Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak photography’

The Day the Pennsylvanian Came to Cleveland

November 20, 2021
The first eastbound Pennsylvanian has arrived in Cleveland in November 1998.

It was one of those quintessential November days in Cleveland with gray skies overhead.

But if you were a rail passenger advocate then, metaphorically speaking, the skies could not have been any bluer.

After years of pushing for it, advocates were getting their wish. Amtrak was extending its New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian west of the Steel City.

Finally, Northeast Ohio would see an Amtrak train in daylight hours in circumstances other than an existing scheduled train running several hours late.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s Amtrak would put on show to celebrate the inauguration of new service. On Nov. 7, 1998, it was Cleveland’s turn for that with the Pennsylvanian coming to town.

It was not, though, the first time in the 1990s that an Amtrak publicity train had come to Northeast Ohio.

In fall 1990 Amtrak ran a publicity special through Akron and Cleveland in advance of the rerouting of the Broadway Limited via Akron and the Capitol Limited via Cleveland.

Those publicity trains were greeted by marching bands, speakers and a festive welcoming ceremony.

By contrast, when the Pennsylvanian came to Cleveland the celebration was more subdued.

There was a speaker inside the station and a specially decorated cake. But there were no marching bands and Amtrak did not assign the publicity train an open platform car or a dome car as it had in 1990.

There was a respectable crowd to greet the first No. 44, which arrived on a Saturday from Chicago.

My photographs from that day show people clustered around the vestibules of the Horizon coaches and I’m not sure if they were allowed onboard to tour the train or if some of them were boarding as ticketed passengers.

I struck up a brief conversation with Amtrak conductor George Sanders, noting we shared a last name in common but were otherwise unrelated.

He posed for a photograph and I got his address and later sent him a copy.

The train rolled into the station with two P42DC locomotives, two material handling cars, a Superliner Sightseer lounge, a Superliner transition sleeper, two Horizon fleet coaches, an Amfleet coach, an Amfleet café car and a string of RoadRailers on the rear.

The RoadRailers were a sign of why Amtrak had extended the Pennsylvanian to Chicago.

The Three Rivers, which had replaced the Broadway Limited in 1995 between New York and Pittsburgh and been extended to Chicago in November 1996, had reached its limit of 30 cars, most of which carried mail and express.

To expand its burgeoning head-end business, Amtrak needed another train to Chicago. That would be the Pennsylvanian.

Amtrak had wanted to extend the Pennsylvanian westward before Christmas 1997 but lacked sufficient crews.

Although new operating personnel were hired in spring 1998, Conrail refused to allow the expansion during the summer track work season.

Because the postal service usually dispatched mail around dawn, No. 44 was scheduled to depart Chicago at 6 a.m. while No. 43 left Philadelphia at 6:30 a.m.

The Pennsylvanian reached Cleveland eastbound in early afternoon and westbound in late afternoon.

It was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 11:59 p.m. and in Philadelphia at 12:25 a.m. That meant no convenient same-day connections in Chicago and few in Philly. 

But passenger traffic was less the objective of the Pennsylvanian extension than head-end revenue.

Then Amtrak president George Warrington said at the time that this would put Amtrak on a glide path to profitability.

Those who understood the realities of passenger train scheduling would have understood that this made the Pennsylvanian’s future in Cleveland rather tenuous.

Nonetheless, there was optimism in the air as Nos. 43 and 44 began serving Cleveland, Elyria and Alliance.

I don’t remember anything the speaker said during the welcome ceremony or even who he was. I was there primarily to make photographs of Amtrak in Cleveland in daylight.

Except during holiday travel periods, ridership of the Pennsylvanian would prove to be light. On many days it had only about a dozen passengers aboard in Ohio and Indiana.

Ridership was stunted by chronic delays that occurred in 1999 following the breakup of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX.

The typical consist for the Pennsylvanian was three coaches and a food service car.

A schedule change on April 29, 2002, moved the Chicago departure back six hours to 11:55 p.m., which made No. 44 the “clean up” train to accommodate those who had missed connections in Chicago from inbound western long distance trains to the eastern long-distance trains.

At the same time, the westbound Pennsylvanian began departing Philadelphia two hours later in order to provide additional connections.

No. 43 now was scheduled to reach Chicago Union Station at 1:44 a.m.

A change of administrations at Amtrak led to the carrier announcing in fall 2002 that it would cease carrying mail and express. As a result the Pennsylvanian would revert to New York-Pittsburgh operation.

On Feb. 8, 2003, I went down to the Cleveland Amtrak station with my camera to make photographs of the Pennsylvanian, the first time I’d done that since the November 1998 inaugural train had arrived.

This time, though, I boarded as a paying passenger, getting off in Pittsburgh and returning on the last westbound No. 43 to run west of Pittsburgh.

There were no crowds, cake or speakers to greet the Pennsylvanian in the Cleveland station on this day.

And that sense of optimism that had hung in the air more than four years earlier had long since dissipated.

Rail passenger advocates in Ohio are still trying to get back that sense of optimism.

Amtrak conductor George Sanders agreed to pose by a Horizon coach vestibule.
Who was that guy who gave the welcome to Cleveland speech? Not only do I not remember his name I also don’t remember anything he said.
What’s a celebration without a cake?
A respectable crowd was on hand to greet the first Pennsylvanian to stop in Cleveland.
Dad is ready to make some photographs but his son is not sure being this close to the tracks is a good idea.
Those RoadRailers on the rear give a hint as to the primary reason why the Pennsylvanian began serving Cleveland. Amtrak expected to make money on mail and express business.

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.

Rare Late Morning Appearance

August 5, 2021

Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans is shown accelerating away from the station in Mattoon, Illinois, on Aug. 1. on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National.

Under normal circumstances, No. 58 would be leaving Mattoon just before 5:30 a.m. But this image was made at 11:17 a.m. with Amtrak reporting it arriving in Mattoon five hours and 44 minutes late.

The station and its platform are partly visible behind the train on the left.

I was unable to determine the reason for the late running but whatever delayed the train apparently occurred south of Carbondale, Illinois.

No. 58 has a clear signal at North Mattoon and will meet the southbound Saluki at Humboldt nearly 10 miles ahead.

It is noteworthy that all of Amtrak’s trains running in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor in summer 2021 have Superliner equipment.

Rounding the Curve in Mendota

July 19, 2021

Amtrak’s westbound California Zephyr comes around a curve on host railroad BNSF and is about to pass the station in Mendota, Illinois.

Mendota is not a stop for Trains 5 and 6 so it will just slip right by. Train 5 has a consist of three sleepers, dining car, Sightseer Lounge, two coaches and a Viewliner baggage car. On the point are the customary two P42DC locomotives.

The image was made on July 14, 2021.

Abe Calls in Joliet

July 9, 2021

Passengers are waiting on the platform at Joliet Union Station as Amtrak’s St. Louis-bound Abraham Lincoln arrives for its station stop.

The date is Aug. 12, 1972, and the Abe is operating between Milwaukee and St. Louis as part of a short-lived move to route some trains through Chicago Union Station.

On the point today is Gulf, Mobile & Ohio E7A No. 101. The track between Chicago and St. Louis was mostly a GM&O route and the Abraham Lincoln had been a GM&O passenger train.

As a point of interest, this image was made two days after the GM&O and Illinois Central merged to form the Illinois Central Gulf.

The tracks in the foreground belong to the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, which at the time of this photograph operated commuter trains to Joliet and a pair of intercity passenger trains running Chicago-Rock Island, Illinois, and Chicago-Peoria, Illinois.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

One Morning at Chicago Union Station

June 29, 2021

It is Sept. 9. 1995, on the north side of Chicago Union Station. A Hiawatha Service train sits adjacent to the equipment to be used later today for the outbound Empire Builder.

At the time, Hiawatha Service trains were using former Metroliner cab cars. This equipment also was common at the time on the Chicago-Detroit route.

Note the mismatching liveries on the Superliner equipment on the Empire Builder. Amtrak was moving into a new look for its rolling stock and the old and new continued to mix for a while.

The Skyline is Watching

May 10, 2021

The Cleveland skyline watches over a very late westbound Lake Shore Limited as it sits in the station. Dining car Silver Restaurant was built by Budd for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and has carried two roster numbers at Amtrak. The image was made in November 1997.

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.

Looking Down on a Sightseer Lounge

April 9, 2021

On Amtrak trains that are assigned Superliner equipment, the Sightseer lounge is a popular place to hang out and view the passing scenery.

It doesn’t offer the same perspective as a dome car but with its large windows that extend into the ceiling you can still see quite a bit.

Shown is the Sightseer lounge on the westbound Capitol Limited as it sits in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, making its station stop.

I wondered if anyone in the lounge noticed me photographing their train.

Since Nos. 29 and 30 went to tri-weekly operation in October 2020, the Capitol has been running without a Sightseer lounge. Will it be restored for summer operation?

Very Early Amtrak Motive Power

March 14, 2021

It took a couple of years before the locomotives that pulled early Amtrak trains could be repainted into the new passenger carrier’s livery and colors.

Therefore the motive power at Amtrak continued to wear whatever scheme it had when the passenger carrier commenced on May 1, 1971.

In the photograph above, the scene is in Milwaukee in April 1973. At the time, the trains between Chicago and St. Louis continued through to Milwaukee, alternating motive from host railroads Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, and The Milwaukee Road.

In a bit of an anomaly, the photographer caught two locomotives of the two railroads both carrying roster number 103A.

The two GM&O units are E7A units that were leased by Amtrak but never owned by it.

MKE No. 103A is an FP7A that also never was on the Amtrak roster. It was known for pulling the “Cannon Ball,” a Milwaukee Road commuter train between Milwaukee and Watertown, Wisconsin.

Photograph by Robert Farkas