Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s City of New Orleans’

CN Bridge Work Affects Saluki, Illini

March 19, 2022

A bridge project being conducted by host railroad Canadian National will affect the operation of Amtrak trains in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor March 19-21.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said Nos. 390 and 393 will not operate between Chicago and Homewood, Illinois, on all three days.

Passengers will be transported by bus between those two stations.

Train 390, the northbound Saluki, and Train 393, the southbound Illini, will originate and terminate in Homewood.

Train 390 will depart Carbondale at 8 a.m., 30 minutes later than normal while Train 393 will depart Homewood at 5:16 p.m., 30 minutes later than normal.

The bridge work will not affect operations of the City of New Orleans, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

Tennessee Amtrak Expansion Study Proposed

February 25, 2022

Two Tennessee state lawmakers have introduced legislation to direct a state agency to conduct a study of the feasibility of Amtrak service within the Volunteer state.

The study would review launching service within Tennessee connecting Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis.

A similar bill was approved by the state senate in 2020 but languished in the house after that body adjourned earlier than expected due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Tennessee is currently served by one Amtrak train, the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, which stops in Memphis and Newbern.

Until early October 1979 the Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian stopped in Nashville before that train was discontinued during an Amtrak route restructuring.

Amtrak has proposed establishing corridor service between Nashville and Atlanta via Chattanooga.

The idea has been subject of legislative hearings but the state has yet to commit funding to the proposal.

The study of Tennessee Amtrak service expansion would be conducted by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations and focus on cost and feasibility.

Tonti: Site of Amtrak’s First Fatal Derailment

February 5, 2022

Looking north on the CN Champaign Subdivision at Tonti, Illinois. The June 10, 1971 derailment began just beyond that switch.
A battered sign identifies Tonti, Illinois. Shown is the crossing of CN and County Road 20

Tonti, Illinois, is a mere wide spot in the road with a few houses, a business catering to agriculture, and a grade crossing on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National.

On June 10, 1971, Tonti briefly occupied the national spotlight as the location of Amtrak’s first fatal train derailment, which left 11 dead and 163 injured.

That was the most fatalities in a derailment involving an Amtrak train until the Jan. 4, 1987, derailment of the northbound Colonial at Chase, Maryland, which collided with three Conrail locomotives that had failed to stop for a red signal. The Chase collision left 16 dead.

I was reminded of the Tonti derailment this week when the first quarter 2022 issue of Passenger Train Journal arrived in my mailbox.

It contains a story written by Robert P. Schmidt about what caused Amtrak’s first fatal derailment with the author describing it as the culmination of a series of events that if any one of them had occurred in isolation would not have led to a serious accident.

Accompanying the story are photographs, some of which I’ve never seen before.

Reading that story reminded me that I visited Tonti in early August 2012 while railfanning the former Illinois Central mainline from Effingham to Centralia.

That prompted me to dig into a digital folder to find photographs I had almost forgotten that I had made.

The story of the Tonti derailment has been told many times although as usually happens with such events they tend to get forgotten or relegated to footnote status.

The train was the southbound City of New Orleans, which at the time was operating as Illinois Central Train 1. The operating crew was employed by the IC, which also owned the four locomotives and the train’s 15 passenger cars.

It was a transition era. The passenger equipment carried no Amtrak markings or heralds. The IC herald on the nose of the lead locomotive have been painted over.

That was typical in Amtrak’s early weeks when the newly-formed company had a skeletal staff and its host railroads operated, staffed and maintained equipment and trains that these companies had, by and large,operated before Amtrak began on May 1, 1971.

Train 1 had departed Chicago Central Station at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 1:30 a.m. the next day. It had left its scheduled stop in Effingham at 11:53 a.m., nearly a half hour late.

The IC operator at Edgewood reported No. 1 past at 12:05 p.m. Unknown to the crew or any of the railroad employees who inspected the train as it passed them, the axles of two wheels in the trailing tuck of lead engine E8A No. 4031 had locked and slid along the rails for 27 miles after No. 1 departed Effingham. One of those wheels developed a 10-inch flat spot and a false flange.

Twenty-miles south of Edgewood, No. 1 came to a crossover at Tonti. Just beyond the crossover switch was a turnout for a business track to a grain elevator that diverged from the southbound mainline track.

This section of the IC had an automatic train stop system and passenger trains were authorized speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. No. 1 averaged 97 mph between Effingham and Tonti.

Engineer Lacy Haney would say later he felt a bump as the 4031 passed over the south crossover switch and then noticed his locomotive start to derail. The locomotive turned over on its right side and slid on the ground nearly 400 feet.

Haney and his fireman survived the crash and crawled out the side of the engine facing upward.

Six passenger cars and the baggage car also turned over on their sides. The remaining eight cars remained upright but most had jackknifed.

Six of those killed were ejected through broken windows and trapped beneath the side of their coach.

Many of the injured were taken to a hospital in nearby Salem. Most of the first responders came from there and the IC presented the town with a plaque recognizing the townspeople for their help. Some even took passengers from the train into their homes until they could continue their journey or return home.

The plaque, which is now in the Salem Area Historical Museum, has attached to it a silver plated bent spike from the derailment site.

One passenger who was killed in the derailment was never identified and is buried in the Salem cemetery. A headstone was donated by a local funeral home director.

Accidents are part of any transportation company’s history. Amtrak’s deadliest crash occurred Sept. 22, 1993, when the Sunset Limited struck an out-of-alignment bridge at Big Bayou Canot in Alabama, leaving 47 dead.

The City of New Orleans would be involved in a derailment on March 15, 1999, that left 11 dead. The southbound train, by now numbered No. 59, struck a truck at a grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

* * * * *

Aug. 4, 2012, was a warm sunny day in south central Illinois as I set out to follow the former IC mainline. I had planned to stop in Tonti to see the location of a derailment I had read about many times.

Much has changed since 1971, including Amtrak operations. Five months after the derailment of IC No. 1, Amtrak renumbered all of its trains.

The Chicago-New Orleans trains were numbered 58 and 59, placed on an overnight schedules and renamed the Panama Limited. The CONO name was revived on Feb. 1, 1981.

Amtrak didn’t want much of IC’s passenger locomotives and cars and by middle to late summer 1971, they were being replaced with equipment with different railroad heritages. It wasn’t long before that equipment had taken on an Amtrak identity.

Starting in May 1989, IC began single tracking its mainline between Chicago and Memphis in favor of passing sidings and centralized traffic control.

In Tonti, that meant removing the southbound mainline track and the crossover that had figured in the 1971 derailment.

Although the business track in Tonti was retained, by the time I got there in 2012 the grain elevator had been razed and the business track made into a stub-end track that ends before County Road 20 (a.k.a Tonti Road).

A farm-oriented business still exists on the site and perhaps it gets occasional bulk shipments such as fertilizer.

Also gone is the grade crossing of County Road 900. Aerial photographs of the derailment show overturned cars on their sides blocking that road.

My stay in Tonti was brief.  I snapped a few photographs and continued southward. It was quiet and no CN or Amtrak trains were nearby. In fact, I would not see a CN train the rest of the day.

Nor did I find a historical marker or monument commemorating the 1971 derailment.

I did discover while conducting research for this article that in 2003 a band known as the Chicago Kingsnakes released a song titled Tonti Train Wreck.

You can also find some YouTube programs containing photos made of the derailment.

As for what the site looks like today, the top two photographs are looking north toward the derailment site.

In the distance is the bridge carrying Interstate 57 over the tracks. At least two drivers on that highway that day saw the derailment unfolding below them.

One of them got off at the next exit and found a gas station from which to call for help.

I presume the switch to the business siding is still where it was in 1971. The crossover switches would have been just beyond that.

The derailed train came to rest in the area between the I-57 bridge and the area you can see closest to the camera.

Photographs from 1971 show the property on both sides of the tracks to have been an open area then. Trees have since grown up along both sides of the tracks.

I wouldn’t say the Tonti derailment has been forgotten. But like any historical event, it takes on lesser importance as the population comes to be dominated by those who did not live through it.

In a sidebar article in the aforementioned issue of Passenger Train Journal, Preston Cook wrote that the legacy of the Tonti derailment was the development of training programs for first responders as to how to best respond to a passenger train derailment.

That has included planned coordination of responses to railroad accidents and training of first responders to educate them on the unique qualities of rail transportation.

The National Transportation Safety Board had recommended such improvements in its report on the Tonti derailment.

* * * * *

I’m thinking of going back to Tonti this year, perhaps in late spring or early summer to photograph Amtrak’s southbound Saluki passing through at about the same time as IC No. 1 did 50 years ago.

Amtrak No. 391 operates on a schedule similar to what IC’s City of New Orleans followed for many years.

It’s doubtful that many Amtrak passengers riding through Tonti today know about what happened there 50 years ago.

I wonder how many of the Amtrak operating personnel know about it or ever think about that wreck as they rush through.

Some disasters are the subject of books and inspire movies. Others may be remembered by the occasional magazine or newspaper article, particularly on an anniversary of the disaster.

Eventually, they all wind up occupying only a distant part of our collective consciousness.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Amtrak Updates Winter Storm Service Cuts

February 3, 2022

Amtrak has updated its list of service cancellations and modifications due to winter storm Landon. The update includes service changes set for Friday.

Today (Feb. 3) the following trains have been cancelled:

The Cardinal from Chicago to New York; the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington; the Saluki from Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago; the Illini from Chicago to Carbondale; Lincoln Service Nos. 300 and 302 from St. Louis to Chicago; the Pere Marquette from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago; all Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Pontiac, Michigan; the Blue Water in both directions between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan; the Missouri River Runners in both directions between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; the City of New Orleans in both directions between Chicago and New Orleans; and the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas.

Some trains today will operate on modified schedules. They include the Vermonter, which will terminate and originate at New Haven, Connecticut; and the northbound Ethan Allen Express, which will terminate at Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

On Friday (Feb. 4) the Missouri River Runner is cancelled from Kansas City to St. Louis.

Also on Friday the Vermonter will terminate and originate in New Haven while the Ethan Allen Express will originate in Albany-Rensselaer.

In an unrelated development, the southbound City of New Orleans that departed Chicago on Monday was terminated south of Greenwood, Mississippi, on Tuesday.

Amtrak said alternate bus transportation was provided for the passengers. Amtrak said on Titter that the train halted south of Greenwood due to a vehicle incident.

Racing North Near Leverett

December 22, 2021

To appreciate this image it probably helps if you grew up in a place with a lot of flat farmland.

Shown is Amtrak’s City of New Orleans racing northbound toward Chicago near Leverett, Illinois, shortly after sunrise on a Sunday morning.

No. 58 was more than an hour behind schedule leaving Champaign. The train is on the Chicago Subdivision of Canadian National, which at one time was the mainline of the Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans.

As for what I, an east central Illinois native, see in this photograph, I see familiarity. There are no striking physical features such as mountains and valleys, just farmland and in the distance traces of urbanization in Champaign-Urbana. Above the Superliner cars you also can see the top of the grain elevator at Leverett.

This is all familiar to me and in a way comforting.

I would not have been able to get this image had No. 58 been on time as it would have been dark as it passed through here. It was a nice way to get a day of railfanning off to a good start.

If you look closely, you will see there is frost on the crossties of the CN track. Temperatures were in the 20 when I made this photograph on a winter morning.

I later checked and determined No. 58 halted at Chicago Union Station 58 minutes late.

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.

Carbondale Waiting Room Closed for Some Trains

July 21, 2021

The waiting room of the Amtrak station in Carbondale, Illinois, has been closed temporarily for Trains 391 (southbound Saluki) and 392 (northbound Illini) until further notice.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that trains will continue to stop at the station and passengers will have access to platforms.

Passengers traveling on Trains 391 and 392 will not have access to the inside of the station or restrooms during this time.

The waiting room will be available for other trains, including the City of New Orleans in both directions and the northbound Saluki and southbound Illini.

Temporary Changes at 3 Amtrak Stations

June 27, 2021

Temporary changes have affected operations at three Amtrak stations.

In Eugene, Oregon, the Amtrak Thruway stop for the University of Oregon has temporarily moved due to events taking place in the current location.

The temporary stop is on Alder and East 18th Street at the Clinical Services Building.

In McComb, Mississippi, the waiting room of the Amtrak station has temporarily closed due to fire damage.

Amtrak’s City of New Orleans will continue to stop at the station and passengers will have access to boarding platforms.

There will be no public access to the inside of the station or restrooms during this time. Trains will board on the north end of the platform by the parking lot.

At the station in Santa Ana, California, elevators will be out of service between June 28 and July 1 due to maintenance work.

Affected are pedestrian bridge elevators 1 and 2. The boarding platform will be accessible by stairs or along Santa Ana Boulevard.

Passengers requiring an elevator may also board at the local stations of Irvine or Anaheim.

Fire Damages Mississippi Amtrak Station

June 2, 2021

A former Illinois Central Railroad Station in Mississippi that is still used by Amtrak was damaged by fire this week.

The fire in the station in McComb occurred in the north end of the depot where a local history museum has its offices and archives.

News reports indicated the station, which was built in 1901, was on fire when the southbound City of New Orleans arrived for its station stop.

McComb fire chief Gary McKenzie estimated 90 percent of the museum’s artifacts were located in the building’s south end and could be saved. McKenzie expressed confidence that the depot’s basic structure could be salvaged.

The station had been renovated in 1998 and has housed a museum since 2001.

CONO To Operate Later NB Due to CN Track Work

March 19, 2021

Canadian National track work will disrupt the operations of the northbound City of New Orleans between March 17 and May 12.

No. 58 will operate as Train 1058 and depart New Orleans on Wednesdays and Fridays at 2:45 p.m. 60 minutes later than normal.

It will operate on this later schedule at all stations from New Orleans to McComb, Mississippi, where it will hold until 4:42 p.m., 70 minutes later than normal and operate on a later schedule at all stations between McComb and Jackson, Mississippi.

It will then hold at Jackson until 7:14 p.m., 90 minutes later than normal and operate on a later schedule at all stations from Jackson to Chicago.

Train 58 will operate normally on Sundays during this time period.