The Captain Wants To Ride The Train

I know this story is a few weeks old, but I am just now getting around to writing about it.  Last month it was announced that the rail infrastructure in Missouri and Illinois is getting not one but two major upgrades!  FINALLY!!!

First, it was announced as part of the President’s Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act that the St. Louis to Chicago rail line would be receiving substanital funding for high-speed rail improvements.  The stimulus money will effectively turn this train route, known locally as the Lincoln line, into a high-speed train route.  Among other things, the Lincoln’s portion of $8 billion total investment will:

·        Increase the maximum train speed on the Lincoln from 79 to 110 m.p.h.(!)

·        Decrease travel time between the cities from over 5 hours to under 4 hours

·        Increase the Lincoln’s on-time efficiency dramatically.

What this mean practically is that the Lincoln will finally be worth riding.  On this I speak from personal experience.

When I was planning my March trip to Chicago, I looked at the travel time and potential costs of driving, flying and taking the train.  Driving to Chicago takes about five hours, and the cost of gas plus the hotel’s parking lot charge was well over $200.  Taking the Lincoln train would have cost about $80 but the trip was almost 6 hours in length.  I ended up flying Southwest for $130, and the whole trip took about 3½ hours.

I would have preferred taking the train, but the trip time combined with Lincoln lines’ notorious reputation for running late made me think otherwise.  When the improvements are finished, the Lincoln line will be faster than driving and still cheaper than flying.

In fact, rates for the train can run as low as $60 round trip.  That’s cheaper than driving when gas goes above $2.  And when you factor in that the EL Train makes a car not necessary in Chicago, it’s win-win.

Preliminary work on the Lincoln high-speed line is scheduled to begin this spring, with a 2014 scheduled completion date.  That’s only five years!  Hot damn I can’t wait to ride that train!

The second rail announcement last month concerned the other direction, the St. Louis to Kansas City line.  Right now, this line moves quite slowly due to the existing rail infrastructure.  Currently the rail line between Kansas City and Jefferson City is only one line each way.

As you might guess, this causes a problem when the faster moving Amtrak train gets stuck behind a slower moving freight train.  Missouri approved the construction of an $8 million side track that will allow slower moving trains to pull over and allow faster trains to pass on the single rail line.

There are currently two passing lanes on this rail line, but they are both too small for freight trains to utilize.  Construction of this pass lane will allow Amtrak to travel faster and cut down on the delays for a rail line that is even more notorious for being late than the Lincoln line.  Construction is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2009.

Of course, what really needs to happen is the addition of an extra rail line each way between these cities.  I’m amazed that there are two lanes each way between Jefferson City and St. Louis, but only one line each way between Kansas City and Jefferson.  Can you image the uproar there would be if I-70 was only two lane between Kansas City and Jefferson City?  Still, this announcement is good news.  And the Lincoln line announcement is great news.

As you may know, I am recent convert to trains.  I love riding the train!  It’s by far the easiest way to travel.  They’re quick to board, motion-sickness free, and they give me plenty of time to read or dick around on my iPhone while in transit.

I think it’s absurd how the United States has allowed its rail infrastructure to crumble since the 1970s.  Our government has chosen to subsidize automobile and air travel, and has mostly ignored train travel for almost four decades.  For an interesting read on why U.S. rail lines are in such bad shape today, check out the Amtrak Wikipedia page.

Meanwhile, most other industrialized nations have extensive rail systems that run efficiently and effectively.  Besides being far cheaper for transporting passengers, trains are by far the most eco-friendly method of travel.1


Thanks to President Obama and the Missouri State Legislature for making this goal more attainable.


The Captain

1  Well, besides walking and riding a bike.  And I’m be damned if I’m gonna walk to Chicago anytime soon.

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