Turning the Shawnee in Carbondale

ic-024-may-7-1979

It is a Monday afternoon in Carbondale, Illinois. I had a day off from work and spent part of it riding Amtrak’s Shawnee from Mattoon, Illinois, where I lived and worked at the time, to Carbondale.

I could board train No. 391 in late morning, arrive in Carbondale in early afternoon and then take No. 392, which was due to depart at 4 p.m., back, home.

The date is May 7, 1979, and the scene is pure 1970s. An Illinois Central Gulf geep has tied onto the rear of the Shawnee and will pull it to North Yard where the consist will be turned on a wye.

If you look hard enough you can see the light towers in the yard as well as the old coaling tower. A portion of the St. Louis Division office building is visible on the right edge in the distance.

The train is sitting in front of the former Illinois Central passenger station. At one time, Carbondale was a busy place where through cars for St. Louis were switched in and out of Chicago-New Orleans trains.

In Amtrak’s early years cars were added and subtracted from Amtrak Nos. 58 and 59 (Chicago-New Orleans), but that didn’t last long.

On the point of the Shawnee is P30CH No. 724, which was less than four years old at the time. Pooches were common fixtures on corridor trains running on ICG tracks.

The consist of the train is three Amfleet cars, one of them an Amcafe, and a baggage car. The latter did not routinely operate on Nos. 391/392 but in the 1970s Amtrak sometimes assigned a baggage car to the Shawnee during periods when the colleges along the line were starting or ending a term.

Today, much of what can be seen here is gone. The Pooches are long since been retired. The tracks are now owned by Canadian National and Amtrak built its own station at a location farther south. There aren’t as many tracks, either.

The Shawnee name is gone but there are now two pairs of Chicago-Carbondale trains, one named the Illini and the other the Saluki. College students still make up a substantial market for this corridor. The old IC passenger station still exists but has been re-purposed.

Although not apparent at the time, this scene captures the transition from the ICRR passenger train era to a modern Amtrak era in which passenger stations and the railroad infrastructure serving them have been much reduced in scope.

Back in 1979, though, you could still imagine what this place looked like when the trains wore orange and chocolate brown and the Carbondale station was a much busier place.

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