Glimpse of the future? First high-speed train running in Midwest

Stateline Midwest ~ March 2012

When passengers boarded a train in February from Chicago to Kalamazoo, Mich., they became a part of history — the first-ever high-speed rail service in the Midwest.

They may have also gotten a glimpse into a part of the region’s transportation future.

For passenger rail advocates, train travel at speeds of up to 110 mph has always been an integral part of their vision for improving interstate and intercity service.

That speed can now be reached on Amtrak trains running between Kalamazoo and the northwest Indiana town of Porter, thanks to track upgrades that included the installation of an advanced train-control safety system.

Plans in Michigan are to extend high-speed service to the state’s central and eastern regions.

“This sets the stage for expansion of accelerated service from Kalamazoo to Dearborn by 2015, helping us meet the demands of the next generation of travelers,” says Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Illinois is moving ahead with plans for high-speed service as well. By the end of this year, a small portion of the Chicago-St. Louis line is expected to allow speeds of up to 110 mph. A much larger expansion of high-speed service along this corridor is expected in the years ahead. Planning studies are also under way for high-speed service between Chicago, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

Since 1996, nine states have been working from a plan — known as the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative — to develop a 3,000-mile high-speed rail system that offers travelers shorter travel times and more-frequent train service. This plan, along with individual state efforts, got a major boost in 2009 with creation of the federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. Initially part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the program is funding rail projects and studies across the region.

State lawmakers interested in these transportation issues are encouraged to get involved with the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission. Formed by compact in 2000 and staffed by CSG Midwest, the commission is made up of legislators, private sector representatives and executive-branch leaders from 10 Midwestern states. More information is available at