USA: Amtrak services between Chicago and St Louis have been suspended for 15 days from October 16 to permit major track and signalling renewals on the 455 km corridor, which is being upgraded for 177 km/h operation. This follows four previous eight-day blockades in 2012-15, with further closures expected in both 2016 and 2017.

Under the $1·9bn project, which is largely being funded through the federal government's high speed rail programme, much of the track is being relaid, and several sections totalling 91 km are being double-tracked. Around a third of the route is being fenced, and 234 of the 256 level crossings are being upgraded. In total, $757m is being spent on track and structures and $218m on level crossing works, with a further $414m being invested in new rolling stock capable of 200 km/h operation.

The infrastructure work is largely being undertaken by Union Pacific, which owns and operates the bulk of the line between Joliet and St Louis. UP has been deploying its TRT909 automated track renewal train and has already laid more than 350 km of concrete sleepers, according to Patrick Halsted, General Director, Design & Construction.

Work has recently started on installing an optic fibre communications backbone to support the interoperable I-ETMS version of Positive Train Control. The line is also being equipped with elements of GE Transportation's Incremental Train Control System to manage level crossing operation at higher speeds.

Next year is due to see the arrival of new double-deck coaches ordered from Nippon Sharyo by a consortium of states. These will operate with Charger diesel locos being supplied by Siemens; an option for an extra 12 locos has recently been exercised which will allow Amtrak's entire Midwest fleet to be replaced.

With the ARRA-funded infrastructure works due for completion by June 30 2017, Illinois Department of Transportation expects around 75% of the route to be cleared for 177 km/h running. Journey times will be cut by around an hour from the current best timing of 5h 20 min. The upgrade will also provide capacity to operate a fifth Lincoln Service train each way per day. According to IDOT, ridership on the route increased from 250 000 passengers in 2005 to 650 000 in 2013, with a further substantial increase expected following the completion of the upgrade in 2018.

During the blockade, UP freight trains and Amtrak's Texas Eagle are being diverted to other routes, while the short-distance Lincoln Service trains are replaced by buses.

  • Read more about the Chicago – St Louis upgrading project in the July 2012 issue of Railway Gazette International, which subscribers can access in the digital archive.