Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Springfield Illinois’

Remembering My First Amfleet Experiences

January 22, 2019

The familiar profile of an Amfleet car brings up the rear of the southbound Saluki pulling out of the station in Mattoon, Illinois, in July 2018. When the equipment was delivered in the 1970s it didn’t have wi-fi antennas.

Amfleet equipment will still be around for at least a few more years and maybe longer, but the recent request by Amtrak for proposals to replace its Amfleet I fleet reminded me of just how long it has been an Amtrak mainstay.

It a dark early evening night in 1975 back in Springfield, Illinois, when I saw Amfleet equipment for the first time.

I lived in an apartment four blocks from the quasi street running of the former Gulf Mobile & Ohio mainline used by Amtrak through Springfield.

I was out walking when I noticed the crossing flashers activate on East Allen Street. It was about time for late afternoon northbound train No. 304 from St. Louis to Chicago to arrive, so I paused to watch.

I couldn’t see much, just a line of lights on the side of the cars in the windows. But something about these windows looked quite different. The rectangular-shaped windows were uniform in size and shaped differently than the square shaped and larger windows of the Turboliners that had been the usual equipment for this train.

The locomotive pulling the train also looked difference from anything I’d seen on the point of an Amtrak train to date.

I didn’t know it at the moment but I had seen Amfleet and a GE-built P30CH for the first time.

A couple days later I was downtown when No. 301, the first southbound St. Louis-bound train, halted at the former GM&O depot used by Amtrak.

That provided me my first opportunity in daylight to see the new Amfleet equipment and a P30 in the flesh.

There was a guy with a camera running around snapping photographs of this train like a proud father recording every move of his first-born child.

I recognized the Amfleet and P30 from photos I’d seen in Trains magazine.

In daylight I was able to see how the shape of an Amfleet car closely resembled that of a Metroliner even though at the time I had yet to see a Metroliner car in person.

I would later learn that Trains 301/304 had been the first Midwest corridor trains to receive Amfleet equipment effective Dec. 18, 1975.

The new Amfleet equipment intrigued me. At the time I considered the conventional streamliner equipment Amtrak had inherited as old fashioned. I wanted to see and ride something modern and new.

I got my first opportunity to see Amfleet from the inside the following January when I rode No. 304 from St. Louis to Springfield.

My first impression of an Amfleet coach was that it resembled the inside of a jetliner cabin with its fold-down tray tables, overhead reading lights and small windows. That was a good thing in my mind.

Those smallish windows have been panned over the years, but I never had any problem with them or being able to view the passing countryside from them in a window seat.

By early 1976 Amtrak had begun to assign Amfleet coaches and café cars to other Midwest corridor trains, including the Chicago-Carbondale Shawnee.

By the end of the year Amfleet was ubiquitous on Illinois-funded corridor routes.

Aside from its jetliner-like appearance, I was impressed with Amfleet because its head end power heating and cooling meant a more consistent environment.

HEP came in handy for Amtrak during the brutal winter of 1977 when it assigned Amfleet equipment to three long-distance trains radiating from Chicago, the Panama Limited, James Whitcomb Riley and the Inter-American.

Those assignments would stick on all those trains except the Inter-American, which reverted back to conventional equipment that spring for several months before being “Amfleeted” again.

I rode in Amfleet coaches numerous times over the next decade when I was most active in riding Amtrak throughout its national network.

This included overnight trips on the Panama Limited, Pioneer and Cardinal.

Some Amfleet coaches were equipped for longer distance travel and had fewer seats, leg rests and a foot rest attached to the seat ahead of you.

The lack of the latter had been one of the few amenities I had missed about conventional fleet coaches. But I never really found the leg rests all that comfortable.

In time the Horizon fleet arrived to spell most of the Amtrak coaches used on Midwest corridor trains, particularly the Amfleet coaches.

Horizon cars have a more conventional profile, but their interiors are similar to those of Amfleet.

The arrival of the Horizon fleet didn’t excite me in the same way that the coming of Amfleet had.

I was older then and less prone to getting excited about equipment changes. From a passenger perspective there wasn’t much difference between Horizon coaches and Amfleet coaches.

My reaction to whatever equipment that Amtrak comes up with to replace its Amfleet I fleet is likely to be similar. It will be interesting and I’ll enjoy riding it and seeing it for the first time.

But it won’t be the big deal that the coming of Amfleet was back in 1975.

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Chicago-St. Louis Route Rebuilding Nearly Complete

May 25, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation says that rebuilding of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is substantially complete.

“The remaining work primarily [is] focused on the installation of fencing in Springfield and at the southern end of the corridor; crossing improvements in Springfield; and the completion of the Kankakee River Bridge in Wilmington,” said Guy Tridgell, an IDOT director of communications based in Chicago.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the current top speed of the Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains on the route is still 79 p.m. although that is expected to increase to 90 mph by the end of the year.

“We had a section of 110 mph but it was not meant to be permanent,” he said referring to a stretch between Pontiac and Dwight. “The system is being installed, not just to be faster, but more reliable.”

Limited Parking in Springfield

April 30, 2018

Construction work in Springfield, Illinois, has resulted in limited parking availability at the Amtrak station through May 3.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the station parking lot may be closed at times. The work is connected with the Illinois Department of Transportation High Speed Rail Project.

Amtrak is advising passengers to be dropped off or picked up if possible rather than leaving their vehicle at the station.

Alternative parking is available in the City of Springfield’s parking garage at Fourth Street and Washington Street (immediately south of the station) for $5 a day. Metered street parking is also available along Washington Street, Fourth Street and Jefferson Street. Metered spaces are free after 5 pm Friday until 7 am Monday.

Long term parking passes can be obtained in advance for the surface parking lot at the southeast corner of Fourth and Washington by contacting Springfield Downtown Parking, Inc at 217-522-2712.

Taxi, mass transit and ride-share services are also available to and from the station, which is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle.

IDOT Head Sees Top Speed of 90 mph for Trains by Summer 2018 in the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor

December 18, 2017

Illinois Secretary of Transportation Randy Blankenhorn said Amtrak trains in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor should be operating at 90 mph starting next summer.

The current top speed on the route is 79 miles per hour exception for a demonstration section between Pontiac and Dwight where 110 mph speeds began in fall 2012.

In an interview with the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Blankenhorn said a nearly $2 billion high-speed rail project to rebuild portions of the route for high-speed service is starting to wind down.

Although the route has an infrastructure for a 110 mph top speed, Blankenhorn said those speeds won’t come until 2019 after a positive train control system is put into operation.  “We are substantially complete,” said Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn expects the project to finish on time and on budget with federal funding accounting for $1.65 billion of the estimated $1.95 billion final project cost.

The state is paying about $300 million of the project cost. IDOT has said that once the project is completed, Amtrak trains will have an 85 percent on-time guarantee.

Union Pacific, which owns the most of the track in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor used by Amtrak will be subject to financial penalties if the 85-percent, on-time guarantee is missed.

Nearly 590,000 passengers rode Amtrak between St. Louis and Chicago during the Illinois fiscal year that ended last June 30.

Patronage has fallen below 600,000 the last three fiscal years as a result of service disruptions caused by the high-speed project work.

One final phase of the project that is still underway is finishing track work in the Third Street corridor in Springfield.

“There’s some crossing work that needs to be done in Springfield, and that’s well underway,” Blankenhorn said.

The work will also include six-foot safety fencing on each side of the tracks. Safety, technology and accessibility improvements are planned for the Springfield Amtrak station.

Workers have made changes to 190 crossings in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor along 330 miles of track, closed nearly two dozen crossings and put up 90 miles of safety fencing meant to prevent trespassing.

The higher speeds are expected to reduce the 5.5 hour trip between St. Louis and Chicago by 11 minutes and by 20 minutes when a second set of tracks is competed near Joliet. Trains traveling 110 mph should cut the running time by 53 minutes.

However, the faster running times won’t address freight rail congestion in Chicago or St. Louis, which Blankenhorn said accounts for many of the delays now occurring.

Just over half of Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains ran late in the three years prior to high-speed rail work.

“It’s not so much about speed as it is reliability,” said Blankenhorn. “Passengers would use our trains a lot more if they knew they were going to be there when they need them and were not going to be an hour-and-a-half late.”

John Oimoen, chief of IDOT’s rail division said installation of the equipment needed for PTC in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor will be completed next spring.

“It’s the challenge of developing the software and getting that information back to (train) dispatcher,” he said.

Blankenhorn said the highest speeds initially will be allowed between Alton and Joliet while the state continues to work to fix the traffic bottlenecks in St. Louis and Chicago. He said those fixes will be “complicated and expensive.”

110 mph Running Delayed Until Next Year

November 25, 2017

Top speeds of 110 miles per hour are not expected to come to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor until 2018, the Illinois Department of Transportation has said.

IDOT said construction of the $2 billion high-speed rail project has taken longer than expected.

The original goal when the project began seven years ago was to have the higher speeds in place by late 2017.

Officials have not said when in 2018 the higher speeds will be allowed.

The latest delays have occurred in Springfield where five crossings have been closed while workers install safety fencing and make signal and gate upgrades.

The city of Springfield is seeking federal approval to establish a “quiet zone” of no train horns once the safety improvements are completed.

Trains began running at speeds up to 110 mph in 2012 between Pontiac and Dwight.

Track Work to Disrupt Lincoln Service

June 2, 2017

Track work will affect Lincoln Service train between Springfield, Illinois, and St. Louis during the period of June 3-7.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that the following schedule changes have been made.

Saturday, June 3, 2017: Trains 305 and 307

Trains 305 and 307 will operate between Chicago and Springfield only. Alternate transportation will be provided to and from Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis.

Sunday, June 4 – Tuesday, June 6, 2017: Trains 300 – 307

From June 4 through June 6, 2017, all Lincoln Service trains (Trains 300  through 307) will operate between Chicago and Springfield only. Bus service will replace all trains except No. 300 between Springfield, Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis.

Wednesday, June 7: Trains 300 and 302

Trains 300 and 302 will operate between Springfield and Chicago only. Bus service will be provided for Train 302 from St. Louis, Alton and Carlinville, to Springfield. Bus service will not be provided for Train 300.

Throughout the period, northbound charter buses will leave earlier than their respective trains.

Springfield Wants to Close Grade Crossings

May 8, 2017

Four grade crossings in Springfield, Illinois, on Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor may be closed and others improved, which will lead to faster speeds through the capital city of Illinois.

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said the city plans to ask the Illinois Commerce Commission for authority to close crossings at Allen, Canedy, Cedar, Jackson and Union streets.

The remaining crossing of the Union Pacific crossings used by Amtrak trains will receive safety upgrades.

When the crossings work is completed, Amtrak trains will be allowed to travel at 40 mph in Springfield compared with the current 25 mph speed limit.

Longer term, rail traffic through downtown Springfield will be placed along the 10th Street rail corridor.

The city is served by Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle. Those trains operate on former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio tracks along Third Street.

Work is expected to begin soon on improvements at the South Grand Avenue crossing, and $575,000 in land acquisition and demolition costs for improvements at the Fourth Street and North Grand Avenue crossings.

“The state will be installing new traffic controllers and traffic-signal interconnects along South Grand Avenue from Second to Fourth streets,” said city engineer Nate Bottom.

Bottom said similar work is planned at the remaining Third Street crossings.

Step Taken Toward Springfield Transit Hub

February 4, 2017

The Sangamon Mass Transit District has hired a company to begin razing buildings at the site of a planned intermodal transportation hub in Springfield, Illinois.

300px-Lincoln_Service_map.svgThe hub will be located on the east side of the 10th Street corridor and serve Amtrak, local buses and intercity buses.

SMTD Managing Director Frank Squires said the buildings to be demolished should be down no later than April.

However, he could not give a timeline for when the transportation hub will be completed.

That is because the district will not have much money left after paying to raze the structures at the hub site. Funding of that “will all be done in a series of grants from the federal government from the FTA [Federal Transit Administration],” Squires said.

Springfield is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Illinois Amtrak Ridership Fell in FY 2016

January 12, 2017

Amtrak ridership in Illinois fell by 3.5 percent in fiscal year 2016. Recent figures released by state transportation officials show that more than 4.6 million rode on Amtrak trains in the state.

IllinoisNot surprisingly, Chicago topped the list of the busiest Amtrak stations in Illinois.

Most of the cities on that list are college towns. Behind Chicago the busiest Amtrak stations were Normal-Bloomington, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Galesburg and Macomb.

All of those cities also have multiple Amtrak frequencies per day.

Systemwide, Amtrak carried more than 31 million people in FY 2016, an increase of 2 percent over the previous year.

One Day at High Noon in Springfield, Illinois

December 15, 2016
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The technical quality of this image isn’t great but it is one of the few photographs that I have of an SDP40F taken trackside leading a train.

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Looking south from the fireman’s side of Amtrak SPD40F No. 613 in Springfield, Illinois.

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The control stand of an Amtrak SDP40F.

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Engineer Dean Elliot awaits a highball to depart Springfield, Illinois, with Amtrak train No. 21 in June 1977.

It is almost high noon in June 1977 in Springfield, Illinois. I’m standing near the Illinois Central Gulf tracks (former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) tracks awaiting the arrival of Amtrak’s westbound Inter-American from Chicago to Laredo, Texas.

I don’t recall if No. 21 was late or on time, but even if the former, it was not excessively tardy.

Leading No. 21 was SDP40F No. 613. I made a single photograph of it sitting in the station with its train.

The image isn’t that good, a product of harsh light, improper exposure and the fact that I scanned it from a color negative that is almost 40 years old.

I wanted to photograph the Inter-American because it still ran with SDP40F locomotives and those have always been a favorite of mine.

The engineer of the train spotted me and waved. On impulse I asked him if I could come up into the cab.

He said “yes” and up I went and got the other three images  you see with this post.

I would later learn that the engineer was Dean Elliot and that he is now deceased. He was a railroader’s railroader and I can only imagine the stories he would have had to tell about life on the road.

But there was no time for that. I only had enough time to grab a few shots before the conductor gave No. 21 a highball to leave Springfield. I thanked the crew and climbed down.

And off they went to St. Louis where a Missouri Pacific crew would take over to pilot the Inter-American on its continuing journey to Laredo.

Today, Nos. 21 and 22 are named the Texas Eagle and operate between Chicago and San Antonio.