Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’

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.

Waiting to Board in Joliet

November 23, 2021

It is early in the Amtrak era and the wayback machine has landed us in Joliet, Illinois, at the Union Station. This was a good place to watch passenger trains in the early 1970s as it hosted Amtrak trains to St. Louis, Houston and Los Angeles, as well as Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific trains to Peoria and Rock Island. And that is not to mention commuter trains to and from Chicago.

A large crowd of passengers has gathered on the platform to board the Abraham Lincoln to St. Louis. The train is still operating with Gulf, Mobile & Ohio E7 passenger locomotives. No. 101 had been built by EMD in March 1945 for The Alton Road and has passed this station countless times over the years.

It was being leased by Amtrak and never joined the national passenger carrier’s permanent motive power roster.

If you look back in the consist you’ll see that there is a dome car.

The dispatcher must be planning to take the “Abe” out of town via the Santa Fe because it has come in on a Santa Fe track.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

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.

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 Rolling Out New Ticket Kiosks

November 4, 2021

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is amtrak-kiosk.jpg

New ticket kiosks are being rolled out by Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor that will eventually be installed throughout its system.

In a news release, Amtrak said the kiosks contain “an updated user interface consistent with other Amtrak digital channels that allows for a minimum-touch experience for the most common in-station transactions.”

Passengers will be able to activate the kiosks by touch, card swipe, barcode scan, or inserting a headset.

The kiosks are 48 inches tall, ADA compliant and eventually will be set up for contactless payment and the sending of tickets to a passenger’s email address.

In time Amtrak said it will install more than 200 of the kiosks at more than 150 stations. They will replace Quick-Trak machines that have been in service for almost two decades.

More information is available at https://media.amtrak.com/2021/10/amtrak-debuts-new-ticket-kiosks-with-national-rollout/

Illinois Zephyr Launched 50 Years Ago Today

November 4, 2021

The eastbound Illinois Zephyr (left) meets the westbound Carl Sandburg at Mendota, Illinois, on Aug. 6, 2008

As Amtrak prepared to begin operations on May 1, 1971, dozens of communities across the country faced the loss of intercity rail passenger service because the trains serving them had not been chosen to operate under the Amtrak banner.

Among them were the Western Illinois cities of Quincy and Macomb, both of which were served by trains of Burlington Northern. Both cities were stops for the Chicago-North Kansas City American Royal Zephyr and unnamed Nos. 5/6 between Chicago and West Quincy, Missouri. Nos. 5/6 has once been known as the Kansas City Zephyr but was now known informally as the “Quincy Local.”

BN forerunner Chicago, Burlington & Quincy had sought to end the Kansas City Zephyr in late 1967 but 800 people, including 700 college students and their parents had opposed the move, leading the Interstate Commerce Commission to order the train to continue operating between Chicago and West Quincy. Students attending Western Illinois University in Macomb were heavy uses of Burlington passenger trains and the Burlington operated 24 specials a year to accommodate them.

Macomb had no airline service and no direct intercity bus service or interstate highway to Chicago, where many students were from. Quincy College also had a contingent of students from Chicago who took the train to campus.

With the “Quincy Local” set to make its final trips on April 30, 1971, officials of WIU, Quincy College, and the cities of Quincy and Macomb went to court on April 28, 1971, where Federal District Court Judge Joseph Sam Perry issued an injunction ordering BN to continue to operate the “Quincy Local.” The court vacated the injunction on May 10 and the “Quincy Local” was prompted discontinued.

But Quincy College and its allies weren’t through with their fight to preserve intercity rail passenger service to their communities. They filed suit In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, arguing that the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, as Amtrak is formally known, was an unconstitutional attempt to regulate commerce that is solely intrastate.

A three-judge panel on June 21 disagreed and also rebuffed the argument of the plaintiffs that discontinuance of the “Quincy Local” violated section 403(b) of the 1970 Act, which authorized Amtrak to operate service beyond its initial basic route network if management thought it would be prudent to do so. The court’s decision was appealed and on Feb. 22, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court.

But even as Quincy College and its fellow plaintiffs were in court, legislation had been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to appropriate $4 million to pay for service to Quincy and Macomb under section 403(b), which enabled state and local governments to request Amtrak service if they agreed to pay two-thirds of the operating deficit.

The bill was approved and the Illinois Zephyr began operating between Chicago and West Quincy, Missouri, on Nov. 4, 1971, with intermediate stops at LaGrange Road in the Chicago suburbs, Aurora, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg and Macomb.

Service began at Plano on April 30, 1972, while Naperville replaced Aurora as a station stop on April 28, 1985. Service to Quincy proper began April 24, 1983. After flooding damaged the West Quincy station in July 1993, Quincy became the western terminus for the Illinois Zephyr on May 1, 1994.

Service on the Chicago-Quincy route expanded to two daily roundtrips on Oct. 30, 2006, with the inauguration of the Carl Sandburg. The Illinois Zephyr continued its traditional schedule of leaving Quincy in early morning and arriving in Chicago by 10:30 a.m. while departing Chicago in early evening for a 10 p.m. arrival in Quincy.

The Carl Sandburg, which was named for a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and biographer who had been born in Galesburg, was scheduled to depart Chicago at 8 a.m. and arrive in Quincy shortly after noon. The return trip to Chicago left Quincy in late afternoon and arrived in Chicago before 10 p.m.

As it marks its 50th anniversary, the Illinois Zephyr holds the distinction of being Amtrak’s continuously operated state-sponsored train. The Chicago-Quincy route is one of four Midwest corridor routes radiating from Chicago funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation. The other routes are Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Carbondale; and Chicago-Milwaukee, the latter funded in part by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

An Early Look at Amtrak’s New Motive Power

November 4, 2021

Amtrak ALC-42 Nos. 300 and 301 were testing in Michigan last week. No. 301 is a one-off Day One 50th Anniversary unit that itself was a one-off design applied in 1971 to a Penn Central E8A for an Amtrak first day of operation ceremony. No. 300 has the Phase VI livery. I caught them resting at Jackson, Michigan, near the old New York Central shops.  

Photographs by Todd Dillon

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.

California Zephyr to Resume Running in Colorado

August 5, 2021

Amtrak’s California Zephyr will resume operating over its full route after host railroad Union Pacific reopened tracks in Colorado that had been blocked by mudslides.

The mudslides had halted the Zephyr between Denver and Grand Junction, Colorado, since July 30.

No. 5 leaving Chicago today (Aug. 5) and No. 6 leaving Emeryville, California, today will be the first to travel through Colorado.

Those trains are expected to pick up passengers who have been stranded since the mudslides disrupted service.

Both will travel through the affected areas on Friday (Aug. 6). The route through the Colorado Rockies is a former Denver & Rio Grande Western line.

The mudslides were triggered by heavy rains and were most pronounced in areas in which wildfires last year had burned.

Also affected was nearby Interstate 70, which was closed by mudslides as well.