Amtrak Daytrip to Carbondale Trip Report

October 3, 2021

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, on Sept. 12, 2021.

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, behind an SC-44 Charger locomotive.

Back in July Amtrak sent me an email warning that my Amtrak Guest Rewards account had been inactive for 24 months and my points would expire in mid September.

The email listed ways to keep my account active including buying an Amtrak ticket or redeeming points for travel or Amtrak-branded merchandise.

I filed all of this in my “to do” mental folder. As September dawned I needed to do something.

My account had 21,000 points, which isn’t enough for a spectacular trip, but I didn’t want to lose those points either.

I thought about using points for a day trip to Chicago on the Cardinal. I also considered making a short trip from Effingham to Mattoon, Illinois, on the Saluki, an Illinois Department of Transportation funded train between Chicago and Carbondale.

The distance between those two towns is 27 miles and the trip takes just 24 minutes. That wouldn’t be much of a train ride.

Instead I decided on something I hadn’t done since 1983.

The equipment for the southbound Saluki lays over in Carbondale for 2 hours, 20 minutes before returning to Chicago as the Illini.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I had on occasion ridden Train 391 from Mattoon to Carbondale and returned that evening on Train 392. In those days they were named the Shawnee.

Since I was last in Carbondale, the Illinois Central passenger station has been renovated and received an IC equipment display of a GP11 and caboose. I could photograph that.

Amtrak opened a new Carbondale station three blocks south in October 1981. I have hundreds of photographs of Amtrak trains on the former Main Line of Mid-America but none in Carbondale.

However, instead of leaving from Mattoon, I would depart from Effingham.

I planned to use points for the trip but that changed when I discovered a one-way non-refundable fare of $8. Even if for some reason I couldn’t make the trip I would only be out $16.

I booked it for Sunday, Sept. 12, a mere three days before my points were to expire.

Booking travel on Amtrak is more involved than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

You must click a box agreeing to wear a mask in stations and aboard the train.

Amtrak also tried to get me to buy trip insurance. Did they really think I was going to do that for a $16 ticket?

The afternoon before my trip Amtrak sent me an email directing me to fill out a short form online. Aside from the standard COVID symptoms questions that I’ve become used to answering every time I visit a doctor I also had to agree – again – to wear a mask.

On the day of the trip I arrived at the Effingham station three hours before train time to get in some railfanning before No. 391 arrived.

Effingham back in the day had a station used by the IC and Pennsylvania Railroad. Flanking the passenger station were express depots for both railroads.

Today the passenger station is a cosmetology school and the ex-PRR express depot is used by a catering company as a kitchen.

Amtrak uses half of the ex-IC express depot with the other half used by a tattoo parlor.

I arrived to find work underway to rebuild the Amtrak boarding platform, which complicated my photography due to high construction zone fences and orange fabric barriers.

CSX sent one train through town, an eastbound grain train, while Canadian National sent two northbounds and a southbound past the station.

A CN train working the yard came north of the diamonds for headroom and to clear the block before going back into the yard.

Three of the four CN trains had IC SD70 locomotives wearing the pre-merger IC black “death star” livery.

One of the southbounds had a motive power consist of two IC “death stars” and a Grand Trunk Western geep in its original livery. Talk about a heritage consist.

I also observed the coming and going of the northbound Saluki.

For nearly a year Amtrak has assigned Superliner equipment to its Chicago-Carbondale trains. The Saluki and Illini are pulled by SC-44 Charger locomotives owned by IDOT and leased by Amtrak.

My foray to Carbondale would be my first trip behind a Charger locomotive. Interestingly, my first trip aboard a Superliner coach was a day trip to Carbondale in June 1979 when the then-new cars were in break-service on Midwest corridor trains before being assigned to the Empire Builder that October.

No. 391 was about 15 minutes late. I stood alone on the platform, mask firmly in place, the only passenger to board on this day.

I wasn’t surprised. When I had bought my ticket Train 391 was shown as at 13 percent of capacity.

I presented my ticket to the conductor but he said he had already checked me off. About 10 passengers disembarked.

I was one of just two passengers in my coach. The conductor came to my seat and asked if I had ridden with Amtrak before.

Yes, I have – many times actually – but not since before the pandemic. The conductor noted there was a café car up ahead. I didn’t plan to patronize it but thanked the conductor for that information anyway.

I settled back in my seat and enjoyed watching the countryside pass by. It had been more than three decades since I had seen Southern Illinois in daylight from the vantage point of an Amtrak coach window.

As we slowed for the Centralia station, a northbound BNSF coal train passed on an adjacent track. It had a distributed power unit on the rear.

Centralia was once the home of a large IC car shop. As best I could determine, most of that complex is gone.

It used to be that southbound passenger trains went around the Centralia yard complex on the west side. That wasn’t the case today although I could see that track still goes over that way.

We passed the yard on the east side.

The yard had a moderate number of freight cars and some motive power, including the two “death stars” and GTW geep I had seen earlier. A massive coaling tower still stands in the yard.

Our next stop was Du Quoin where Amtrak shares a small modern depot with the local chamber of commerce. It opened in August 1989.

Carbondale used to have a large yard, too, but most of it is gone. The former St. Louis division offices were razed years ago.

All that’s left are a few tracks and the twin coaling towers that stand near where the roundhouse used to be.

Due to schedule padding we arrived at the Carbondale station 15 minutes early and slightly less than two hours after leaving Effingham

It turns out most of the Carbondale passengers had been in other coaches.

Shortly after No. 391 arrived, the crew backed the equipment north to the yard and turned it on a wye track.

I made photographs of the ferry move in both directions passing the former IC station.

It was a warm day and I walked to a Circle K to get a large bottle of Gatorade. I walked around a bit, photographing the old IC station, which houses a small railroad museum that wasn’t open on this day, as well as offices of the chamber of commerce and a non-profit organization that promotes downtown Carbondale.

A statue of an IC conductor pays tribute to the railroad’s long history in Carbondale, which used to be where St. Louis cars were added or removed from trains bound to and from New Orleans and Florida.

A northbound CN tank car train came through during my layover.

I was dismayed to find the Carbondale Amtrak station is only open during the day on Wednesdays. But it’s open seven days a week at night to accommodate passengers for the City of New Orleans, which arrives in both directions in the dead of night.

There were around 50 of us waiting outside the station.

There would be just one conductor on tonight’s Train 392. He opened two doors of the train and stood on the platform.

I was expecting him to come up to the crowd and announce that boarding was ready to begin.

Instead he raised an arm and waved it a bit, which I interpreted as a signal to come out and get on board.

I started walking toward the train and the crowd followed me. Everyone was put in the same car.

We left on time and made the same stops as we had earlier. In Centralia I spotted a young man running from the parking lot toward the train, which was about done boarding.

If the conductor saw him, he ignored him because the train began moving. I expected the conductor to see the guy and order the engineer to stop. But we kept going.

CN and Amtrak have been at loggerheads for years over a number of operating issues including CN’s edict that Amtrak operate with a minimum number of axles to ensure that grade crossing signals are activated.

That is in part why I was riding a train with seven Superliner cars with far fewer passengers than the train’s capacity.

Amtrak and CN also have sparred over dispatching with Amtrak accusing CN of needlessly delaying Amtrak’s trains.

I know from years of experience in riding Amtrak between Mattoon and Chicago that delays due to freight train interference are not uncommon, particularly around Champaign.

But on this day we didn’t meet a single CN freight during on my trip.

I was the only passenger getting off at Effingham. Seven people were waiting on the platform to board.

A woman at the back of the line was not wearing a facial mask and the conductor refused to let her board.

I don’t know why she was maskless, but as I walked to my car I noticed the conductor had placed the step box aboard the train and stood in the doorway as the woman gestured while making her case – whatever that was – for not wearing a mask.

The conductor was having none of it and No. 392 left with the woman standing on the platform.

It had been an enjoyable outing and not all that much different from other trips I’ve made on Amtrak. The number of passengers aboard was less than I expected given that it was a Sunday, which normally is a heavy travel day on this route.

Sometime within the next year new Siemens Venture cars are expected to be assigned to Midwest corridor trains and maybe I’ll do another Carbondale roundtrip to experience them.

Two IC SD70s and a Grant Trunk geep pass the under construction new boarding platform in Effingham.
The DPU on a northbound BNSF coal train in Centralia
Disembarking at the Carbondale Amtrak station.
The equipment for the Illini backs past the former IC station in Carbondale.
A northbound CN tank car train passes the Carbondale Amtrak station where the Illini awaits its 4:05 p.m. departure.

Rare Late Morning Appearance

August 5, 2021

Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans is shown accelerating away from the station in Mattoon, Illinois, on Aug. 1. on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National.

Under normal circumstances, No. 58 would be leaving Mattoon just before 5:30 a.m. But this image was made at 11:17 a.m. with Amtrak reporting it arriving in Mattoon five hours and 44 minutes late.

The station and its platform are partly visible behind the train on the left.

I was unable to determine the reason for the late running but whatever delayed the train apparently occurred south of Carbondale, Illinois.

No. 58 has a clear signal at North Mattoon and will meet the southbound Saluki at Humboldt nearly 10 miles ahead.

It is noteworthy that all of Amtrak’s trains running in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor in summer 2021 have Superliner equipment.

Track Work to Disrupt CZ on Aug. 10

August 5, 2021

Planned track work by host railroad Union Pacific in Moffat Tunnel will affect operations of the California Zephyr on Aug. 10.

Train 5 will operate as a train between Chicago and Denver, and Grand Junction and Emeryville. Alternate transportation will be provided between Denver and Grand Junction, making the intermediate stop at Glenwood Springs. No alternate transportation will be provided at Winter Park and Granby.

Train 6 will operate as a train between Emeryville and Grand Junction, and Denver and Chicago. Alternate transportation will be provided between Grand Junction and Denver, making the intermediate stop at Glenwood Springs. No alternate transportation will be provided at Granby and Winter Park.

Passengers traveling to Winter Park and Granby are encouraged to travel on alternate dates or use alternate stations.

Track Work to Disrupt Some Pacific Surfliners

August 5, 2021

Plans by host railroad Union Pacific to replace a bridge will disrupt some Pacific Surfliner service this month.

The bridge spans San Antonio Creek/Narlon on the Santa Barbara Subdivision of UP.

Between Aug. 8 and Aug. 23 Train 777 will terminate at Goleta. No alternate transportation will be provided for the missed stops of Lompoc-Surf, Guadalupe-Santa Maria, Grover Beach or San Luis Obispo.

Between Aug. 9 and Aug. 23, Train 774 will originate at Goleta. No alternate transportation will be provided for the missed stops of San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach, Guadalupe-Santa Maria or Lompoc-Surf.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said alternative transportation options include Trains 763, 768, 785 and 796, which have connecting bus service via buses 4763, 4768, 4785 and 4796 from Santa Barbara to/from Oakland.

Buses 6238 and 6241 will operate between Los Angeles and San Jose Monday through Friday. Buses 6286 and 6287 will operate between Los Angeles and San Jose on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

California Zephyr to Resume Running in Colorado

August 5, 2021

Amtrak’s California Zephyr will resume operating over its full route after host railroad Union Pacific reopened tracks in Colorado that had been blocked by mudslides.

The mudslides had halted the Zephyr between Denver and Grand Junction, Colorado, since July 30.

No. 5 leaving Chicago today (Aug. 5) and No. 6 leaving Emeryville, California, today will be the first to travel through Colorado.

Those trains are expected to pick up passengers who have been stranded since the mudslides disrupted service.

Both will travel through the affected areas on Friday (Aug. 6). The route through the Colorado Rockies is a former Denver & Rio Grande Western line.

The mudslides were triggered by heavy rains and were most pronounced in areas in which wildfires last year had burned.

Also affected was nearby Interstate 70, which was closed by mudslides as well.

No Date Yet for Coast Starlight Resumption Over Full Route

August 5, 2021

No date has been set yet to restore service to the full length of the Coast Starlight route between Los Angeles and Seattle.

The service was disrupted June 28 when fire damaged the Dry Canyon Bridge bridge in Northern California.

Amtrak said it is “actively working” with host railroad Union Pacific on a plan to restore service. The bridge has since been repaired and reopened to freight traffic since Aug. 1.

A bus bridge is operating between Sacramento, California, and Klamath Falls, Oregon, to connect trains operating on the northern and southern portions of the Coast Starlight route.

The bus bridge was cancelled on July 1 but resumed on July 16, Trains magazine reported that booking travel on the Coast Starlight has been difficult because Amtrak has only placed tickets on sale a few days in advance.

Phoenix-Tucson Service Gets Mayoral Support

August 5, 2021

Amtrak is proposing to operate service between Phoenix and Tucson, a proposal that has gained the support of 11 Arizona mayors.

Phoenix has been off the Amtrak map since the mid 1990s when the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited was rerouted away from the state’s largest city due to track rationalization west of Phoenix.

Trains 1 and 2 continue to serve Tucson on a tri-weekly schedule.

Amtrak has proposed operating three roundtrips per day over Union Pacific rails with the western terminus in Buckeye.

Intermediate stations would include Marana, Coolidge, Queen Creek, Tempe, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix Downtown and Goodyear-Avondale.

Connections would be available in Phoenix with the Valley Metro light rail system. Tucson’s SunLink streetcar system already connects to the city’s Amtrak station.

Amtrak said the service could link with the Sunset Limited to enable passengers to continue on to other points on the Amtrak network.

In a joint letter, the 11 Arizona mayors asked the state’s congressional delegation to “support Amtrak’s reauthorization proposal as Congress considers the future of surface transportation programs.”

Infrastructure Bill Would Make Amtrak Policy Changes

August 4, 2021

The text of the proposed nearly $1 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill was revealed this week in the U.S. Senate.

As reported earlier by various sources, the bill would provide $66 billion to Amtrak with most of that money being used to address maintenance backlogs and upgrade the Northeast Corridor.

However, the text also showed the legislation would make changes to Amtrak’s legal mission.

Those include making the goal of Amtrak to “meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States” rather than achieving “a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money.”

There is also language that places Amtrak service to rural areas as well as urban areas.

The funding for Amtrak in the bill would allocate $1.5 billion per year for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants program with a 50 percent match required.

Also included in the bill is $15 million for the U.S. Department of Transportation to analyze the restoration of long-distance trains that have been terminated by Amtrak; money to fund the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program ($1 billion per year), and the Restoration and Enhancement Program ($50 million per year); and $500 million per year for rail grade crossing separation projects.

The Amtrak funding is part of an overall $102 billion package for commuter rail and other high-performance rail services.

Public transit would receive $107 billion for public transit. Some of that funding can be used for multimodal investments that include transit and passenger rail.

The legislation also contains the Senate’s version of a new surface transportation reauthorization  bill that authorizes funding for railroads, water infrastructure, public transit, highway, bridges and roads.

Transformational? Probably Not

August 4, 2021

Although the bipartisan infrastructure bill now being debated by the Senate contains an infusion of new funding for rail passenger service, it is not necessarily the “transformational” development that rail passenger advocates have long sought.

Writing last week on the website of the Rail Passengers Association, Jim Mathews, the president of the group formerly known as the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said the bill provides meaningful and sustained increases in passenger rail funding, yet doesn’t have nearly enough funding to provide for a wide-ranging expansion of Amtrak routes and services.

But 24 hours later, RPA’s Sean Jeans-Gail, RPA’s vice president of policy and government affairs, wrote a post saying that the views expressed in Mathews’ earlier post had been a little too pessimistic and that the infrastructure plan could be transformational.

When RPA and other rail passenger advocates use the word “transformational” they are talking about a vision in which the nation’s intercity rail passenger network is much greater than it is now. By that they mean doubled, tripled and maybe quadrupled.

It is difficult to say because advocates tend to speak in general terms about Amtrak expansion.

Amtrak has laid out its own transformational vision in its Amtrak Connect US plan that calls for a network of 39 new corridor services by 2035.

Individual rail passenger advocates, though, tend to have their own visions and dreams, some of which would involve several new long-distance routes plus an expansion of the number of trains on existing long-distance routes. Amtrak is not calling for additional long-distance routes.

Whatever your vision for expanding intercity rail passenger service might be, it won’t happen without a massive infusion of public money.

The infrastructure plan now before the Senate would allocate $66 million for passenger rail.

But most of that money would be used on Amtrak’s existing network, leaving just $32 billion for additional passenger rail funding.

 “While this bill would count as the biggest federal investment in passenger rail since Amtrak’s creation, it is far below what was originally envisioned by the White House,” Mathews wrote.

He was referring to the $74 billion originally proposed by President Joseph Biden for new passenger rail projects in his American Jobs Act proposal.

What RPA and other passenger advocates really want is the $110 billion in the House-approved INVEST Act that would be spent on passenger rail.

The Senate infrastructure bill combines figures from what had been two separate pieces of legislation, one of which is the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021.

That bill, which contained $34.2 billion for passenger rail, was approved earlier by the Senate Commerce Committee.

If you combine what is available for passenger rail in the infrastructure bill with the Transportation Investment Act figures, Jeans-Gail wrote, you get a passenger rail investment of $102 billion over the next five years, which he called a “transformational” figure.

Maybe, but read the fine print. The only funding that is guaranteed by the infrastructure bill is the $66 billion of the original bi-partisan infrastructure plan.

The rest of the funding is subject to approval through the congressional appropriations process.

“There’s no assurance that the additional $36 billion in investment will ever fully materialize,” Jeans-Gail wrote. “This creates uncertainty in how the guaranteed funds would be used, hindering the ability of states and Amtrak to effectively execute multi-year capitalization plans.”

So what will that $66 billion be used for? Primarily to fund capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor and the national network, and buy new equipment for the national network.

Some of the funding is devoted toward establishing new services, although Mathews suggested it might only be enough for one or two routes.

The RPA posts have suggested that money could be used to restore discontinued routes, extend existing service and add additional frequencies on existing routes.

In his post, Mathews said there remains hope that the House will approve a more generous rail funding section of the infrastructure plan. Any differences would need to be worked out between the House and Senate.

He conceded that a higher level of rail funding could draw the opposition of those Republicans who have thus far supported the bi-partisan Senate infrastructure bill.

It seems unlikely the Senate will lie down and give in to everything that the House wants. There will be a give and take in reconciling the differing visions of each chamber.

Then again the infrastructure bill hasn’t passed the Senate yet, hasn’t been considered by the House and hasn’t been signed by the president. We are talking about proposals at this point not finished products.

The numbers may change in time, but the overall thrust of what the infrastructure bill will and won’t do is unlikely to change all that much.

That may result in something transformational or it might simply lead to incremental additions to the nation’s intercity rail passenger network with new equipment and improved infrastructure being used by the existing services.

If that turns out to be the case it would be a positive for America’s intercity rail passenger network. It just won’t lead to the fulfillment of most of the desires and dreams of many rail passenger advocates.

Track Work to Send Texas Eagle Detouring

August 3, 2021

Track work being performed by host railroad Union Pacific will disrupt operations of Amtrak’s Texas Eagle on Aug. 8.

Trains 22/422 will detour in Texas between Big Sandy and Texarkana. Passengers who would have boarded Train 22 at Longview and Marshall will ride Amtrak Thruway Bus 6122 to Mineola, where they will board Train 22/422.

Passengers scheduled to connect with the train in Longview from Bus 6022, will make their connection in Mineola.

Those scheduled to make the normal connection to Thruway Service at Longview will also connect at Mineola. Thruway Buses 6022 and 6422 will board at Mineola instead of Longview.

Passengers scheduled to disembark at Marshall will instead do so at Mineola and connect with Bus 6422 to Marshall.