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Speedy train set for new test

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- For the first time in decades, a train will zoom from Normal to Lexington at speeds of up to 110 mph as part of a historic test of the state's potential for high-speed passenger rail service, the Bloomington Pantagraph reported.

The test-run is aimed at seeing how a high-tech satellite tracking device works on the train as it travels at an estimated 31 mph faster than the current top speed of most Amtrak trains.

With the test come precautions. A bevy of law enforcement and transportation regulators will be on hand at the six crossings between Normal and Lexington to ensure no one gets in the way of the train as it makes up to three passes along the route beginning at about 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 31.

The test, using existing Amtrak engines and cars, will determine whether the data coming from the satellite matches up with the data on the train. If the system works, officials are supposed to be able to tell the location of a train to within nine feet.

"When we go to a full-scale operation, that acts as a safety to prevent any possible collision of trains," said Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Dick Adorjan.

Train's top speed to be 110 John Schwalbach, chief of IDOT's bureau of railroads, which is overseeing the test, said the train will operate at up to 110 mph for a third of the 15-mile stretch. Officials chose the Normal-to-Lexington route because the tracks and crossings -- including those in Towanda -- have been upgraded to accommodate faster trains.

"It just made sense for us to locate it right there," said Schwalbach.

Efforts to bring high-speed rail to Illinois have been under way for more than a decade. Over the past 10 years, the state has brought in special high-speed trains to demonstrate the advantages of shortening the length of time it takes to ride between Chicago and St. Louis to less than four hours.

The last high-speed rail demonstration in Central Illinois came in 1994 when officials demonstrated the Spanish-built Talgo Pendular 200 on a run from Normal to Elkhart. That demonstration was preceded by special trains from Germany and Sweden.

At the time, IDOT officials said high-speed rail was at least four years away.

But, with Amtrak's on-going funding woes it remains unclear whether high-speed service will ever get off the ground.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

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