AFTER roughly 20 years of development, a maximum speed of 177km/h for Amtrak trains will come into effect from June 26 on the 457km Chicago - St Louis main line.

As a result, journey times will be reduced by 15 minutes from running times based on a maximum speed of 145km/h and 30 minutes from running times based on a maximum speed of 127km/h. The fastest time from Chicago to St Louis will now be 4h 46min instead of 5h 6min.

The $US 1.96bn project was a joint effort of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and primary host Class I railway Union Pacific, plus numerous consultants led by WSP USA. Funding for the project included $US 1.66bn in federal funding, primarily through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant awarded in 2010, as well as $US 300m in state and non-federal funds.

The project involved track upgrades, track doubling, installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) between 2019 and 2023 and safety upgrades at 212 level crossings by installing four-quadrant gates and loop detectors to help prevent collisions with road vehicles.

New stations were opened in Dwight, Pontiac, Carlinville and Alton, while improvements were made to Lincoln, Bloomington-Normal and Springfield stations. A separate project to build a new multi-modal station in Joliet was completed in 2018, with a second phase starting in 2021.

Amtrak is introducing its new Charger diesel-electric locomotives and new single-deck Venture coaches, both supplied by Siemens, on its Chicago - St Louis Lincoln Service trains.

“Between the shorter schedules and having more than half of all the new state-owned Amtrak Midwest Venture cars now in service, we are completing a full makeover of this corridor service,” says Amtrak president, Mr Roger Harris.

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