Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak Midwest Corridor trains’

Track Work to Affect Amtrak’s Saluki

December 17, 2018

Canadian National track work will affect operation of Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, Saluki on Dec. 18.

Train No. 391 will terminate at Champaign, Illinois, with alternative bus service provided to all stations between Champaign and Carbondale.

Train No. 390 will originate in Champaign, departing at 10:45 a.m., which is 31 minutes than the regular schedule. It will use the equipment that arrived on No. 391, which is scheduled to arrive at 10:25 a.m.

Alternative bus service will be offered at intermediate stations between Carbondale and Champaign.

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IDOT Survey to Ask About Amtrak Service

December 13, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation is conducting an online survey that will seek public views on various topics, including Amtrak service in the state.

IDOT funds Amtrak corridor trains linking Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis and the Illinois cities of Quincy and Carbondale.

Responses to the Illinois Traveler Opinion Survey are being accepted through Dec. 31 at http://www.idot.illinois.gov.

The survey is being conducted in a partnership with the University of Illinois Springfield and covered such other areas as road conditions, ice-and-snow removal, commuting habits and driving behaviors.

The survey has been conducted annually since 2001. A copy of the 2017 survey and results, along with data collected from past years, can be viewed at bit.ly/2Uu4DnF.

New Governor Raises Hopes for Reviving Illinois Service

November 20, 2018

Northern Illinois rail passenger advocates are looking to a new governor to help jump start efforts to reinstate intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

J.B. Pritzker recently ousted incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner whose administration had not been supportive of the proposed services, which were announced in 2014.

Also giving supporters hope is a favorable vote on an advisory referendum to create a station in Rockford for the proposed service.

A Rockford area state lawmaker, though, still sees a struggle to get the service going.

“It’s gonna be expensive – it’s gonna be a major effort, and if there’s not the political will to do it locally, then we should not head down that path,” said State Senator Steve Stadelman.

Stadelman, though, called the election of Pritzker a new opportunity.

He said he plans to meet with local leaders to gauge their support for the rail service.

Stadelman noted that the new governor has talked about the importance of transportation infrastructure. “I hope he’s willing to take a look at the idea,” Stadelman said.

During the Nov. 6 election, voters in Rockford and Boone and Winnebago counties gave 79 percent approval to the referendum question.

During the administration of former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, the estimated cost of the proposed service was put at $230 million.

The service would serve a region that has lacked intercity rail service for several decades.

Until 1978, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific operated a train known as the Quad City Rocket between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. That train ran for the final time on Dec. 31.

Amtrak operated the Black Hawk between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, between Feb. 17, 1974, and Sept. 30, 1981.

The Black Hawk served Rockford and Freeport and ended during a state budget crunch.

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Transportation has studied reviving Amtrak service to Northwest Illinois using portions of the former Black Hawk and Quad City Rocket routes.

A new station was built in Moline, Illinois, which includes a hotel and shops.

“We’re hoping with the new administration that they’ll put a higher emphasis on passenger rail and keep it moving,” said Ray Forsythe, planning and development director with the City of Moline. We’re pretty excited.”

Funding for the revival of Northwest Illinois intercity rail service was included in the 2009 capital bill, the last one adopted by the Illinois General Assembly.

Lawmakers earmarked $150 million for Amtrak expansion for both the Quad Cities route and service to Dubuque via Rockford, along with money for rail upgrades for the existing line between Chicago and St. Louis.

Initially, the state planned to launch service to Rockford and extend it later to Dubuque.

Service to the Quad Cities was to use a BNSF route already used by other Amtrak trains to Wyanet, Illinois, and then switch to the Iowa Interstate, which owns the former CRI&P tracks.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $177.3 million in 2011 to IDOT to complete planning, environmental review, design and construction of the Quad Cities line, with the goal of having two round trips daily.

But Rauner’s inauguration in 2015 resulted in the Northwest Illinois rail service projects being put on hold.

In late 2016, IDOT resumed talks with the Iowa Interstate about using its tracks.

The two parties are discussing track upgrades, including installation of positive train control.

Also on the docket is the connection between the BNSF and Iowa Interstate lines.

However, negotiations with Union Pacific to use its tracks for the Rockford service have not resumed.

IDOT officials have not given a timeline as to when the services might be launched.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the carrier is interested in operating the Rockford and the Quad Cities routes because studies have found both have high potential for passengers.

Officials say that key to getting the routes started will be passage of another capital bill in the legislature.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said he is committed to “working across the aisle” to get that done so that it can be used to attract federal grant money.

However, rail advocate will be competing for funding with such other infrastructure needs as roads, water systems and transit agencies.

Extra Midwest Trains Set for Thanksgiving Travel

November 15, 2018

Amtrak will operate additional trains in the Midwest between Nov. 20-25 to accommodate an expected surge of Thanksgiving holiday travelers.

Other Midwest corridor trains are expected to operate with increased capacity.

During the holiday travel period, reservations will be required for travel aboard the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains.

Holders of monthly or 10-ride tickets are exempt from the reservations requirement, but seating is not guarantee.

On the Wolverine Service corridor, additional trains will operate on Nov. 21, 24 and 25 between Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan, with intermediate stops in the Michigan cities of New Buffalo, Niles, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Jackson.

Extra No. 356 will depart Chicago at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Ann Arbor at 2:25 p.m. It will depart Ann Arbor at 4:28 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:04 p.m.

On the Pere Marquette route, extra No. 372 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 10 a.m. and arrive in Holland, Michigan, at 2:11 p.m. with intermediate stops in St. Joseph and Bangor, Michigan.

No. 373 is scheduled to depart Holland at 3:10 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:27 p.m. These trains will operate on Nov. 21 and 25.

An extra section of the Carl Sandburg will operate between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois, on Nov. 21 and 25.

No. 385 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 11:30 a.m. and make all scheduled intermediate stops en route to Quincy, where it is set to arrive at 3:53 p.m.

No. 384 is scheduled to depart Quincy at 1 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:22 p.m.

On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, extra Lincoln Service trains will operate between Chicago and Normal, Illinois, on Nov. 21 and 25.

Extra No. 309 is scheduled to depart Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and make all scheduled intermediate stops en route to Normal-Bloomington, where it is set to arrive at 12:58 p.m.

No. 308 is set to depart Normal at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:41 p.m.

Pere Marquette Now Arriving

October 10, 2018

Although Amtrak’s Pere Marquette originates and terminates in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it didn’t always sit overnight in the station.

For several years the equipment for the Chicago-Grand Rapids train sat overnight in a CSX yard and deadheaded to the station the next morning.

The photo above was made in June 1995 and the train is shown about to arrive at the station.

SB Illini To Run Later on Weekdays

August 29, 2018

Train work being conducted by Canadian National will result in the southbound Illini operating 1 hour and 15 minutes later on weekdays between Sept. 4 and 21.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the schedule change will be in effect for the length of the train’s route from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois.

The schedule for Train 393 will not change on Saturdays and Sundays.

New Platforms in Use in Carlinville

August 13, 2018

New platforms at the Amtrak station in Carlinville, Illinois, are now in use.

In a service advisory Amtrak said its trains can arrive and depart on the west or east platform so passengers should check the station information displays and listen for announcements to know where their train will be arriving or departing.

Passengers are urged to use caution when crossing between platforms on the north ends where the sidewalk and Illinois Route 108 (West Main Street) cross the tracks.

Carlinville is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Amtrak’s Transformation at Work in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

Last week Amtrak touted improvements it has made in its Midwest corridor network, including schedule adjustments to allow for more intra-Midwest connections and implementing student discount fares.

But in Amtrak’s statements was a hint that there might be another agenda at work.

It may be that Amtrak was doing nothing more than trying to get some marketing mileage from a series of relatively small steps. Yet if you view what was announced in a larger context you might see a transformation at work.

Throughout 2018, Amtrak has taken or talked about implementing actions that passenger advocates fear are designed or will weaken the carrier’s long-distance network.

In early June Amtrak yanked the full-service dining cars from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Last spring it sharply restricted the carriage of privately-owned passenger cars and all but eliminated special moves and charter trains.

Amtrak has talked about creating a bus bridge for its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, rather than continue to operate over a BNSF segment in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that lacks positive train control and over much of which Amtrak is the sole user and thus responsible for the maintenance costs of the rails.

The carrier also has changed its booking practices to make it more difficult for tour operators to book large blocks of sleeping car rooms.

A Trains magazine columnist wrote last week that he’s been told of Amtrak plans to remove chefs from the dining cars of the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The columnist said he’s heard from passengers who’ve ridden long-distance trains lately that complimentary juice in sleeping cars is gone and coffee is being limited to one half-pot per day.

Fewer towels and bottles of water are being distributed to sleeping car passengers.

An amendment sponsored by Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to force Amtrak to reopen ticket offices closed in a cost-cutting binge last spring was quietly removed from a transportation funding bill recently approved by the Senate.

Some passenger advocate see these and other moves as part of a larger plot to make long-distance trains unattractive so ridership will fall and management can make the case that the need for these trains isn’t there anymore.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has reportedly told state department of transportation officials that the carrier has studied chopping up long-distance routes into a series of corridors, each of them less than 750 miles in length.

That would force the states to fund those routes under the terms of a 2008 law that requires states to fund corridor routes that Amtrak had previously underwritten.

Those plans are not expected to be implemented immediately, but perhaps Amtrak management is just biding its time.

What does this have to do with the announcement about improvements to Midwest connectivity?

If Amtrak is seeking to re-invent itself as a provider of short- and medium-distance corridors it needs to show that it is developing a network of them.

Most people probably think of the Midwest corridors as ways to link cities in their state with Chicago.

Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.

To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.

For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh  route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?

I’m not optimistic about that.

Not Open for Meals

August 1, 2018

Bringing up the rear of Amtrak’s northbound Saluki is Viewliner diner Indianapolis.

But the diner is not open to serve meals to passengers. Instead, it’s purpose is to help Train 390 meet an axle count requirement mandated by host railroad Canadian National.

It’s a safety measure to ensure that the train triggers grade crossing warning devices. Any Amtrak train using a CN route must have a minimum number of axles.

The Indianapolis is the not the only dining car on the Saluki. Ahead of the baggage car is Heritage diner No. 8505, a former Northern Pacific car built by Budd in 1957.

Amtrak may have retired its Heritage diners from their intended purpose, but some of those cars continue to run up miles in a different type of revenue service.

The Saluki is shown departing Effingham, Illinois.

First Glimpse of a Charger

July 24, 2018

Amtrak’s SC-44 Charger locomotives have been in service for several months on Midwest corridor routes, but it was only recently that I got my first glimpse of one.

I was in Effingham, Illinois, to observe the arrival of the northbound Saluki, which is shown above.

The Chargers are operating on most Midwest routes with the notable exception of Wolverine and Blue Water trains.

Amtrak has said the Chargers won’t be assigned to those trains until the positive train control system can be aligned with the PTC system used on Amtrak-owned track in Michigan and Indiana.

My first impression of the Chargers was favorable unlike my first thought about the now ubiquitous P42 and P40 units.

The nose of the Charger is similar in design to that of a Genesis locomotive and we’ve all had years to become accustomed to the latter.