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Amtrak picks up the pace

Published 10:38pm Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Area residents will find their train trips to and from Chicago to be a little quicker.

Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation have been given federal approval to increase maximum speeds of Amtrak trains on 97 miles of track in west Michigan and northern Indiana to 110 miles per hour.

The changes will take effect after installation and testing of a positive train control safety system on Amtrak-owned track between Kalamazoo and Porter, Ind.

Amtrak and MDOT are planning an event Wednesday to celebrate.

“This is the first expansion of regional high-speed rail outside the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman. “With our partners in Michigan, we will extend this 110 mph service from Kalamazoo to the state’s central and eastern regions in the coming years.”

Amtrak began raising speeds on the Kalamazoo to Porter corridor from 79 mph in 2001 to 90 mph in 2002 and to 95 mph in 2005.

Sustained operations at 110 mph will shave 10 minutes off the 95 mph schedules and about 20 minutes off the 2001 schedules.

The Amtrak Wolverine Service, with three daily round-trips between Pontiac and Chicago via Detroit and Ann Arbor, and the Amtrak Blue Water, with a daily trip between Port Huron and Chicago via East Lansing, use this corridor.

Incremental Train Control System (ITSC) installed on the track has been developed by General Electric Transportation Systems with assistance from Amtrak, MDOT and the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration. Amtrak extended ITCS coverage to the western and eastern ends of the line between New Buffalo and Porter and between Oshtemo and Kalamazoo last year.

The successful deployment of ITCS on the Amtrak-owned segment in western Michigan sets the stage for the expansion of 110 mph service from Kalamazoo to near Dearborn on the track segment being purchased by MDOT from Norfolk Southern Railway.

Boardman also pointed out this is the first of two 110 mph “spokes” from the Chicago hub with Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation partnering on similar plans on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

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