On track: The High Speed Rail Alliance aims to make trains a more convenient option for crossing Chicago and the country
The High Speed Rail Alliance aims to make trains a more convenient option for traversing Chicago and the country
In the second part of of the reader series highlighting advocacy organizations working to make our region a better place to walk, bike and take buses and trains, we caught up with Rick Harnish, executive director of the Chicago-based company High Speed Rail Alliance.
Founded in 1993 as the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, this nonprofit organization wants to see a nationwide network of 220-mile-per-hour railroads that would provide a fast, convenient, affordable, and safe alternative to driving and commuting. air travel. “We help individuals and local leaders understand what high-speed rail really is, why we need to build it, and what steps they can take to make it a reality,” Harnish said.
If the alliance achieves its mission, it would be particularly beneficial to Chicago, since our city already has direct, albeit relatively slow and unreliable, Amtrak service to nearly every major US metropolis. Harnish said the only real high-speed rail corridor running in the United States will be connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco with a route allowing speeds of over 200 mph, cutting the journey from around 400 miles to less than three hours. The closest thing we have right now in Illinois is Chicago-to-St. Louis Lincoln Service route, which travels up to 90 miles per hour on the Joliet-Alton section.
The Illinois Department of Transportation recently announced six-year plan includes a $246 million allocation to push the Lincoln Service speed limit up to 110 mph, hopefully by 2023. But Harnish says incremental progress won’t get us where we need to go. “We need a network of services that all work together to connect entire regions across the country.”
The IDOT plan also includes $447 million for new passenger service at Moline, plus $275 million for a Rockford route. But given the opportunities for rail expansion made possible by the $1.2 billion federal infrastructure bill passed by Amtrak superfan Joe Biden, Harnish said Illinois needs to pick up the pace. “The state has to make decisions and run these trains.” He also wants to see Illinois create new service to Peoria and Decatur, as well as direct Amtrak access to O’Hare International Airport.
Not only would the latter make the airport more accessible from other parts of the Midwest, but it dovetails with the alliance’s CrossRail plan for better transit between Chicago. This would use the St. Charles Overhead Line, an existing rail corridor parallel to 16th Street in the South Loop, to connect Union Station to lines in the Rock Island District and the Metra Electric District. “It would become the heart of an all-new express service that would run through town, instead of just heading into town,” Harnish said.
CrossRail would also create a higher-speed “one-seat” journey from the South Suburb and Southside to O’Hare without the need to transfer to the city centre, returning jobs to O’Hare and in the northern suburbs much more accessible for lower-income and working-class residents. “The system would be useful for a lot more people,” Harnish said. “It would be truly a game-changer for Chicago-area transit.”
Coverage funded by the Darrell R. Windle Charitable Fund and Polo Inn
To check out their previous story in this series, visit https://chicagoreader.com/city-life/gaining-momentum-the-active-transportation-alliance-discusses-its-campaigns-to-fight-car-dependency/.