Passing the Shawnee at 90 mph

Shawnee north of Mattoon

On Aug. 10, 1977 I had the opportunity to ride the head end of a southbound Illinois Central Gulf intermodal train from Champaign to Centralia, Ill. I was a reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette and I was writing a series of stories about railroad grade crossing safety.

An official with Operation Lifesaver arranged for me to get a train ride to see what grade crossings looked like from the perspective of the train crew. We didn’t have any close calls during the 127-mile trip, but I did see numerous motorists driving around down crossing gates as the train approached.

My vantage point was from the fireman’s seat of ICG GP40 No. 3077.

Just north of Mattoon, Ill., we passed the northbound Amtrak Shawnee, which on this day was led by P30CH No. 709 and had three Amfleet cars. That was a standard consist in those days with the “pooches” a common sight on the head end of the Shawnee and the Chicago-New Orleans Panama Limited.

An ICG traveling engineer who had accompanied me on the trip noted as we passed No. 392 that Amtrak trains were authorized to do 90 mph here and this train was likely up to that speed.

The 30 P30CH locomotives, which were the first General Electric diesels that Amtrak ever bought, have since been retired. You might still see an Amfleet food service car on this route, but Amfleet coaches generally are not used on Midwest corridor trains.

Most of the Chicago-New Orleans mainline, now owned by Canadian National, has been reduced to single track with frequent passing sidings. The location at which this image was made might be in the vicinity of what CN calls North Mattoon, where the single track becomes double.

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