Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Illini’

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.

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.

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.