ALTON, Ill. (KMOX) – Trains running along the newly-enhanced high-speed rail line connecting St. Louis and Chicago will almost be smart enough to operate without a human at the controls.
For example, Scott Speegle with the Illinois Department of Transportation went into detail about the “positive train control” signaling system during the latest public open house Wednesday in Alton.
“It will warn oncoming trains if there are vehicles stuck on the crossing,” he explained. “If the operator of the train doesn’t take action, it will start to shut the train down to stop to avoid hitting that car or truck.”
It’s a good thing, too — it takes roughly a mile-and-a-half to bring a train going more than 100 mph to a complete stop.
But ideally, Speegle went on to say, there shouldn’t ever be a vehicle stuck on the tracks at a crossing because of the special four-quadrant gates that are being installed at key crossings along the line.
“So rather than the one bar that goes down on each side of the road, there’ll be two bars on each side of the crossing so it will totally block the crossing to avoid cars trying to weave through,” according to Speegle.
There will even be a separate pedestrian gate that blocks off the sidewalk, with a special escape door built in should someone get stuck in the middle as the train approaches.
It’s all in the name of making safety the top priority for the nearly $2 billion system that began construction back in 2010.
But some area residents attending the IDOT open house expressed concerns about the rail line that didn’t necessarily revolve around safety.
One man said he’s been on the Amtrak line before and has spent an hour or more sitting on the tracks waiting for freight trains to clear the path before his train can continue.
He’s worried that the same thing will negate the enhanced speed of the new system.
“What’s the point of doing this if we’re still going to be waiting for Union Pacific freights and having to crawl into Union Station?” he asked.
Another man came to complain about the way in which the railroad went about securing the right-of-way for the enhanced rail line.
“I have property adjoining (the rail line) and the railroad in clearing the right-of-way encroached on my property, so I’m not real happy about it,” he said. “They just came in with an extended brush hog on a boom and just cut my trees down, devastating one of my young walnut trees.”
But many of those in attendance are excited about the estimated one hour that will be shaved off the normal running time between St. Louis and Chicago, and are anxious to get on board.
“Let’s kick up the pace!” exhorted Wayne Politsch of Alton, who came to check out the latest update from IDOT with his wife Jennifer. “We’re a little impatient, particularly for the Cardinal-Cubs games because whenever they play, the Amtrak train is packed with people going both ways.”
With the end of the project now in sight, IDOT’s warning residents that temporary grade crossing closures will be needed to complete the work of installing new crossing gates.
A listing of those closures can be found at www.idothsr.org.