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State will test more high-speed rails

Amtrak route from Detroit to Chicago will be one of the first options examined.

December 11, 2015
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LANSING — Part of Michigan’s passenger rail service goes 110 miles an hour — but not all of it.

Next year the state will test additional tracks to support that speed along the Amtrak route between Detroit and Chicago.

“We have three Amtrak trains that run from Michigan to Chicago and the rider shift numbers are continuing to go up,” said Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“And we are improving the rail line. So 110 (mph) is our goal to enhance the speed and cut down the time between Detroit and Chicago. Two-hundred-miles an hour is not impossible for Michigan, but that requires a lot of infrastructure change,” he said.

Michael Frezell, communications manager of MDOT, said from Detroit to Chicago, Amtrak owns 97 miles of track from Porter Township to Kalamazoo, and 80 of those can accommodate 110 miles an hour.

MDOT will test tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo to support the higher speed.

“Currently, it takes five hours and 20 minutes from Detroit to Chicago, and after testing more rail line for 110 miles an hour, it can save at least 30 minutes,” Frezell said. Details of the plans are not yet finalized.

“The quality of the track is the important thing,” said Larry Krieg, executive committee chair of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers. “The trains are all capable of the speed, but it might not reach the speed safely because the tracks are not smooth enough.”

Kreig said to allow a higher speed, signals and grade crossings — where roads cross tracks — also must be upgraded.

To improve the state’s infrastructure, there must funding, “but most of the money now is planned to use for roads,” Krieg said. “So we are looking at the possibility of private investment.”

For example, private investment supports a railroad line in Florida. A rail line in Michigan, between Grand Rapids and Detroit, belongs to a private company, and Michigan is planning to establish passenger service on that line, according to Krieg.

MDOT’s Frezell said besides saving time, higher speed trains bring more reliability.

“To reach the higher speed, we have to upgrade the control system, signal system and all the other safety equipment.”

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