Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Midwest Corridor trains’

One Morning in Jackson, Michigan

November 25, 2021

It is a pleasant June 28, 1997, summer morning in Jackson, Michigan. I’ve drive here to spend a day catching Amtrak trains. From here I would drive to Battle Creek to catch the International in both directions on its Chicago-Toronto trek and end the day getting trains in Ann Arbor.

At the time, trains in the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) corridor were powered by P32-8 locomotives built by General Electric. The units were pointed east, which meant they pulled eastbounds and pushed westbounds.

Facing west was a cab car, either a former F40PH that had been rebuilt into a non-powered control unit, or a former Metroliner car serving as a cab car.

Amtrak owned 20 P32-8 units that it received in December 1991. They wore a stylized Phase III livery that was unique to these locomotives. It wasn’t long before railfans began calling them “Pepsi cans” because of the resemblance of the livery to a beverage can design of the time.

It also was a time when trains between Chicago and Detroit had individual names of Wolverine, Lake Cities and Twilight Limited.

In the top image No. 504 is pushing the Lake Cities out of Jackson toward Chicago. In the bottom image, No. 513 is pulling the Wolverine into the station.

Notice the mismatched style of the number boards above the front windshields.

Although P32s saw service on long-distance trains, they were most commonly used in corridor service. The “Pepsi can” look lasted a few years but eventually gave way to Phase IV.

The special Phase III livery used on the P32s was revived this year when a P42DC No. 160 was repainted in that livery.

Coming and Going

November 9, 2021

My objective was to get Amtrak’s Saluki amid some fall foliage on a sun slashed Sunday morning. I came across this colorful tree in Pesotum, Illinois, along the Champaign Subdivision of host railroad Canadian National.

Nos. 390 and 391 are scheduled to pass this location within an hour of each other although delays to No. 391 pushed the envelope to more than an hour.

As has been the case for more than a year, both trains continue to operate with Superliner equipment. It is interesting to note that due to a CN-mandated minimum axle requirement the Saluki operates with more Superliner cars than does the Capitol Limited.

Amtrak Daytrip to Carbondale Trip Report

October 3, 2021

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, on Sept. 12, 2021.

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, behind an SC-44 Charger locomotive.

Back in July Amtrak sent me an email warning that my Amtrak Guest Rewards account had been inactive for 24 months and my points would expire in mid September.

The email listed ways to keep my account active including buying an Amtrak ticket or redeeming points for travel or Amtrak-branded merchandise.

I filed all of this in my “to do” mental folder. As September dawned I needed to do something.

My account had 21,000 points, which isn’t enough for a spectacular trip, but I didn’t want to lose those points either.

I thought about using points for a day trip to Chicago on the Cardinal. I also considered making a short trip from Effingham to Mattoon, Illinois, on the Saluki, an Illinois Department of Transportation funded train between Chicago and Carbondale.

The distance between those two towns is 27 miles and the trip takes just 24 minutes. That wouldn’t be much of a train ride.

Instead I decided on something I hadn’t done since 1983.

The equipment for the southbound Saluki lays over in Carbondale for 2 hours, 20 minutes before returning to Chicago as the Illini.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I had on occasion ridden Train 391 from Mattoon to Carbondale and returned that evening on Train 392. In those days they were named the Shawnee.

Since I was last in Carbondale, the Illinois Central passenger station has been renovated and received an IC equipment display of a GP11 and caboose. I could photograph that.

Amtrak opened a new Carbondale station three blocks south in October 1981. I have hundreds of photographs of Amtrak trains on the former Main Line of Mid-America but none in Carbondale.

However, instead of leaving from Mattoon, I would depart from Effingham.

I planned to use points for the trip but that changed when I discovered a one-way non-refundable fare of $8. Even if for some reason I couldn’t make the trip I would only be out $16.

I booked it for Sunday, Sept. 12, a mere three days before my points were to expire.

Booking travel on Amtrak is more involved than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

You must click a box agreeing to wear a mask in stations and aboard the train.

Amtrak also tried to get me to buy trip insurance. Did they really think I was going to do that for a $16 ticket?

The afternoon before my trip Amtrak sent me an email directing me to fill out a short form online. Aside from the standard COVID symptoms questions that I’ve become used to answering every time I visit a doctor I also had to agree – again – to wear a mask.

On the day of the trip I arrived at the Effingham station three hours before train time to get in some railfanning before No. 391 arrived.

Effingham back in the day had a station used by the IC and Pennsylvania Railroad. Flanking the passenger station were express depots for both railroads.

Today the passenger station is a cosmetology school and the ex-PRR express depot is used by a catering company as a kitchen.

Amtrak uses half of the ex-IC express depot with the other half used by a tattoo parlor.

I arrived to find work underway to rebuild the Amtrak boarding platform, which complicated my photography due to high construction zone fences and orange fabric barriers.

CSX sent one train through town, an eastbound grain train, while Canadian National sent two northbounds and a southbound past the station.

A CN train working the yard came north of the diamonds for headroom and to clear the block before going back into the yard.

Three of the four CN trains had IC SD70 locomotives wearing the pre-merger IC black “death star” livery.

One of the southbounds had a motive power consist of two IC “death stars” and a Grand Trunk Western geep in its original livery. Talk about a heritage consist.

I also observed the coming and going of the northbound Saluki.

For nearly a year Amtrak has assigned Superliner equipment to its Chicago-Carbondale trains. The Saluki and Illini are pulled by SC-44 Charger locomotives owned by IDOT and leased by Amtrak.

My foray to Carbondale would be my first trip behind a Charger locomotive. Interestingly, my first trip aboard a Superliner coach was a day trip to Carbondale in June 1979 when the then-new cars were in break-service on Midwest corridor trains before being assigned to the Empire Builder that October.

No. 391 was about 15 minutes late. I stood alone on the platform, mask firmly in place, the only passenger to board on this day.

I wasn’t surprised. When I had bought my ticket Train 391 was shown as at 13 percent of capacity.

I presented my ticket to the conductor but he said he had already checked me off. About 10 passengers disembarked.

I was one of just two passengers in my coach. The conductor came to my seat and asked if I had ridden with Amtrak before.

Yes, I have – many times actually – but not since before the pandemic. The conductor noted there was a café car up ahead. I didn’t plan to patronize it but thanked the conductor for that information anyway.

I settled back in my seat and enjoyed watching the countryside pass by. It had been more than three decades since I had seen Southern Illinois in daylight from the vantage point of an Amtrak coach window.

As we slowed for the Centralia station, a northbound BNSF coal train passed on an adjacent track. It had a distributed power unit on the rear.

Centralia was once the home of a large IC car shop. As best I could determine, most of that complex is gone.

It used to be that southbound passenger trains went around the Centralia yard complex on the west side. That wasn’t the case today although I could see that track still goes over that way.

We passed the yard on the east side.

The yard had a moderate number of freight cars and some motive power, including the two “death stars” and GTW geep I had seen earlier. A massive coaling tower still stands in the yard.

Our next stop was Du Quoin where Amtrak shares a small modern depot with the local chamber of commerce. It opened in August 1989.

Carbondale used to have a large yard, too, but most of it is gone. The former St. Louis division offices were razed years ago.

All that’s left are a few tracks and the twin coaling towers that stand near where the roundhouse used to be.

Due to schedule padding we arrived at the Carbondale station 15 minutes early and slightly less than two hours after leaving Effingham

It turns out most of the Carbondale passengers had been in other coaches.

Shortly after No. 391 arrived, the crew backed the equipment north to the yard and turned it on a wye track.

I made photographs of the ferry move in both directions passing the former IC station.

It was a warm day and I walked to a Circle K to get a large bottle of Gatorade. I walked around a bit, photographing the old IC station, which houses a small railroad museum that wasn’t open on this day, as well as offices of the chamber of commerce and a non-profit organization that promotes downtown Carbondale.

A statue of an IC conductor pays tribute to the railroad’s long history in Carbondale, which used to be where St. Louis cars were added or removed from trains bound to and from New Orleans and Florida.

A northbound CN tank car train came through during my layover.

I was dismayed to find the Carbondale Amtrak station is only open during the day on Wednesdays. But it’s open seven days a week at night to accommodate passengers for the City of New Orleans, which arrives in both directions in the dead of night.

There were around 50 of us waiting outside the station.

There would be just one conductor on tonight’s Train 392. He opened two doors of the train and stood on the platform.

I was expecting him to come up to the crowd and announce that boarding was ready to begin.

Instead he raised an arm and waved it a bit, which I interpreted as a signal to come out and get on board.

I started walking toward the train and the crowd followed me. Everyone was put in the same car.

We left on time and made the same stops as we had earlier. In Centralia I spotted a young man running from the parking lot toward the train, which was about done boarding.

If the conductor saw him, he ignored him because the train began moving. I expected the conductor to see the guy and order the engineer to stop. But we kept going.

CN and Amtrak have been at loggerheads for years over a number of operating issues including CN’s edict that Amtrak operate with a minimum number of axles to ensure that grade crossing signals are activated.

That is in part why I was riding a train with seven Superliner cars with far fewer passengers than the train’s capacity.

Amtrak and CN also have sparred over dispatching with Amtrak accusing CN of needlessly delaying Amtrak’s trains.

I know from years of experience in riding Amtrak between Mattoon and Chicago that delays due to freight train interference are not uncommon, particularly around Champaign.

But on this day we didn’t meet a single CN freight during on my trip.

I was the only passenger getting off at Effingham. Seven people were waiting on the platform to board.

A woman at the back of the line was not wearing a facial mask and the conductor refused to let her board.

I don’t know why she was maskless, but as I walked to my car I noticed the conductor had placed the step box aboard the train and stood in the doorway as the woman gestured while making her case – whatever that was – for not wearing a mask.

The conductor was having none of it and No. 392 left with the woman standing on the platform.

It had been an enjoyable outing and not all that much different from other trips I’ve made on Amtrak. The number of passengers aboard was less than I expected given that it was a Sunday, which normally is a heavy travel day on this route.

Sometime within the next year new Siemens Venture cars are expected to be assigned to Midwest corridor trains and maybe I’ll do another Carbondale roundtrip to experience them.

Two IC SD70s and a Grant Trunk geep pass the under construction new boarding platform in Effingham.
The DPU on a northbound BNSF coal train in Centralia
Disembarking at the Carbondale Amtrak station.
The equipment for the Illini backs past the former IC station in Carbondale.
A northbound CN tank car train passes the Carbondale Amtrak station where the Illini awaits its 4:05 p.m. departure.

Track Works Leads to Wolverine Sked Changes

July 21, 2021

Schedules of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will be temporarily change between July 20 and Oct. 31 due to track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Train 350 will depart Chicago 15 minutes earlier at 7:05 a.m. and will be scheduled to arrive in Pontiac at 2:46 p.m.

Train 351 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:43 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:47 a.m.

Train 354 will depart Chicago at its scheduled time of 5:50 p.m, but be rescheduled to arrive in Pontiac 15 minutes later at 1:17 a.m.

Train 355 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:28 a.m and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:55 p.m.

An Amtrak service advisory said Trains 352 and 353 remain suspended but are expected to resume operation on Sept. 7.

Wolverine Service during the COVID-19 pandemic fell to one pair of trains between Chicago and Pontiac. Service increased to two pairs of trains on July 19.

Missouri River Runner Service to Increase

June 4, 2021

The State of Missouri of Missouri will use pandemic relief funding to help pay for restoration of a second Missouri River Runner roundtrip between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The additional service will begin on July 19 and bring the corridor up to pre-COVID-19 pandemic service levels.

State officials said the second roundtrip will operation for the remainder of 2021.

“We appreciate the General Assembly and Gov. [Mike] Parson providing necessary resources for the Amtrak Missouri River Runner service in the state’s budget as well as the additional COVID relief funds enabling us to restore this important transportation service to Missourians,” Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said in a statement.

McKenna said his agency will review in the fall whether the federal transportation budget will enable the state to continue to support two daily round-trip service.

McKenna said his agency will review in the fall whether the federal transportation budget will enable the state to continue to support two daily round-trip service.

The second roundtrip was suspended in March 2020. Even before that had occurred, Missouri legislators had been debating whether to cut the state’s Amtrak funding to support just a single daily roundtrip.

A provision in the state budget bill mandating single daily ser ice was removed by the Missouri Senate so that MoDOT and Amtrak could begin discussions about a restoration of double daily service.

Water Problem Sidelines Venture Cars

June 4, 2021

An issue with the water supplies in the restrooms has delayed use by Amtrak of new Siemens Venture passenger cars in corridor service in the Midwest and California.

The problem was found during routine testing last November, a California Department of Transportation official said.

A Siemens spokeswoman said the company has found a solution to the problem but further testing is needed before the cars can be delivered.

The spokeswoman said the fix will enable the cars to meet water-quality standards of the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

Caltrans is the lead agency overseeing the $386 million, 137-car order for single-level cars that was awarded to Siemens in 2017.

California will receive 49 of those cars while Midwest corridor trains will use 88 cars.

Contractor Sumitomo Corporation has been paid $28 million for its work on the cars, but the Caltrans spokesman said Sumitomo won’t be paid for the cars themselves until the water issue has been resolved.

California officials had hoped to put the cars into revenue service this fall but now the timeline for their debut is unclear.

Four Venture cars have already been delivered to Amtrak in Chicago for testing on the Chicago-Detroit corridor and on the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor.

The cars are based on the design Siemens used to build passenger cars for Florida’s Brightline intercity rail passenger service where they began revenue service in December 2017.

Private Car Offering Trips on Amtrak Midwest Corridor Trains

June 4, 2021

A former Seaboard Air Line observation car will operate on Amtrak corridor trains in the Midwest in July, September and October.

The car is the Hollywood Beach, which was built in 1956. The trips being offered will feature guides from the Midwest Rail Rangers group.

The first trips will operated between St. Louis and Kansas City July 23-25 with ticket proceeds being used to help restore 1939 Seaboard observation car No. 6400.

The trip departs St. Louis at 4 p.m. on July 23, arriving in Kansas City at 9:40 p.m. After a free day in Kansas City, the return trip departs Kansas City for St. Louis at 8:15 a.m. on July 25.

Tickets are $500 per person. No one way tickets are available although some passengers may be able to board at an intermediate station.

For further information or to buy a ticket, contact John Owen at ontrackkentucky@gmail.com or at 502-416-8143.

A St. Louis to Chicago one way trip will operate on Sept. 23, departing St. Louis at 5:30 p.m. and arriving in Chicago at 11:10 p.m.

Midwest Rail Ranger guides will provide narration between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois.

Tickets are $299 and may be obtained by contacting Ketih White at onecniccat@prodigy.net or 708 446-1269.

A Chicago to St. Louis one way trip will run Oct. 4, leaving Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and arriving in St. Louis at 3 p.m. Midwest Rail Rangers guides will provide narration for the entire route.

Tickets are $299 and available from Ketih White.

Fares include meals, hors d’oeuvres, snacks and drinks. No personal food or beverages are allowed aboard the car.

Illinois, Vermont Trains Coming Back July 19

May 21, 2021

Suspended Illinois-funded corridor trains will resume operation on July 19. On the same day, the Vermonter and Ethan Allen Express will also return to service.

The Illinois Department of Transportation said that it is restoring service as part of its Rebuild Illinois capital plan.

One daily roundtrip each will be added to the Chicago-Quincy and Chicago-Carbondale routes while two roundtrips will be restored to the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Chicago-Quincy Carl Sandburg was suspended along with the Chicago to Carbondale Saluki and Carbondale to Chicago Illini.

Those suspended trains left Chicago in the morning and returned in the evening.

In Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Transportation said the Vermonter will return between St. Albans, Vermont, and Washington.

Also coming back is the Ethan Allen Express between Rutland, Vermont, and New York.

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

2 for Amtrak’s 50th Anniversary

May 3, 2021

I wanted to get out and photograph Amtrak on its 50th anniversary day last Saturday. I began my quest by setting next to the CSX Monon Subdivision south of Linden, Indiana, to capture the westbound Cardinal.

No. 51 was right on the money about 10 minutes past 5, having made a station stop, in Crawfordsville about 12 minutes earlier. It was about a half-hour after sunrise.

Next I motored over to east central Illinois to get the northbound Saluki, a corridor train funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation that originates in Carbondale and travels to Chicago.

No. 390 is shown above taking a signal at Humboldt, Illinois. It, too, was running on time.

None of the equipment seen in these photographs existed in 1971 and most of it had not been created yet as a concept.

The Amfleet coaches and food service car of the Cardinal come closest because Amfleet equipment was based on the design of the Budd Metroliners of the 1960s. Superliner equipment was inspired by the Hi-Level cars of the Santa Fe.

In 1971 EMD E and F units with a handful of passenger equipped geeps, U boats and SDs were the common motive power. It all wore the markings and liveries of its owners.

The Saluki does not normally operate with Superliner equipment, but has since Amtrak reduced the frequency of most long-distance trains last year to tri-weekly.

Starting May 24 Amtrak plans to begin to restore daily service to most long-distance trains — the Cardinal and Sunset Limited are exceptions — so the Superliners now on the Saluki probably will be replaced with Horizon and Amfleet equipment.

But not for long as Amtrak has begun taking delivery of and testing the new Siemens Venture cars and they are expected to begin revenue service later this year.

The long distance trains are also slated to begin receiving Charger locomotives similar to the SC-44 seen above pullking the Saluki albeit with a difference livery.

With Amtrak things are always changing even if it doesn’t always appear that way at first glance.