Don’t call it high-speed rail, an advocate for high-speed rail says. Illinois will inaugurate 110-mph passenger trains on Friday on the 18-mile stretch between Dwight and Pontiac. Rick Harnish, director of the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association, says true high-speed rail is 220 mph, and getting there is not going to happen gradually.

“The break point is the point at which you need to have a completely separate track, just like the interstate, where you have no intersections at all, and that’s a significant investment, and once you make that investment, you might as well take it all the way up and go 200 miles an hour,” he said.

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Harnish says the upgrade to 110 mph will be a benefit nevertheless. Not only is it an improvement over the current 79 mph, but the tracks have been rebuilt between Alton and Joliet, providing a smoother ride, and new signals are being installed, which will allow the trains to travel at top speed more of the time, rather than spending time waiting for cross-traffic on freight tracks to pass, or backing into a siding to allow a train going in the other direction to pass on the single-track facility.

The next step is to extend 110 mph service between Alton and Joliet, and eventually all the way between St. Louis and Chicago. Cost: $1.2 billion.

The new coaches and locomotives that are coming in 2015 and 2016 will be improvements too, Harnish said.

(Copyright WBGZ Radio/