Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Mattoon Illinois’

Looking Down on an F40 Cab

March 17, 2020

Amtrak’s northbound Shawnee has arrived in Mattoon, Illinois, for its early evening station stop. Most of the boarding passengers are traveling to Chicago.

I’m standing on the bridge that once carried the tracks of the New York Central’s St. Louis line over the Chicago-New Orleans mainline of the Illinois Central.

It is July 1983 and the previous spring workers had removed the former NYC tracks through Mattoon.

Also at the time the Shawnee used F40PH locomotives and the engineers were employees of the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad.

The hogger is awaiting a highball to proceed to the next station stop, which is Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. He’ll got off duty there and another crew will take Train No. 392 into Chicago.

Peaking Out From Beneath an Old Bridge

December 28, 2019

Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans is arriving in the station at Mattoon, Illinois, on May 29, 1997.

The track was still owned by the Illinois Central then and the standard practice was for Amtrak trains to serve the station on what used to be the southbound main. The former northbound main shown at left was now a siding.

Operating practices have since changed so that Amtrak uses the siding in Mattoon because it is closer to the station.

The bridge that train is passing beneath carries Broadway Avenue and was opened in 1916. It was replaced in 2002 by a modern structure.

Going to be Crowded Trains Today

November 27, 2019

The Thanksgiving travel period is a busy one for Amtrak and is one of the few times of the year when the passenger carrier operates extra sections of some trains.

The Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor is not one of those routes that is getting or have had extra sections in the past, but Amtrak did plan to increase the capacity of trains in the corridor.

Shown is the southbound Saluki arriving at its station stop in Mattoon, Illinois, on Nov. 24.

The image was made from the Richmond Avenue bridge north of the station.

Mattoon Amtrak Station to be Renovated

April 11, 2019

The boarding platform at the Amtrak station in Mattoon, Illinois, will be renovated after the city council approved the project at the city-owned depot.

The city will reimburse Amtrak $330,000 for replacing a sewer line under the passenger platform during a planned station renovation project that will also make the facility more accessible.

In the process the platform will be lengthened so that it stretches from Broadway to Richmond avenues.

The platform will be at track height and slope upward to provide better access to trains.

“It will be constructed in stages where the passenger and train service continues on as normal,” Barber said. George Allen Construction of Chicago is scheduled to start the work in May and complete the project by fall 2020, he said.

Other work to be done includes replacing doors throughout the depot with ones that have push button open systems.

Mattoon is served by the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, and the Chicago-Carbondale Saluki and Illini.

Linking the Seventies With Today

January 29, 2019

There is much that has changed and much that has remained the same in this view of the southbound Shawnee leaving Mattoon, Illinois, during the summer of 1978.

Train No. 391 now operates under the name Saluki on approximately the same schedule that the Shawnee had. That means it is scheduled to depart Mattoon in late morning.

The tracks the Shawnee is using were at the time this image was made owned by Illinois Central Gulf, but today they are in the Canadian National system. Of course the heritage of this line is Illinois Central.

There are still two main tracks here but the tracks at the far left and far right are long gone. The mainline track to the left is now considered a siding.

Those tracks are relics of another era when the IC has branch line passenger service on its line between Peoria and Evansville, Indiana, that operated via Decatur and Mattoon.

Those trains were scheduled to operate between Mattoon and Evansville, and between Mattoon and Peoria. The Evansville passenger service ended in August 1939 while the Peoria passenger service was discontinued in March 1940. Somehow the tracks used by those trains at the Mattoon station survived for several more decades before being removed.

The bridge in the distance carries Charleston Avenue (U.S. Route 45 and Illinois routes 16 and 121) over the tracks. It has since been replaced.

Back in the late 1970s, the standard consist for the Shawnee was two Amfleet coaches and an Amcafe.

Amtrak still uses Amfleet equipment on Midwest corridor trains, but No. 391 today is a mixture of Amfleet and Horizon fleet cars.

Leading No. 391 is an F40PH. Amtrak years ago ceased using F40s to power its trains although a few remain on the roster as cab cars.

The equipment seen here will arrive in Carbondale, Illinois, in early to mid afternoon and be returned to return tonight to Chicago as train No. 392.

For those interested in such things, this photograph was made with Kodak Tri-x black and white negative film and scanned from the negative.

Efforts to Save Ticket Offices Will Fail

May 12, 2018

The outcry in some places following the news that Amtrak plans to close 15 ticket offices nationwide between now and late June took me back about 40 years to when the carrier planned to close its ticket office in my hometown in Illinois.

I was a young reporter for the newspaper in Mattoon, Illinois, when I got a phone call from one of the Amtrak ticket agents assigned to that city’s station telling me about the plans to not only close the ticket office, but the station itself.

Mattoon is a stop on the former Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans and the station there once housed various railroad offices. But all of those had closed by the time I got that phone call.

In Mattoon, as in countless other cities, Amtrak was the sole user of a facility that was a relic of another era and had more space than the passenger carrier would ever need.

The plan in Mattoon was to build an “Amshack” at the north end of the Illinois Central Gulf yard next to the only grade crossing in town on the ICG’s Chicago-New Orleans mainline.

The agent had spoken to me on what reporters call “deep background” but the public might know as “off the record.”

I took the news tip and ran with it, calling Amtrak’s PR person in Chicago and getting confirmation that, yes, indeed, my information was correct.

The story I wrote for the newspaper prompted city officials to protest the move. I wrote subsequent stories about meetings, phone calls and letter writing campaigns and in the end Amtrak backed down.

An Amtrak official claimed that business had improved in Mattoon, but I suspect there was more to it than that. Political pressure can be a powerful thing in motivating Amtrak’s behavior.

Also, I found during my journalism career that organizations seldom like to acknowledge the so-called power of the press.

The Amtrak ticket office in Mattoon remained open for several more years and I got to know all three agents who worked there. They were a valuable source of information about Amtrak.

I moved on in my career in 1983 and a few years later Amtrak closed the Mattoon ticket office. No, there is no correlation between my leaving the ticket office closing.

Organizations have a way of doing sooner or later what they want to do.

The Mattoon ticket office was not the first to close on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans route.

Offices at Kankakee, Rantoul and Effingham, to name a few, had closed before Mattoon did.

Today, the only intermediate ticket offices still open on the former Mainline of Mid-America are in Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Memphis, Jackson and Hammond. The latter, though, is among those slated to close by late June.

Officials in some of the 15 cities where Amtrak ticket agents are set to be pulled are waging campaigns not unlike the one that played out in Mattoon many years ago.

I predict that none of those efforts will ultimately succeed.

It will be difficult to prevail in the face of Amtrak’s argument that nine of every 10 tickets are sold online. Who needs a ticket agent?

I also wonder how many political officials will take seriously the arguments being made by some rail passenger advocates trying to save the ticket offices.

Sure, letters will be written, resolutions passed and phone calls made. But in the end the offices are going to close because it’s tough to thwart the religion of cost cutting.

Amtrak is closing these offices to save money. It is not part of a plot by a former airline CEO to kill long-distance trains as some rail advocates are contending.

Amtrak has been closing ticket offices for decades and the majority of stations served by long-distance trains do not have a ticket office and haven’t had one for many years.

Whatever political pressure that officials might bring against Amtrak to keep the ticket offices open will fade quickly in the face of the “nine of every 10” ticket sales argument and assurances by Amtrak officials that a caretaker will open the station waiting room at train time, keep it clean, and assist passengers.

The latter is significant because if there are people who may need assistance it is the elderly and physically challenged.

The closings may also cost 22 people their full-time jobs.

But I wonder how long it will be until the caretakers that Amtrak says it is hiring at the 15 stations losing their agents will themselves face the budget knife.

In Amtrak’s ideal world a unit of local government owns the stations it serves at intermediate points and underwrites most of the cost of maintaining them. All Amtrak does is stop there and impose certain minimum standards.

Otherwise, Amtrak will put up a bus shelter-type facility that receives minimal, if any, maintenance.

I understand the angst over loss of ticket agents because there is something of value being lost. It is just that those who need or benefit from that are a small minority of Amtrak passengers.

Mattoon may have lost its ticket agent back in the late 1980s, but it kept its station. The city eventually bought it and spent millions to restore it.

Today it houses the Coles County Historical Society and an Amtrak waiting room.

I’ve passed through that station dozens of times in the past 20 years while  traveling to and from Mattoon by train to visit my Dad.

I’ve never seen evidence that not having a ticket agent has depressed ridership in Mattoon.

If you need to know where the train is, you can call Amtrak Julie on your cellphone. If you have a Smartphone, you can even go to the Amtrak website and see for yourself where the train is at any given moment.

Mattoon learned to live without an Amtrak agent as have hundreds of other places. So will 15 other cities that are about to have the same experience.

One Foggy Morning in Mattoon

May 11, 2018

It was foggy in the early morning hours in Mattoon, Illinois, as I awaited the arrival of Amtrak train No. 58, the northbound City of New Orleans.

Under normal circumstances I would have been able to see the headlight of the approaching train more than a mile away. But not on this day.

My first glimpse of the headlight was just beyond the Charleston Avenue bridge in the distance.

Nos. 58 and 59 had undergone a makeover earlier that had included retiring the Panama Limited name and reviving the City of New Orleans name.

The trains also received rebuilt heritage fleet equipment, but Amfleet cars continued to be mixed in.

On this day the motive power is an F40PH, but it could have been a P30CH, which were still widely used on this route at the time.

That ’70s Look

December 22, 2017

It is the summer of 1978. Amfleet equipment and F40PH locomotives have been operating on Amtrak’s Midwest corridor trains for nearly two years so the equipment can’t be said to be brand new anymore.

Still it is relatively new enough to be the look of the future having come to pass.

Steam-heated passengers cars are a thing of the past on the corridor routes, but still see service on some long-distance trains in the region.

But on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans route head-end power is the rule. Steam-heated equipment is not coming back.

Shown is the northbound Shawnee, train No. 392, arriving in Mattoon, Illinois, in early evening. The equipment is state of the art for its time with an F40, two Amfleet coaches and an Amcafe. The train will halt at Chicago Union Station in more than three hours.

Passing Trains in Mattoon

March 3, 2017

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A northbound Canadian National manifest freight passes the former Illinois Central station in Mattoon, Illinois, as a tardy Illini arrives from Chicago. The CN freight had been working in the Mattoon  yard and with No. 393 in the passing siding the freight has a highball to head out on the single track at North Mattoon.

Down the Steps to the Waiting Room

February 11, 2017

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The Amtrak station in Mattoon, Illinois, has below-ground boarding, a result of an early 20th century project to lower the Illinois Central Railroad tracks through town.

The station used by Amtrak today was built at the same time that the IC tracks were lowered. The depot is now owned by the city, which paid to restore it several years ago.

Countless thousands of people have walked these stairs going to or from their train. They came from all walks of life and were traveling for every reason you can imagine.

One of them was a young man who with his new wife arrived by train in a trip to see her grandmother in a retirement home in nearby Sullivan.

As he ascended these steps he might have been thinking about the idea he’d just had during the journey about how to flesh out a song he had started writing years earlier.

His name was Steve Goodman and the song was City of New Orleans. We know what happened within a couple years after he climbed these stairs.