Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Illini’

Horizon Cars Almost to the Horizon

May 27, 2021

Amtrak’s northbound Illini has finished its station work in Centralia, Illinois, and is headed toward its next station stop in Effingham. Train 392 originated in Carbondale and will end its journey at Chicago Union Station later this evening.

The train has a typical consist for Midwest corridor service of Horizon Fleet coaches along with one lone Amfleet food service car tucked in behind the P42DC locomotive pulling the train.

The image was made on Aug. 4, 2012.

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.

Winter Conditions Cause More Service Disruptions

February 18, 2021

Harsh winter weather continued to lead to delays and cancellations for Amtrak on Wednesday, including in the Midwest.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said a week of temperatures near zero caused a series of “weather-related equipment issues.”

A Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water round trip was cancelled on Wednesday as a result.

Reportedly, the problem involved the train’s two Charger locomotives and Amtrak maintenance was unable to fix the issue.

The same day the Chicago-bound Pere Marquette, which originates in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was terminated at its first intermediate stop in Hollard, Michigan, due to equipment problems.

Passengers were transferred to a bus to complete their journey to their destination.

Several corridor and long-distance trains that did operate on Tuesday and Wednesday encountered lengthy departure delays from Chicago.

After a late Tuesday arrival in Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois, the Saluki was canceled on Wednesday and its counterpart to Carbondale, the Illini, was cancelled that day.

Both trains were cancelled on Wednesday. Reportedly the problem that led to the cancellation of the Illini was a computer issue on the locomotive that locked up the brakes so that they would not release.

Elsewhere, Amtrak canceled trains in Virginia and the Carolinas ahead of a winter storm expected to bring ice and snow to the region.

The Auto Train was cancelled in both directions on today. Also cancelled were trains that terminate at Norfolk, Newport News, and Roanoke in Virginia, and the Palmetto to Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound counterparts to these trains have been cancelled for Thursday and Friday.

In the West the Coast Starlight has resumed operating over its entire route.

However, Wednesday departures of the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles and New Orleans were cancelled.

The Texas Eagle will originate in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday as scheduled. The westbound Texas Eagle will resume departing from Chicago on Friday.

The Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer remains suspended until Feb. 20.

CN Track Work to Disrupt Illinois Service

January 13, 2021

Track work being conducted by host railroad Canadian National will result in the cancellation of Amtrak’s northbound Saluki and southbound Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, on Jan. 15.

In a service advisory Amtrak said no alternative transportation is being provided to any of the stations on the affected day.

Instead, it recommended that passengers choose an alternative date for travel.

The advisory said passengers traveling to or from Champaign or Carbondale would be able to use Amtrak Thruway buses or vans as an alternative.

Those services link Carbondale with St. Louis and Champaign with Normal, Illinois, where passengers would be able to transfer to another Amtrak train.

However, the advisory said travel times via those options will be longer than the normal Amtrak service.

Although service suspensions in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor due to CN track work have occurred before, Amtrak usually provided bus transportation to accommodate displayed passengers.

SB Illini to Run 30 Minutes Later Due to CN Track Work

October 30, 2020

Canadian National track work will result in temporary schedule changes for Amtrak’s Chicago to Carbondale, Illini, between Nov. 2 and 20.

Train 393 during that period will depart Chicago at 4:35 p.m., 30 minutes later than normally scheduled, on Monday through Friday.

Train arrival times will be 30 minutes later than scheduled at all stations to Carbondale.

The normal schedule will be in effect on Saturdays and Sundays.

Track Work to Disrupt Illini, Saluki

May 15, 2020

Track work being performed by host railroad Canadian National has resulted in temporary scheduled changes for Amtrak trains operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

The changes will be in effect on May 15, 19 and 22.

The southbound Illini will operate 30 minutes earlier on May 15 and 22.

The northbound Saluki and southbound Illini will be canceled on May 19 and substitute bus service provided.

Bus 3390 will operate from Carbondale to Chicago, departing Carbondale 1 hour and 45 minutes earlier than the schedule of the train and make all intermediate stops.

Bus 5390 will operate from Carbondale to Chicago, departing Carbondale 30 minutes earlier than the schedule of the train and stopping only at the Champaign-Urbana station.

Bus 3393 will operate from Chicago to Carbondale, departing at 4:05 p.m., making all intermediate stops.

Its arrival in Carbondale will be 1 hour and 55 minutes later than the normal schedule at 11:30 p.m.

Bus 5393 will operate from Chicago to Carbondale, departing Chicago at 4:05 p.m. and stopping only at Champaign.

Its arrival in Carbondale will be 10 minutes later than normal at 9:45 p.m.

Illini to Run Earlier on Fridays

April 28, 2020

Canadian National track work is resulting in Amtrak’s southbound Illini operating 30 minutes earlier on Fridays through May 22.

Train 393, which operates from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, will continue to run on its normal schedule on all other days of the week.

Service Disruptions Set for March 20 in Illinois Corridor

March 13, 2020

Track work being performed by Canadian National will result in service cancellations and schedule changes in Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans corridor on March 20.

Trains 390 (northbound Saluki) and 393 (southbound Illini) will be canceled.

Alternative transportation will be provided to all stations between Chicago and Carbondale.

The northbound Illini will depart Carbondale at 7:30 p.m., which is 3 hours, 15 minutes later than normal.

It will operate on that schedule all the way to Chicago where it is expected to arrive at 1:25 a.m.

The southbound City of New Orleans scheduled to depart Chicago on March 20 is also canceled.

It will be replaced by Train 1059, which will leave Chicago at 1:30 a.m., which is 5 hours, 25 minutes later than the normal schedule of Train 59.

It will operate on this schedule all the way to New Orleans.

Earlier this week, CN track work had led to the northbound Saluki operating 30 minutes later than normal on two days from Carbondale to Chicago.

CN Increases Speed Limit for Amtrak in Illinois

February 8, 2020

It might look like the City of New Orleans but this is actually the southbound Saluki racing through Pesotum, Illinois, on Feb. 2, 2020, with Superliner equipment.

Canadian National is allowing Amtrak trains to operate at higher speeds in some locations between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

An online report said CN increased the speed limit for passenger trains between Homewood (MP 23.5) to MP 3 from 65 mph to 79 mph.

The speed was increased on Main Tracks 3 and 4 south of Homewood to Stuenkel from 40 mph to 79 mph.

The report said this has reduced the delays incurred by the northbound Illini meeting the southbound City of New Orleans south of Homewood, which it sometimes does when the Illini is running late.

Nos. 59 and 392 should pass each other north of Homewood if both trains are on time.

On many occasions the trains have met near Kankakee or farther south.

Amtrak also has assigned a set of Superliner equipment to the train set that makes up the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

One report is that the set has four coaches and three sleepers although the latter are unoccupied and designed to enable Amtrak trains to meet a CN-mandated minimum axle count.

In the meantime, the train set covering the northbound Saluki and southbound Illini continues to use single-level equipment that CN requires to slow for grade crossings.

Superliner equipment reportedly has no such speed restrictions at crossings.

The Tennessee Passenger Expansion Waltz: A Serious Proposal or Just a Talking Point for Public Consumption?

January 18, 2020

The news this past week that an Amtrak executive spoke to a Tennessee legislative transportation committee is being seen by some as the first tangible step that Amtrak is moving to seek to implement a vision that CEO Richard Anderson has been articulating for more than a year.

Anderson and Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner have spoken in interviews and occasional appearances about transforming Amtrak’s route network to one more focused on corridor service between urban centers, particularly growing metropolitan areas.

They repeatedly have hammered home the point that many of the nation’s fastest growing cities are unserved by Amtrak or underserved by trains arriving at inconvenient hours.

Such talk has alarmed many rail passenger advocates who see is as code language that means dismantling the carrier’s long-distance routes.

Indeed Anderson and Gardner have been bad mouthing long-distance trains, saying they lose money and could be restructured into the type of corridor services they have described in principle.

Amtrak’s aborted efforts to truncate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief by creating a bus bridge between western Kansas and Albuquerque is often cited as Exhibit A of Anderson’s plan to kill long-distance passenger trains aside from one or two “experiential trains.”

Waltzing in Tennessee

The appearance of Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, at a meeting of the Tennessee House Transportation Committee was significant for a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, it was the first time Amtrak has named a specific route that fits the criteria that Anderson and Gardner have been talking up.

That route would link Atlanta and Nashville, but Lang also talked about extending a pair of Midwest corridor trains to Memphis.

Second, it offered concrete proof that Amtrak expects state and local governments to pay for its vision of the future of rail passenger travel.

It is not clear why Amtrak chose Tennessee as the opening act for what promises to be lengthy process.

Perhaps Amtrak has quietly sounded out other states on their interest in ponying up money for new rail passenger service and we just haven’t heard about it.

Or perhaps Amtrak projects the Tennessee routes as among the most likely to succeed.

The news reports out of the Volunteer State generally portrayed a favorable reception to Amtrak’s proposals with some legislators speaking well of the prospect of rail passenger service where none exists now.

Atlanta and Nashville have never been linked by Amtrak and Tennessee’s capitol has been off the Amtrak route network since the Floridian makes its final trips between Chicago and Florida in early October 1979.

Amtrak probably viewed its road show in Nashville as a first step. It might also have been seeking to gauge the interest of Tennessee lawmakers in funding the service.

An Amtrak spokesman and CSX executive said as much.

“We are also talking to current state partners regarding how additional frequencies might be implemented,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari to Trains magazine.

“This is the first we’re seeing of this,” CSX State Government and Community Affairs VP Jane Covington said during the committee hearing.

Covington said it was her understanding that Amtrak was trying “to simply gauge the state’s interest.”

Whatever the case, nothing is imminent and there is no assurance that the routes discussed will ever operate.

There are numerous hurdles the service needs to clear starting with the willingness of Tennessee legislators to spend the money to underwrite the operating losses of the trains, which have been estimated at $3 million annually.

State and local governments also will likely be asked to advance money for capital expenditures on such things as stations.

Warning Shots Fired

Other players in the process will also play a role in whether the trains operate.

Chief among them is would-be host railroad CSX.

CSX’s Covington fired a warning shot across the bow in saying, “introducing passenger trains to heavily used freight lines will be a complex, costly process.

“And I understand that you guys are hearing from your constituents about the crowded roads, and you’re obviously looking for solutions to that. But we want to make sure you do it in a way to make sure it doesn’t backfire and divert freight off the rails and onto the highways.”

That’s another way of saying that CSX will demand some very expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to host the trains.

More than likely the price tag for those projects will be more than state lawmakers are willing to pay for a service that Amtrak said will lose money.

Another player will be the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds the trains now operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, that Amtrak has proposed extending to Memphis.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari said it would be relatively easy to have the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini serve Memphis because Amtrak already has crews based in Carbondale who operate the City of New Orleans on host railroad Canadian National between Carbondale and Memphis.

But what looks easy or even possible on paper may not be so in practice. IDOT will want assurance that its interests won’t be harmed in any rescheduling of the trains.

An unknown about the additional service to Memphis is whether the state of Kentucky would be willing to help fund trains that run through their state.

Looming in the background is the Sept. 30 expiration of the current surface transportation act that authorizes Amtrak funding among other things.

No one in Congress has yet released to the public a draft surface transportation bill and details about what those drafts will ultimately contain have been scarce.

“It’s going to take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to redo the surface transportation bill,” said Amtrak’s Lang in the legislature hearing.

He reiterated the rhetoric that Anderson and Gardner have been using in suggesting that without a restructuring of its route network Amtrak will wither away.

“We think this presents us an opportunity to really transform the company,” Lang said.

Magliari echoed that theme in his interview with Trains when he said the passenger carrier is engaging in outreach efforts to enlist future support from states now underserved by outlining what routes might be viable.

History Lessons

At the time that Amtrak began in May 1971, the only intercity passenger service between Nashville and Atlanta was the former Georgian of the Louisville & Nashville.

That train operated with single coach between St. Louis and Atlanta and had a travel time of seven hours between Nashville and Atlanta.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Florida route served Nashville but not via Atlanta.

The planners who set up Amtrak’s initial route network considered operating between Nashville and Atlanta but declined to do so due to difficult operating conditions, including a top speed of 40 miles per hour between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

Another complication was that Amtrak would need to build a station in Georgia’s capitol city.

The Floridian was one of Amtrak’s most troubled trains and then Amtrak President Paul Resitrup said in 1977 that its future was hopeless unless it could be routeded via Atlanta.

In April 1978 Amtrak announced a preliminary plan to route the Floridian via Atlanta, but it fell apart when L&N refused to host the train, citing freight train congestion.

The Southern Railway demanded $20 million in track improvements as its price for hosting the Floridian to Atlanta.

The Floridian never made it to Atlanta before its 1979 discontinuance.

In October 1989 Congress directed Amtrak to study resuming service between Chicago and Florida via Atlanta.

That plan has the support of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which hosted a conference at which then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. said the train would only become reality with financial support from the states along the route.

That never materialized and opposition from CSX and Norfolk Southern torpedoed a demonstration route during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Claytor was involved in another effort to revive passenger service to Atlanta in the early 2000s.

That proposal was to extend the Kentucky Cardinal to Nashville from Louisville and a test train ran over the route in December 2001.

Amtrak told CSX it wanted to extend the Kentucky Cardinal over the 181-mile route once owned by L&N and used by the Floridian.

Claytor told a congressional committee he was bending over backwards and making every effort to get passenger service to Nashville.

Apparently Claytor couldn’t bend far enough or do enough because Amtrak still hasn’t returned to Nashville.

Political Strategy

All involved have been careful to emphasize that the proposed Nashville-Atlanta service is still in the idea stage.

Much needs to happen to make this train a reality and a best case scenario is it will be four to five years – or more – before the Music City Peach or whatever name it is given appears in the Amtrak timetable.

You have to wonder just how serious Amtrak is about its vision of bringing frequent daylight service to unserved or underserved corridors linking growing metropolitan areas.

Lang said this week in Nashville, “Our route map doesn’t really reflect where the nation’s population has shifted to — places like Nashville, Louisville, Columbus and Las Vegas that we don’t serve at all.”

Those make for good talking points, but Amtrak management must know based on its experience in working with host railroads how obstinate and demanding they can be.

It also must know that asking states for money is one thing but getting it is another. Remember the Hoosier State?

The Rail Passengers Association commented on its website on Friday, “CSX is required by law to host Amtrak trains, but has the ability to price state DOTs and Amtrak out of the market if it so chooses.”

RPA, Amtrak and anyone who has paid any attention at all to the behavior of Amtrak’s host railroads knows how they have wielded that power on multiple occasions.

Rail passenger advocates by nature must put on an optimistic face so RPA also said this about Tennessee service expansion proposal: “State officials will have to act accordingly, and work to bring all stakeholder groups onboard.”

That is much easier said than done particularly given that Tennessee has never funded Amtrak service and it is not know how committed state policy makers are to seeing through what Amtrak has proposed.

Has any else noticed that no one is talking about whether the Nashville-Atlanta service will need funding from Georgia, another state that has never funded Amtrak service?

This is not to say it can’t be done, but it won’t be easy and going into this process the odds are stacked against the prospect.

Amtrak’s top management probably has convinced itself that it really can have the type of network that Anderson and Gardner keep harping about.

But are they serious? Or is this just another talking point to be used to strategic advantage to provide political cover as management goes about scuttling the long-distance trains?

Amtrak could offer its plan to, say, carve up the route of the Capitol Limited into a Chicago-Pittsburgh service funded by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

When that funding fails to materialize, Amtrak can say it tried to “save” service to those states but their elected lawmakers declined to pay for it.

Don’t blame us, go talk to the folks in Harrisburg, Columbus, Indianapolis and Springfield because they’re the ones who made the decision.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak is actually going to release a master plan that spells out what specific new services it envisions.

That plan, if is exists, will look impressive and get a lot of people excited just as the Amtrak road show in Tennessee did this week.

But I can’t help but wonder if it will be just another plan that winds up sitting in a drawer somewhere as Amtrak shrinks to a company with service in the Northeast and a few other state-supported corridors.