Amtrak speeds trains between Chicago, St. Louis, changes schedule

Trains on the schedule are traveling up to 110 mph.

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Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Gov. J.B. Pritzker look on Monday as Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman talks about high-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Gov. J.B. Pritzker look on Monday as Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman talks about high-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Amtrak trip from Chicago to St. Louis just got quicker, by about half an hour, and with a new schedule.

After weeks of Amtrak testing a new maximum speed of 110 mph, the schedules changed Monday to keep up with trains, the transit agency said.

“So for example, when the trains were running at 110 ..., they had to sit at stations, waiting for the clock to reach the time they could depart on the old schedule,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman.

To check the times of departure and arrival for the new schedule, go to amtrak.com.

Faster speeds on the 284-mile trip didn’t come cheap — about $1.6 billion, which includes the cost for new track, improved signal systems and extending passing tracks. That cost also paid for new stations along the route and a restoration at the historic Lincoln stop, Amtrak officials said.

Train cars from Amtrak’s state-supported Lincoln Service.

Public officials got a tour of the first high-speed trains on Amtrak’s Lincoln Service.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

There were misty eyes at Chicago Union Station on Monday as a host of politicians and railroad officials gathered to celebrate the new service.

“It’s a very emotional day for me, and it’s wonderful to see it come into reality,” said Ray Lang, Amtrak’s vice president of state-supported services, noting he’s been working on the higher speed project since he arrived at the transit agency 29 years ago.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised former President Barack Obama for helping to provide funding for the improvements.

“Remember, it was President Obama who rejected that stereotype that America couldn’t have quality trains. I’m glad he had the initiative to move forward,” said Durbin, flanked by a group that included Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Added Pritzker: “Investments like those not only connect our cities, they allow our residents to access new jobs and to start new businesses.”

Amtrak offers five round trips between Chicago and St. Louis. The fastest service makes stops in Joliet, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield and Alton.

The speed increase is part of a regional plan to provide faster service on Amtrak.

Before the 20 mph speed boost, which had to be approved by the federal government, the fastest trains took about five hours and 30 minutes between the Midwest cities — about as long as it takes to drive.

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