Systems could promote safety as Illinois rolls out high-speed trains, experts say

CHICAGO -- A deadly train derailment outside Seattle is serving as a wakeup call just as transportation officials plan to roll out a rail system in Illinois modeled after the one in the Pacific Northwest.

Illinois is inching closer to bringing high-speed Amtrak train service between Chicago and St. Louis. The project has been in the works for nearly a decade, and 90 mph trains should start running this summer.

But the derailment is giving many pause because transportation experts often say the new tracks and modern trains of the Cascade Corridor make it a role model in the industry. That corridor is where the train derailed Monday as it was making its first-ever run along a faster new route.

Experts say the derailment is going to start a big discussion about the need to implement positive train control systems, which automatically slow trains in an instance like this or if there is operator error.

"I think we’ve seen that we’ve been very patient in this state waiting for faster trains to St. Louis and they’re finally coming, but we need advance in technology to get the signal systems improved to bring these positive train control systems," DePaul transportation Prof. Joe Schwieterman said. "We have these safeguards in place - that’s all coming - but today was a wakeup call we’ve got to double those efforts."

Experts say Monday's derailment could set back current projects, but despite this tragic accident, trains have been a very safe way to travel.