Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-Carbondale corridor’

45 Years Later My Memories of My First Amtrak Trip Still Resonate

November 25, 2017

Forty-five years ago today I stood on the platform of the Illinois Central Railroad passenger station in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, in the early morning hours awaiting the arrival of Amtrak train No. 58.

It would be my first ever trip aboard Amtrak, a day trip to Chicago. It would mark my first experience riding in a dome car and my first experience eating dinner in an Amtrak dining car.

I’ve since ridden Amtrak dozens of times and had a full range of experiences good, bad and indifferent.

But none can quite compare to that first trip, which I still remember in some detail as though it happened not that long ago.

For example, I still remember the sound of the brake shoes being applied every time No. 58 approached a town where another rail line crossed at grade.

I also still remember the rush that I felt when I spotted the headlight of No. 58 a mile or so out of town as I stood on the platform. Train time was at hand.

The Panama Limited was about a half-hour late when it arrived in Mattoon and I was disappointed when I saw that the lead locomotive was painted in Amtrak colors rather than those of the ICRR.

The trailing unit still wore an IC livery as did the two units that pulled No. 59 that evening back to Mattoon.

Amtrak was 19 months old on Nov. 25, 1972, and still in he rainbow era in which cars refurbished in Amtrak colors and markings mingled with cars still in their as-received condition from Amtrak’s contract railroads.

I was impressed with the interiors of the refurbished cars with their blue seats and walls with paisley accenting. They looked modern. Today, when I see one of those cars in a museum or on an excursion train they look so Seventies.

At the time of my first Amtrak trip, I was a college student and my traveling companion was my sister’s boyfriend. He was still in high school.

In retrospect, I’m surprised that our parents let us travel to the big city by ourselves as neither of us really knew Chicago and we had some difficulty time finding Union Station to return home after a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry.

We had ridden a CTA bus to and from the museum and back but we had had no idea which routes went where.

I had noticed when the train arrived in Mattoon that morning that it had a dome car toward the front of the train.

By chance it was a car or two ahead of the coach in which we had been seated and shortly after the train left Kankakee I asked the conductor if we could sit up there.

“I don’t see why not,” was the reply.

It was dome sleeper and I didn’t know there were such things. It would turn out to be the only time that I rode in one.

As No. 58 made the turn to get onto the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, I had a view from the dome of the coach yard of the former Central Station.

It was filled with passenger cars wearing IC colors and markings. By November 1972, passenger cars in the IC livery were uncommon on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains that I saw. IC passenger locomotives, though, were still the norm.

An IC employee was sitting in the dome section and had a radio. It was the first time I had heard railroad radio transmissions.

We halted and the engineer said on the radio, “Weldon Tower would you tell them that 58 is sitting here. Waiting. ”

I guess we didn’t have the signal yet from Union Avenue interlocking on the Burlington Northern.

No. 58 was scheduled to arrive into Chicago Union Station at 9:30 a.m. and we backed in shortly after 10 a.m.

Despite our adventures or misadventures in finding the correct CTA bus routes we got back in plenty of time to catch our train.

I remember a station announcement that still sticks in my mind because I’ve haven’t heard a boarding announcement quite like it since.

It came from the booming voice of man who wasn’t so much announcing the train’s pending departure as commanding passengers to get on board.

“Your attention please! Amtrak train No. 59, the Panama Limited, intends to leave at six ten p.m.”

It was the use of and emphasis on the word “intends” that got my attention.

This was a transition time between the era of passenger trains operated by the freight railroads and the Amtrak culture that was still taking root.

My ticket, which had cost $11, was on Amtrak stock and placed inside an Amtrak ticket envelope. But it had been endorsed with an ICRR stamp and issued by an IC employee.

My next Amtrak trip in December 1972 had a ticket issued on former Pennsylvania Railroad stock and placed inside a Penn Central ticket envelope.

Not long after the Panama Limited left Chicago, we made our way to the dining car. It had angled tables and seating, something I’d never seen and have not seen since.

I don’t remember what I ordered but am sure it was one of the least expensive items on the menu.

I was impressed with the efficiency of the waiters and their business-like approach to the job. They were constantly going back and forth from the dining area to the kitchen and doing so with authority as they carried their trays.

These men probably had worked for the IC or some other railroad before Amtrak and everything about them was old school.

There were a lot more of them than is the case aboard today’s Amtrak dining cars.

After dinner, we took it upon ourselves to go back to the dome car, figuring that the “permission” we had received that morning was still good that evening.

It was neat to see the signal bridges ahead as No. 59 rushed southbound. The green signal would turn to red shortly after the lead locomotive passed it.

A couple of sleeping car attendants – they might have still been routinely referred to as porters then – were sitting in the dome section and asked us if we were sleeping car passengers.

We were not.  One of them replied that the dome was supposed to be for those in the sleepers.

He didn’t exactly order us to leave, but we had gotten the message. We stayed for a few more minutes and then went back to our coach seats.

The trip seemed to end all too quickly. It had been slightly longer than three hours.

I stepped off the train in Mattoon feeling awed by the whole experience. I wanted to do it again and often, but it would be a few more years before I was in a position to do that.

By then Amfleet cars had come to the Midwest and Superliners were on the horizon. The Amtrak culture had taken a firm hold. The private railroad passenger service era had faded away.

Between 1994 and 2014 I would ride Amtrak from Cleveland to Mattoon a couple times a year to visit my Dad.

Every time I stood on the platform in Mattoon to wait for the City of New Orleans or the Saluki for Chicago, I would look to the south for the headlight of the approaching train and be taken back to that morning in November 1972 when my first experience with Amtrak was seeing the headlight of a EMD E unit charging northward into my memory.

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Saluki to Depart 2 Hours Earlier

October 4, 2017

Amtrak’s southbound Saluki will depart Chicago two hours earlier on weekdays between Oct. 8 and 27 due to Canadian National track work.

Train 391 will operate two hours earlier at al stations en route to Carbondale, Illinois. Intermediate stops are made at Homewood, Kankakee, Gilman, Rantoul, Champaign-Urbana, Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia and Du Quoin.

The scheduled departure time of the Saluki from Chicago is 8:15 a.m. but during the work window it will leve at 6:15 a.m.

The work window will be in effect Oct. 9-13, 16-20 and 23-27,

Taking Amtrak to the Eclipse

August 24, 2017

About 400 people boarded an Amtrak train in Chicago at 3 a.m. this week to go see the solar eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois.

The Amtrak special followed the former Illinois Central Railroad route used by Amtrak trains between the two cities.

The first visible coast-to-coast eclipse in the United States since 1918, had the longest lasting totality over Carbondale.

The special sold out in 22 hours once ticket sales were announced. It also stopped in Champaign-Urbana where 55 passengers boarded.

News accounts quoted passengers as saying the trip was convenient.

“When Amtrak announced it, we thought it was a great idea; and going down and coming back in a day is great,” Tim Costello said. “It’s going to be a great experience to see a total eclipse; everything being quiet, and things getting dark, and things like that is just once in a lifetime.”

Christine Chavez said she was happy to going to Carbondale because clouds were threatening to obscure the eclipse in Chicago.

“We’re actually doing it, because my daughter is really into space; and she’s been wanting to go ahead and see the eclipse, because she heard about it in school,” she said. “It’s definitely a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially for my family. So we’re very excited, and excited that my daughter gets to experience this as well.”

The train had P42DC No. 64 pulling the train southbound while No. 36 pulled the return trip. The passenger car consist was Nos. 48187, 54562, 82543, 54000, 82536, 54555, 54575.

Amtrak to Operate Special Train for Solar Eclipse

August 7, 2017

Amtrak will operate a special sold-out train offering passengers the opportunity to make a day trip to Southern Illinois to view the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

The Eclipse Express sold out within 24 hours, Amtrak said. The train will depart Chicago Union Station at 3 a.m. and arrive in Carbondale, Illinois, at 8:30 a.m. after making an intermediate stop in Champaign-Urbana at 5:05 a.m.

The return trip is scheduled to depart Carbondale at 5:15 p.m., stop in Champaign at 7:55 p.m. and arrive back in Chicago at 10:45 p.m.

The Eclipse Express will not carry pets or bicycles. There will be a café car although it won’t have business class seating.

Due to the middle of the night departure, Amtrak said the overhead lighting in the coaches will be turned off.

Amtrak said it conducted protracted negotiations with host railroad Canadian National to schedule the special, which will operate as Nos. 399 and 398.

Although the eclipse will affect much of the United States, its longest duration of totality will be over Makanda, Illinois, which is located south of Carbondale on the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans.

The first phase of the eclipse begins at 12:52 p.m., reaching totality between 1:20:07 p.m. and 1:22:44 p.m., with the partial phase ending at 2:47 p.m.

Tickets for the Eclipse Express went on sale in the Amtrak reservation system on Sunday.

Amtrak operates three daily trains between Chicago and New Orleans, but the first of those, the southbound Saluki is not scheduled to arrive in Carbondale until 1:45 p.m.

No. 390 has arrived in Carbondale more than 30 minutes late half the time during the past two weeks.

The travel time of the Eclipse Express is the same as the Saluki even though the special train will make eight fewer station stops.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the special was scheduled so as to not affect the operation of other Amtrak trains serving Carbondale.

Among the events being held in Carbondale is an “Eclipse Day” festival at Saluki Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University.

There will also be a Family Fun Zone area and Shadowfest held in Carbondale within walking distance of the Amtrak station.

Many eclipse watchers are also expected to ride the northbound Illini from Carbondale to Chicago. No. 392 has been sold out for several weeks and will have an extra coach.

Passengers riding the southbound Eclipse Express will be given special glasses that are needed to prevent permanent eye damage from viewing the sun in its partial eclipse phase.

Metra to Show Plans to Renovate Homewood Station

July 6, 2017

Metra plans to renovate the station that it shares with Amtrak in Homewood, Illinois.  The commuter rail agency will give the public a preview of the plans during a meeting at 7 p.m. on July 10 in the board room at Homewood Village Hall, 2020 Chestnut Road.

The former Illinois Central station is used by the Metra Electric line and Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, Illini and Saluki. Built in 1923, the station serves 1,200 Metra passengers a day.

Among the renovations being considered are reconstruction of the east and west entrances, installation of new stairs and ADA compliant ramps, new stairs leading to the Amtrak platform, and reconstruction of the Amtrak platform and canopy.

Other work will include installation of water seepage barriers and a drainage system in the tunnel, new tunnel walls, ceiling and lighting; and reconfiguration of parking on the Park Avenue side of the station.

Although rebuilding of the Amtrak facilities is expected to begin in 2018, Metra won’t work on its own part of the station until funds are available.

Metra completed interim repairs to the Homewood station in 2015, including replacing all the steps on the metal stairway that connects the pedestrian tunnel with the platform; replacing all of the ceiling tiles above those stairs; cleaning, sealing and painting all windows above the stairs; repairing and painting stucco; painting areas throughout the station; painting ceiling tiles at the east and west entrances; and adding LED bulbs in the tunnel.

NB Saluki to Operate 2 Hours Earlier

June 29, 2017

Amtrak’s northbound Saluki will operate two hours earlier on weekdays between July 19 and Aug. 4.

The schedule change is due to Canadian National track work. The schedule change will not affect the operation of No. 390 on weekends when it will depart its originating station in Carbondale, Illinois, at 7:30 a.m.

The weekday schedule of the Saluki during the affected time period will put it two hours behind the scheduled times of the northbound City of New Orleans.

The Saluki makes stops in Du Quoin, Rantoul and Gilman, Illinois, that are skipped by No. 58.

NB Saluki to Operate 2 Hours Earlier

June 19, 2017

Amtrak’s northbound Saluki will operate two hours earlier Monday through Friday between July 19 and August 4 in order to accommodate track work being undertaken by Canadian National.

No. 390 is scheduled to depart Carbondale, Illinois, at 7:30 a.m., but will now depart at 5:30 a.m., putting it just over two hours behind the City of New Orleans, which is scheduled to depart Carbondale at 3:16 a.m.

The early schedule will not apply to No. 390 on  Saturdays or Sundays.

 

Illini to Run an Hour Later on Weekdays

April 19, 2017

Amtrak’s Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago Illini will operate an hour later between April 24 and May 12 due to Canadian National track work.

The schedule change affects only trains operating on Monday through Friday. The Saturday and Sunday schedule of No. 392 remains unchanged.

Arrival times at all intermediate stations will be an hour later.

The Illini is funded largely by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

 

NB CONO Operating 4 Hours Later untill April 1

March 9, 2017

The northbound City of New Orleans is being rescheduled to operate four hours later between March 6 and April 1 due to Canadian National track work.

No. 58 will during that time frame depart from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 5:45 p.m., and operate four hours later at all stations from New Orleans to Carbondale, Illinois.

North of Cardonable, No. 58 will operate on the schedule of No. 390, the northbound Saluki, and make all station stops served by No. 390.

That means that No. 58 will be stopping in Illinois at DuQuoin, Rantoul and Gillman, stations that it normally does not serve.

In order to provide three daily trains from Carbondale to Chicago, Amtrak will operate an extra train, No. 1158.

Passengers who hold tickets for travel on No. 58 between March 6 and April 1 will instead travel on No. 1158.

That train will operate on the schedule of No. 58 and serve all of its stations. It will use the equipment normally assigned to No. 390.

The northbound schedule for Train 392 (Illini) and the southbound schedules for Trains 59 (City of New Orleans), 391 (Saluki) and 393 (Illini) are unchanged for this period.

What the 1971, Coming of Amtrak Meant for Varnish Running on the Main Line of Mid-America

January 13, 2017
ic-timetables

A comparison of timetables shows pre- and early Amtrak service on the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans.

Those familiar with Amtrak’s early history are aware of how on April 30, 1971, dozens of trains began their final runs because they were not included in the new passenger carrier’s initial route network.

Numerous routes lost intercity passenger service, some of them for good.

On routes that kept service, the number of trains often was thinned to no more than one or two roundtrips per day.

One of the little known facts about pre-Amtrak service is that the Illinois Central mainline between Gillman, Illinois, and Du Quoin, Illinois, did not lose a single intercity passenger train between the early 1950s and Amtrak day in 1971.

In part this was due to the strong ridership the ICRR enjoyed on its passenger trains into the 1960s, but other factors came into play as well.

The New York Central used the IC mainline between Chicago and Kankakee, Illinois, for its Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati trains. The IC’s Chicago-St. Louis trains used the mainline between Chicago and Gilman. IC passenger service from St. Louis to the South came onto the mainline at Du Quoin or Carbondale, Illinois.

The IC ended two of its three Chicago-St. Louis roundtrips in the late 1950s and the Chicago-St. Louis Green Diamond was shortened to Chicago-Springfield, Illinois, in the late 1960s.

NYC and Penn Central trimmed service on the Chicago-Cincinnati route in the 1950s and 1960s so that by the coming of Amtrak the only survivor was the James Whitcomb Riley. The last IC train from St. Louis to the South ended in 1970.

Although the IC ended trimmed operation of some trains tween Chicago and the South south of Carbondale in the middle to late 1960s, between Gillman and Du Quoin there was no net reduction in the number of intercity passengers trains for about two decades.

Yes, the IC tried to do away with some of those trains, but met resistance and could not win regulatory approval to end any of them.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak did what the IC had been unable to do. It cut the number of Chicago-New Orleans trains from two to one and the number of Chicago-Carbondale trains from three to one.

Also ending was the every-other-day City of Miami, but Amtrak’s launched a daily Chicago-Florida train that used the IC as far south as Kankakee. The James Whitcomb Riley also continued under Amtrak auspices.

This comparison of the last public timetable issued by the IC with the first timetable of trains operated by the IC under contract for Amtrak shows how much things changed virtually overnight. You can click on the image to enlarge it.