High-speed locomotives set to debut on the Amtrak route between Milwaukee and Chicago will be hit with a speed limit of 79 on their run between the two cities.
The Hiawatha route between Milwaukee and Chicago is the busiest passenger route in the Midwest. It will get two of 33 new locomotives purchased by Amtrak with $216 million in federal funds.
The new Siemens Charger engines are faster than the current locomotives, capable of hitting speeds in excess of 125 miles per hour.
However, the existing tracks and signal system do not meet federal requirements for anything faster than 79.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the locomotives are cleaner and use less fuel, but riders will not enjoy speed improvements that will come to other routes.
"They'll get to that speed faster than the current ones. If there's going to be a large amount of improvement, I wouldn't expect it on this route," Magliari said.
Magliari said the engines will be spread across a five state network of trains, supplying service to 2.6 million customers per year.
On the run between Chicago and Saint Louis, the new locomotives will shave 60 minutes off a trip that used to take more than five hours.
Between Milwaukee and Chicago, the 79 mile per hour limit means the trip will be no more than two or three minutes faster.
"Until we do it over and over again, we're not gonna be advertising lots more sizzle with this steak," Magliari said.
Canadian Pacific owns and runs the rails used by the Hiawatha route. A spokesman would not say if or when it plans an upgrade to the existing track and signal system.
This is compounded, Magliari said, by the nature of the Hiawatha route.
With stops at Mitchell Airport, Sturtevant, and Glenview, Ill., there is too much stop and go to really open it up.
Instead of getting people from Milwaukee to Chicago faster, Amtrak is focused on making that trip more often.
Today, the Hiawatha route makes the trip seven times each way every weekday.
Magliari said there are discussions underway that would add three more round trips.