The Focus Has Always Been Chicago.
It seems as though I’m always passing through Chicago. That’s not a bad thing, of course. I really like Chicago and it’s a chance to visit old and very good friends living in the city’s suburbs. Chicago is home to major league sports teams; it has a great aquarium; and at the Museum of Science and Industry, you can go inside a captured German submarine, the U-505.
Chicago has been our country’s major rail terminus for probably 150 years and its size and complexity and capacity is, for example, what made Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck decide to headquarter their catalogue business there. Trains leaving Chicago multiple times every day could carry items ordered from the Sears catalog to customers all over the country.
Chicago is still the heart of passenger rail in America. It’s “home port” for most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains—nine of them originate in Chicago. It would be nice if there were more, of course, but those nine trains fan out from Chicago and cover a good deal of the country. There are regional trains with Chicago as a terminus, too—trains extending into Michigan and to parts of southern Illinois. The track between Chicago and St. Louis is being upgraded and those trains will soon be running at 110 miles an hour. And trains are already running at 110 along stretches of routes linking Chicago with cities in Michigan.
High speed rail is wonderful, as anyone who has traveled by train almost everywhere else in the world will attest. But the next logical step for the Amtrak network outside of the Northeast Corridor is to increase speeds on existing short-haul routes from a maximum of 79 mph up to 110. Shorter running times always attracts more riders.
(In the U.S., to the everlasting confusion of the general populace, high speed trains travel much faster than highER speed trains. In ascending order, slow to fast, the terminology is 1-conventional … 2-higher speed … and 3-high speed.)
We’re making progress with passenger rail in this country and most of it affects trains coming and going from Chicago. That progress comes in modest increments and only after major effort by advocacy organizations like NARP, civic leaders and private individuals. But one of these days, we’ll look around and see that the Cardinal is a daily train, the Vermonter’s route extends to Montreal, and the City of New Orleans is a two-night trip linking Chicago and Orlando. And even some Republican congressmen will have come around. If constituents back home have spent a few million tax dollars to restore and renovate their railway station, they don’t want to hear that their representative in Congress is not supporting Amtrak.
Frederick Douglas was right. He said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”