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Amtrak’s trains between St. Louis and Chicago are moving faster

An Amtrak train rolls into Gateway Station on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in St. Louis, Missouri. According to historian Vivian Gibson, the train track is laid on the former bed of the Mill Creek and runs alongside the former 454-acre community in the heart of downtown St. Louis. The predominately-Black neighborhood was designated as “blighted” by city officials was torn down to make way for new development.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
An Amtrak train rolls into Gateway Station in St. Louis in October 2021. Amtrak has approval for its trains on the Chicago route to travel at a new top speed.

It soon could take less than five hours to ride a train from St. Louis to Chicago.

Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation have received federal approval to increase the top speed for most of the route from 90 mph to 110 mph. It will apply between Alton and Joliet.

The trains started operating at the higher speeds Wednesday.

“For now, the trains will be operating on the same schedule,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari. “After we’ve made several trips with the new speeds, we can look at adjusting the schedule to reflect faster times.”

That means for now, trains might arrive sooner at stops but won’t leave until the time posted on the schedule.

Magliari said the move is part of ongoing plans to make Amtrak a better alternative to driving.

“Timewise, we’re already comparable to driving from St. Louis to Chicago, and on Amtrak you can work, sleep or text, which you really shouldn’t do while driving,” Magliari said.

“What we're going to prove here during this time at this higher speed is how much really better than driving time we can be with this improvement, and there are more improvements out there to come after this,” he said.

Specifically, Magliari said improved travel times between St. Louis to Alton and Joliet and Chicago can still be achieved.

The increase in speed comes after significant safety upgrades at all of the crossings along the 300-mile route.

“All of the crossings along this corridor now have what are called four quad gates, which means that there's two gates on each side of the crossing, so that the intersection and crossing is blocked completely,” said Scott Speegle, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Transportation. “There's also pedestrian gates, to keep pedestrians safe.”

Also in the name of safety, Amtrak and IDOT are encouraging schools, companies, civic groups and any other interested people to sign up for free railroad tracks safety presentations provided by Illinois Operation Lifesaver.

The increased speed only applies to trains on the St. Louis-Chicago corridor. The Illinois Zephyr line that travels between Quincy and Chicago will remain at its current top speed of 79 mph.

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.