Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Illinois’

Illinois Zephyr Launched 50 Years Ago Today

November 4, 2021

The eastbound Illinois Zephyr (left) meets the westbound Carl Sandburg at Mendota, Illinois, on Aug. 6, 2008

As Amtrak prepared to begin operations on May 1, 1971, dozens of communities across the country faced the loss of intercity rail passenger service because the trains serving them had not been chosen to operate under the Amtrak banner.

Among them were the Western Illinois cities of Quincy and Macomb, both of which were served by trains of Burlington Northern. Both cities were stops for the Chicago-North Kansas City American Royal Zephyr and unnamed Nos. 5/6 between Chicago and West Quincy, Missouri. Nos. 5/6 has once been known as the Kansas City Zephyr but was now known informally as the “Quincy Local.”

BN forerunner Chicago, Burlington & Quincy had sought to end the Kansas City Zephyr in late 1967 but 800 people, including 700 college students and their parents had opposed the move, leading the Interstate Commerce Commission to order the train to continue operating between Chicago and West Quincy. Students attending Western Illinois University in Macomb were heavy uses of Burlington passenger trains and the Burlington operated 24 specials a year to accommodate them.

Macomb had no airline service and no direct intercity bus service or interstate highway to Chicago, where many students were from. Quincy College also had a contingent of students from Chicago who took the train to campus.

With the “Quincy Local” set to make its final trips on April 30, 1971, officials of WIU, Quincy College, and the cities of Quincy and Macomb went to court on April 28, 1971, where Federal District Court Judge Joseph Sam Perry issued an injunction ordering BN to continue to operate the “Quincy Local.” The court vacated the injunction on May 10 and the “Quincy Local” was prompted discontinued.

But Quincy College and its allies weren’t through with their fight to preserve intercity rail passenger service to their communities. They filed suit In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, arguing that the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, as Amtrak is formally known, was an unconstitutional attempt to regulate commerce that is solely intrastate.

A three-judge panel on June 21 disagreed and also rebuffed the argument of the plaintiffs that discontinuance of the “Quincy Local” violated section 403(b) of the 1970 Act, which authorized Amtrak to operate service beyond its initial basic route network if management thought it would be prudent to do so. The court’s decision was appealed and on Feb. 22, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court.

But even as Quincy College and its fellow plaintiffs were in court, legislation had been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to appropriate $4 million to pay for service to Quincy and Macomb under section 403(b), which enabled state and local governments to request Amtrak service if they agreed to pay two-thirds of the operating deficit.

The bill was approved and the Illinois Zephyr began operating between Chicago and West Quincy, Missouri, on Nov. 4, 1971, with intermediate stops at LaGrange Road in the Chicago suburbs, Aurora, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg and Macomb.

Service began at Plano on April 30, 1972, while Naperville replaced Aurora as a station stop on April 28, 1985. Service to Quincy proper began April 24, 1983. After flooding damaged the West Quincy station in July 1993, Quincy became the western terminus for the Illinois Zephyr on May 1, 1994.

Service on the Chicago-Quincy route expanded to two daily roundtrips on Oct. 30, 2006, with the inauguration of the Carl Sandburg. The Illinois Zephyr continued its traditional schedule of leaving Quincy in early morning and arriving in Chicago by 10:30 a.m. while departing Chicago in early evening for a 10 p.m. arrival in Quincy.

The Carl Sandburg, which was named for a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and biographer who had been born in Galesburg, was scheduled to depart Chicago at 8 a.m. and arrive in Quincy shortly after noon. The return trip to Chicago left Quincy in late afternoon and arrived in Chicago before 10 p.m.

As it marks its 50th anniversary, the Illinois Zephyr holds the distinction of being Amtrak’s continuously operated state-sponsored train. The Chicago-Quincy route is one of four Midwest corridor routes radiating from Chicago funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation. The other routes are Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Carbondale; and Chicago-Milwaukee, the latter funded in part by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Blasting Through Rantoul

July 28, 2020

It’s an early Sunday morning at the Amtrak station in Rantoul, Illinois.

I’m the only person around even through Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans will be come through here in a few minutes.

But Trains 58 and 59 don’t stop in Rantoul. Only the state-funded Saluki and Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, stop here.

No. 58 is about 15 minutes off schedule as it roars through the Rantoul station. Note the engineer has his hand out the window to wave at the photographer.

It also has two P42DC locomotives up front. Normally, the City of New Orleans operates with a single locomotive.

Development Continues on New Illinois Routes

February 15, 2020

Illinois Department of Transportation officials are continuing planning work to launch Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa but much work remains to be completed.

IDOT is seeking to hire a consultant to help manage the projects.

Guy Tridgell, an IDOT spokesman, said planning for service to Rockford is in the early stages.

He said environmental studies need to be completed on the Rockford route along with preliminary engineering and final design before the route can be implemented.

Trains to Rockford are expected to use Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line to Elgin and use a Union Pacific route to Rockford via Huntley and Belvidere.

As for the Quad City route, IDOT has been negotiating with the Iowa Interstate Railroad over infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate two daily round trip passenger trains.

IDOT has reportedly decided to name the service the Quad Cities Rocket.

That name was used by a former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific passenger train between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois, that operated until late 1978.

The Quad Cities service would use 50 miles of IAIS track to Moline, Illinois. The rest of the route would use BNSF tracks with a connection to IAIS at Wyanet.

The BNSF route is used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr trains.

A $45 billion capital bill approved last year by the Illinois General Assembly earmarked

$225 million for service to the Quad Cities and $275 million for service to Rockford.

The proposed services have been discussed for several years but were given much lower priority during the administration of former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

CN Increases Speed Limit for Amtrak in Illinois

February 8, 2020

It might look like the City of New Orleans but this is actually the southbound Saluki racing through Pesotum, Illinois, on Feb. 2, 2020, with Superliner equipment.

Canadian National is allowing Amtrak trains to operate at higher speeds in some locations between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

An online report said CN increased the speed limit for passenger trains between Homewood (MP 23.5) to MP 3 from 65 mph to 79 mph.

The speed was increased on Main Tracks 3 and 4 south of Homewood to Stuenkel from 40 mph to 79 mph.

The report said this has reduced the delays incurred by the northbound Illini meeting the southbound City of New Orleans south of Homewood, which it sometimes does when the Illini is running late.

Nos. 59 and 392 should pass each other north of Homewood if both trains are on time.

On many occasions the trains have met near Kankakee or farther south.

Amtrak also has assigned a set of Superliner equipment to the train set that makes up the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

One report is that the set has four coaches and three sleepers although the latter are unoccupied and designed to enable Amtrak trains to meet a CN-mandated minimum axle count.

In the meantime, the train set covering the northbound Saluki and southbound Illini continues to use single-level equipment that CN requires to slow for grade crossings.

Superliner equipment reportedly has no such speed restrictions at crossings.

BNSF Track Work to Disrupt Carl Sandsburgs

November 16, 2019

Train 381 will terminate at Macomb, Illinois, with alternate transportation being provided between from Macomb to Quincy.

Train 382 will originate at Macomb with alternate transportation provided from Quincy to Macomb.

Eastbound Bus 3382 will depart Quincy at 4:30 p.m. and operate 60 minutes earlier than the normal train schedule.

2 Midwest Routes Get Extra Trains at Thanksgiving

November 13, 2019

Amtrak will be operating additional trains on two Midwest Corridor routes during the Thanksgiving travel period.

On the Lincoln Service route a pair of extras will operate between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

Lincoln Service No. 309 will depart Chicago Union Station at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 27 and Dec. 1 and arrive in Normal at 12:58 p.m.

The equipment will turn and become Train No. 398 scheduled to depart Normal at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:41 p.m.

Additional Carl Sandburg trains will operate on the same dates between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois.

No. 385 will depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m., using the equipment of inbound regularly scheduled Illinois Zephyr No. 380. No. 385 is scheduled to arrive in Quincy at 3:53 p.m.

The equipment from regularly scheduled Chicago to Quincy Carl Sandburg No. 381 will turn and operate as No. 384, departing Quincy at 1 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 5:22 p.m.

The equipment that ran to Quincy as No. 385 will become the regularly scheduled Carl Sandburg No. 382, which is scheduled to depart Quincy at 5:30 p.m.

All of the trains are funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Lawmakers Seek Grant Spending Deadline Extension

June 29, 2019

Illinois lawmakers are asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to extend the deadline for use of a federal grant to establish Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The letter was sent by Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Representative Cheri Bustos.

It came on the heels of a commitment by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to revive the efforts to establish the service, which would terminate in Moline, Illinois.

A recent capital funding bill approved by Pritzker and the state legislature allocated $225 million in state funding for the project.

The federal grant was originally awarded in 2010. The City of Moline has since created a station facility for the train and the Illinois Department of Transportation has held discussions with host railroad Iowa Interstate about infrastructure upgrades needed for the service.

Illinois Funding to Help Amtrak Services

June 13, 2019

Amtrak travelers in Illinois will benefit from a recently enacted capital spending program approved by the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. J. B. Pritzker, but it will be years before those benefits can be seen.

There remains much work to be done on engineering studies and land acquisition. Some of those efforts have been on hold since 2015.

In some cases, negotiations have yet to begin between the Illinois Department of Transportation and a host railroad.

That includes a project to improve on-time performance and reliability of Amtrak service using Canadian National tracks between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

An IDOT spokesman told Trains magazine that his agency needs to agree on the details with CN, but the project is expected to include some sidings, universal crossovers and other unspecified improvements.

The capital project has earmarked $100 million to improve service on the route used by the City of New Orleans and the state-funded Saluki and Illini.

Amtrak sued CN in 2012 over poor on-time performances of its trains in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor, but that litigation has become bogged down in the courts.

Trains reported that IDOT and CN have already held talks about how to alleviate some sources of delay to Amtrak trains.

IDOT and Union Pacific also need to agree on the nuts and bolts of what it will take to implement a long-discussed plan to reroute Amtrak and UP freight trains onto a grade-separated double-track line in Springfield.

Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains now use a former Gulf Mobile & Ohio route that runs parallel to Third Street and which has numerous grade crossings.

The Illinois capital program has set aside $122 million to move Amtrak and its Springfield station to a corridor along 10th Street that will also be used by Norfolk Southern.

One downside of the move is that the Amtrak station would be further from the heart of downtown Springfield and the statehouse complex.

The capital funding program is expected to give a boost to two proposed new Amtrak routes.

One involves service between Chicago and Rockford using Metra’s Milwaukee West District to Big Timber Road west of downtown Elgin and thence over a UP line via Belvedere to Rockford.

A connection needs to be built at Big Timber to connect the Metra and UP routes.

The IDOT spokesman told Trains that there is no federal funding or service frequency plan for the service.

“The new infusion of funding will require us to re-engage with UP, Amtrak, and the local communities on scope, budget, and schedule after the hiatus,” the spokesman said, making reference to a decision by former Gov. Bruce Rauner to revoke funding approved earlier for development of the route.

Another new Amtrak route would link Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The City of Moline, Illinois, has created a station for the service, but engineering and property acquisition needs to be done on a connection near Wyanet, Illinois.

The plan is to use the BNSF route now used by Amtrak’s Illinois Zephyr, Carl Sandburg and California Zephyr, to Wyanet and then switch to the Iowa Interstate for the remainder of the trip into Moline.

“Negotiations with the railroad will proceed on the construction, operating, and maintenance agreements,” the IDOT spokesman said, noting that IDOT and Iowa Interstate have yet to discuss “scope, budget, and timelines” that must precede an environmental assessment and preliminary engineering.
The capital funding program allocated $225 million to match a route-specific federal stimulus grant that is set to expire on June 30, 2019,

However, IDOT is talking with the FRA about extending the deadline for the grant.

IDOT had not given a timeline for when the service to Rockford or Moline would begin.

Rockford was once served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Black Hawk, before it was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1981.

Although Amtrak has never served Moline, the former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific offered intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and nearby Rock Island, Illinois, until Jan. 1, 1979.

Amtrak Not Close to Playing in Peoria

April 5, 2019

The last time a passenger train halted in Peoria, Illinois, it was New Year’s Eve 1978 and a snowstorm had shut down Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Two years late, intercity rail passenger service returned to the Peoria area, but lasted just over a year.

Peoria officials would like to see rail return and have looked with longing eyes at the development of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor serving Bloomington-Normal and Springfield.

Although there has been talk about restoring service to Peoria, officials say that nothing has happened in the past five years.

An Amtrak Thruway bus links Peoria with the Amtrak stations in Normal, which is served by Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle; and Galesburg, which is served by the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg.

Various proposals to return passenger service to Peoria have been made over the years, but cost has been a major stumbling block.

The Illinois Department of Transportation studied launching a rail connection to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor at Normal and found it would cost $100 million.

The study concluded that providing a bus connection would be more economical.

Eric Miller, executive director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, said his agency sought a federal grant to fund rail service during the Obama administration.

But the bid was turned down and Miller said things have been quiet ever since.

“There hasn’t been a lot of activity on the (Peoria train service) issue in the last five years,” he said.

It hasn’t helped that the service Peoria did have during the first decade of Amtrak operations left much to be desired and was plagued by low ridership.

At the dawn of Amtrak in 1971, Peoria was served by the Peoria Rocket of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

The Rock Island didn’t join Amtrak because the $4.7 million buy-in fee exceeded the carrier’s annual passenger losses of $1 million.

The Rocket continued to operate, although it did receive some funding from the State of Illinois.

The Peoria Rocket had a slow route and deteriorating equipment. Efforts to convey the train to Amtrak and find a new route failed and the Rocket left Chicago for the final time on Dec. 31, 1978.

Even as the Rocket was blasting off for the final time, Amtrak and IDOT were working on a plan to resume service to Peoria.

That involved using the Toledo, Peoria & Western between East Peoria and Chenoa, Illinois, where the TP&W crossed the Illinois Central Gulf, which at the time owned the Chicago-St. Louis line used by Amtrak.

The Prairie Marksman began service on Aug. 10, 1980, for a 14-month trial.

A year later a state financial crisis prompted budget cuts that included state support for Amtrak service.

The Prairie Marksman left Chicago for the final time on Oct. 3, 1981.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis supports restoring passenger rail to his city. “There are a lot of people in and around Peoria who would utilize passenger rail,” he said. “Passenger rail through Peoria should be part of any state and federal capital/transportation bills going forward.”

He recognizes, though, that it would take financial support from the Illinois General Assembly, perhaps under the Illinois Fast Track Initiative.

“So if it takes five years or more to fund it and build it, let’s get started,” said Ardis.

What route a Peoria-Chicago train would take remains an open question. The tracks used by the Peoria Rocket are still in place, now owned by Iowa Interstate.

But the top speed on the line leading north from Peoria is 35 mph. Contrast that to the top speed of 90 mph achieved by the Peoria Rocket in its heyday.

Rick Harnish, the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association suggested asking Iowa Interstate how much it would cost to rebuild the line for a top speed of 85 mph.

“Would it take $500 million? Microsoft is spending $220 million out west on design work for rail service out of Seattle. If Caterpillar, for example, got involved, it might go forward,” he said.

Miller of the Tri-County Planning Commission has a more practical take.

“Our transportation system is now underfunded while we’re facing other infrastructure issues,” he said.

Just the idea of starting some news, such as passenger train service out of Peoria is an obstacle.

Another is the Illinois River. The Prairie Marksman never served Peoria proper because of the expense and added time that would be incurred to cross the river.

Miller said the railroad bridge over the river is already heavily used by freight trains.

Illinois Amtrak Expansion Hinges on Inclusion in Bill

March 29, 2019

The head of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association said that expansion of Amtrak service in Illinois will hinge upon funding for it being included in the state’s capitol bill.

Rick Harnish said a route to the Quad Cities region won’t materialize soon without the funding for capital develop projects on the routes being included in the capital bill.

A Senate subcommittee plans to meet on April 8 at Bradley University in Peoria to discuss what funding requests should be included in the capital bill.

It will also meet in Chicago on April 16 and in Elgin at a date to be announced.

Harnish noted that funding for the Quad Cities route that was approved in a previous session of the Illinois General Assembly will need to be re-appropriated.