Safety regulators have started warning motorists of faster trains along a high-speed rail corridor in Illinois months before Amtrak service at up to 110 mph is set to begin.
New safety improvements include crossing gates, signals that communicate with train crews, vehicle sensors in pavement and signs warning of train speeds over 80 mph, The State Journal-Register reported.
Illinois Commerce Commission rail safety program administrator Mike Stead said the improvements are a regulatory heads-up to motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists who are used to years of trains operating at much slower speeds.
“The time and distance relative to conventional-speed trains and higher-speed trains is significant,” Stead said.
Illinois transportation officials have set a goal of Amtrak speeds up to 110 mph on much of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor in 2017. The trains currently travel at a top speed of 79 mph between Chicago and St. Louis with the exception of a high-speed demonstration section between Pontiac and Dwight. Speeds of 110 mph began there in the fall of 2012.
Stead said crossing-signal warning times that are currently 20 to 30 seconds will near 90 seconds at highway crossings when 110-mph Amtrak service begins.
“It gives you an idea how much time and distance is required at faster speeds,” Stead said. “The highway user is going to have to train themselves to believe the warning is accurate. They won’t see the train coming.”
Data from the commission shows that there were more than 140 rail collisions at Illinois crossings in 2015, the highest figure since 2008. Collisions with vehicles resulted in 15 deaths and more than 75 injuries. There were eight pedestrian injuries and 16 deaths.
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