speed rail. It mentions that improvements between Dwight and Chicago aren't being pursued at the time because it was still undetermined whether high speed trains would enter Chicago via the HC, the RI, or, surprisingly, the IC through University Park. I didn't see a date on that report--has a decision favoring the HC route been made since then?

On a related note, there is also much talk about a $1.5 billion plan to create "shared freight routes" and build several grade separations, including the crossings at Brighton Park and where the RI crosses Norfolk Southern's former PRR main line. It sure looks ambitious, but when compared with new tunnels under the Hudson River for New York, this proposal seems appropriate for a region as pivotal as Chicago.