Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-St. Louis Corridor’

On its Way to the Station

April 20, 2022

Amtrak’s Chicago-bound Lincoln Service No. 302 is just moments away from making its station stop in Springfield, Illinois, as it rolls along down South Third Street. No. 302 is the second northbound of the day out of St. Louis for Chicago. Today’s consist is a pure Horizon Fleet offering. The photo was made on March 1, 2022.

Letter Boards are (Sort of) Back

March 15, 2022

For decades railroads placed their names in the letter boards of passenger cars. Amtrak has never adopted this practice. It has had an on again, off again practice of even naming passenger cars.

The new Venture cars that entered revenue service on Feb. 1 in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor have sort of brought back the practice of letter board names.

Shown are two Siemens-built Venture coaches in the consist of Lincoln Service No. 301 in Springfield, Illinois, on March 1. Note that the Amtrak herald and the name “Amtrak Midwest” have been applied to the letter board area of the car.

Now the question is how long this practice will continue. Although the traditional Amtrak colors of red, white and blue have been incorporated into the car’s design, the dominant color is gray.

Crossing East Scarritt Street in Springfield

March 9, 2022

Amtrak SC-44 No. 4615 and its Lincoln Service train are moments away from arriving at the station in Springfield, Illinois. Train 302 is crossing East Scarritt Street in a residential neighborhood on track once operated by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio.

Union Pacific owns this track now and Train 302 is following a UP stack train that passed through here just a few minutes before Amtrak did. The Amtrak website showed No. 302 running a few minutes late but I can’t say for certain that that delay was due to freight train interference.

Whatever the case, No. 302 still has stops to make before it reaches Chicago Union Station shortly after noon. So it has no time to waste.

First Venture Revenue Run was ‘Soft Opening’

February 4, 2022

Perhaps it was inevitable that something would go wrong during the first revenue service trip of the new Siemens Venture passenger cars in Amtrak Midwest Corridor service.

As reported by Trains magazine, when conductor Erik Newsom tried to make an announcement over the train’s public address system about the significance of the trip, the PA didn’t work properly.

Newsome was later able to advise the passengers of Lincoln Service No. 303 that they were the first revenue passengers for the new equipment.

And technicians were aboard to resolve any other problems that occurred.

The Trains report indicated that the trip on Tuesday (Feb. 1) from Chicago to St. Louis was a “soft opening” with the Illinois Department of Transportation planning an official “grand opening” in mid February.

Lincoln Service trains will be the first to get the new Venture cars before they are assigned to other Midwest routes.

Jennifer Bastian, IDOT section chief of passenger rolling stock said the cars will be placed into revenue service at the rate of eight cars per month, “if Siemens can support getting the coaches ready.”

There are 42 Venture cars in Chicago now with more yet to be released by Siemens.

Bastian said until all of those cars arrive Midwest corridor trains will have a mix of Venture coaches and Horizon or Amfleet food service cars with a business class section.

The Trains article contained photographs of the interiors of the Venture coaches and descriptions of how the cars to be used in Amtrak service differ from those used by Brightline trains in Florida since 2018.

It can be found at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/first-look-siemens-venture-coaches-debut-for-amtrak/

Now Arriving in Joliet, the Ann Rutledge

February 3, 2022

It is train time in Joliet, Illinois, on Oct. 3, 1981. Now arriving is the southbound Ann Rutledge bound for Kansas City, Missouri, from Chicago. At the time, this train was the first of the day from Chicago to St. Louis with its St. Louis-Kansas City leg being funded by the State of Missouri.

The consist is typical for an early 1980s Midwest corridor train with its four-car Amfleet consist pulled by an F40PH. One of the cars provided food service.

At the time, Amtrak service between Chicago and St. Louis was three roundtrips, two of which extended beyond St. Louis. Aside from the Ann Rutledge to Kansas City the Eagle operated to San Antonio, Texas, although only three days a week.

The third roundtrip between Chicago and St. Louis train was the State House, which the State of Illinois funded.

No Injuries in Lincoln Service Incident

January 25, 2022

No injuries were reported when an Amtrak Lincoln Service train struck debris from a derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train near Springfield, Illinois, on Friday.

News reports indicate Amtrak Train 306 struck a wheel from the derailment and sustained minor damage.

The Charger locomotive pulling the train shut down after striking the wheel. The crew was able to get it restarted and the train continued northward to Chicago.

Chicago-St. Louis Run Times Cut 15 Minutes

January 4, 2022

Amtrak has cut the running times of trains operating in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor due to faster authorized top speeds.

Affected are the Texas Eagle and all Lincoln Service trains. The new schedules took effect on Dec. 13.

Amtrak said all trains now have a maximum authorized speed of 90 mph and their running times have been cut by approximately 15 minutes.

The faster speeds were the result of track work that has been performed in the past several years with funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Chicago-St. Louis Top Speed Set at 90 mph

July 9, 2021

Amtrak this week raised the top speed for trains traveling on its Chicago-St. Louis corridor to 90 miles per hour.

The action came after the Federal Railroad Administration completed its certification of reliability of the signal system on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio route that is now mostly owned by Union Pacific.

The higher speeds will apply between Laraway Road (south of Joliet, Illinois) and CP Wann (two miles south of Alton, Illinois).

The higher speed is permitted if a train is led by an Amtrak locomotive equipped with both Alstom’s Incremental Train Control System to monitor the status of highway crossings, and the Wabtec Interoperable Electronic Train Management System.

In the past decade Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration have spent more than $2 billion to upgrade the route with the goal of achieving a top speed of 110 miles per hour.

However, those efforts fell short because of several failed efforts to create a signal system that would support that speed and while interacting with highway crossing equipment.

A short stretch between Dwight and Pontiac in 2015 tested 110 mph speeds in 2015 but UP and other parties concluded the equipment used there was unreliable and incompatible with the railroad’s I-ETMS positive train control system.

I-ETMS is only currently certified as a vital system for a top speed of 90 mph.

It would need further testing and development to reach FRA certification for 110 mph, a process that would require additional funding that has yet to materialize.

Amtrak plans to tweak its travel times on July 19 to reflect the higher speeds and when it returns Lincoln Service to its pre-COVID-19 pandemic level of service.

Private Car Offering Trips on Amtrak Midwest Corridor Trains

June 4, 2021

A former Seaboard Air Line observation car will operate on Amtrak corridor trains in the Midwest in July, September and October.

The car is the Hollywood Beach, which was built in 1956. The trips being offered will feature guides from the Midwest Rail Rangers group.

The first trips will operated between St. Louis and Kansas City July 23-25 with ticket proceeds being used to help restore 1939 Seaboard observation car No. 6400.

The trip departs St. Louis at 4 p.m. on July 23, arriving in Kansas City at 9:40 p.m. After a free day in Kansas City, the return trip departs Kansas City for St. Louis at 8:15 a.m. on July 25.

Tickets are $500 per person. No one way tickets are available although some passengers may be able to board at an intermediate station.

For further information or to buy a ticket, contact John Owen at ontrackkentucky@gmail.com or at 502-416-8143.

A St. Louis to Chicago one way trip will operate on Sept. 23, departing St. Louis at 5:30 p.m. and arriving in Chicago at 11:10 p.m.

Midwest Rail Ranger guides will provide narration between St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois.

Tickets are $299 and may be obtained by contacting Ketih White at onecniccat@prodigy.net or 708 446-1269.

A Chicago to St. Louis one way trip will run Oct. 4, leaving Chicago at 9:25 a.m. and arriving in St. Louis at 3 p.m. Midwest Rail Rangers guides will provide narration for the entire route.

Tickets are $299 and available from Ketih White.

Fares include meals, hors d’oeuvres, snacks and drinks. No personal food or beverages are allowed aboard the car.

Amtrak Anniversary Saturday: The Greatest Travel Advance Since the 747

April 30, 2021

Over the course of five decades, Amtrak has written a lot of chapters in its history, some of which largely have been forgotten or were never widely known.

One of those is illustrated in the photograph above made in Joliet, Illinois, in 1974 by Robert Farkas.

In Amtrak’s early years it was limited as to what it could do to improve intercity rail passenger service.

It could tinker with schedules somewhat, but much of its fate was in the hands of its contract railroads, which employed the operating and onboard personnel associated with the trains. In essence the freight railroads ran the trains and sent Amtrak the bill.

One opportunity to show that Amtrak was doing something to “make the trains worth traveling again” as the marketing slogan went, came in late 1972.

The French company ANF-Frangeco was building 16 sets of turbine-powered trains for the French National Railways.

The latter agreed to lease to Amtrak sets 9 and 10 with an option to buy.

The first Turboliner arrived in Chicago on Aug. 11, 1973. The red, white and blue train was billed by Amtrak in more than a bit of hyperbole as being perhaps the greatest advance in travel since the 747.

An Amtrak advertisement described the Turboliner as “the jet train that glides down the track . . . so smoothly you can hardly feel the rails.”

The Turboliner made a publicity run between Chicago and Bloomington, Illinois, on a rainy Sept. 28, 1973, piloted by Wilton V. Hall, whose father had been the engineer of the first diesel-powered train from Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois, on the Alton Route in the 1930s.

Revenue service for Amtrak’s Turboliners between Chicago and St. Louis began on Oct. 1.

That month the Chicago Tribune sent three reporters on a “race” from Tribune Tower to the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.

One reporter flew out of Midway Airport and went the distance in three hours, 15 minutes. A second reporter rented a car and drove to St. Louis, arriving at the hotel in five hours, 20 minutes.

The third reporter took Amtrak. He was delayed leaving Union Station by eight minutes and his train stopped in a siding three times. He arrived at the hotel in six hours, 14 minutes.

The Turboliners received a lot of attention, but also displeased many because of their narrow seats that reclined very little, narrow aisles, and doors that could be difficult to open.

With a fixed consist, some passengers had to stand on days when more people boarded than there were seats and some passengers were turned away.

Capable traveling 125 miles per hour, the top speed on the now Illinois Central Gulf route was 79 p.m., although the Turboliner running time was a half-hour faster than convention equipment on the Chicago-St. Louis route.

The Federal Railroad Administration rejected Amtrak’s bid to operate the Turboliners at 90 mph because of their superior braking ability.

In its decision the FRA said the route lacked an automatic train stop or cab signal system. At the time the FRA made its ruling, a series of grade crossing collisions involving Turboliners had received widespread news media attention even though no one had been killed or seriously hurt in any of those incidents.

Amtrak ordered additional Turboliners and placed them in service in the Chicago-Detroit corridor in April 1975. Unlike the Turboliners used on the St. Louis run, the Michigan Turboliners had drop down tables and more luxurious reclining seats.

The Turboliners were credited with driving an immediate sharp increase in ridership on the Detroit route.

Amtrak President Paul Reistrup would testify at a congressional hearing that Amtrak was fortunate to be able to buy something off the shelf that was flashy, had large windows, and looked like it was going a million miles an hour when in reality it was actually doing 60 on well-worn Penn Central rails.

As occurred on the St. Louis route, the fixed capacity of the Turboliners of slightly less than 300 led to standees on busy travel days.

On the St. Louis route, the Turboliners were replaced for a time with conventional equipment and then Amfleet cars when those became available in late 1975. A similar process played out on the Detroit line although Turboliners continued on some Michigan trains into the early 1980s.

The Chicago-Toledo Lake Cities, which operated via Detroit, had Turboliner equipment in its early days, making it the only Amtrak train in Ohio to ever be turbine powered.

Turboliners also lasted in the Midwest on the Chicago-Milwaukee route into the 1980s. Another generation of turbine trains, built in California under license saw service on the Empire Corridor for several years and would be Amtrak’s last turbine powered trains.

While living in Springfield, Illinois, in the middle 1970s, I often saw and a few times rode the Turboliners. They were nice, but I preferred Amfleet coaches after they came along.

I even rode the Lake Cities when it still had Turboliners and rode on the Milwaukee line once in a Turboliner in 1980, my last time aboard one.

They rode fine, but I could always feel the rails. Nor did they glide down the track as the advertisement claimed. As for the interiors, I liked those large windows. The cafe section, though, was way too small.

I still remember radio jingles for the Turboliner when they went into service with a chorus singing the line, “hitch a ride on the future (pause) with Amtrak.”

The Turboliner may not have lived up to its billing as a high-speed conveyance but it did for a time enable Amtrak to achieve the objective of offering something new that promoted the appearance of the passenger carrier doing something to improve intercity rail travel after years of neglect, benign or intentional.

Turboliners were not Amtrak’s future but a transition step toward the Amfleet era, which is still very much with us today more than 45 years after it began.

Article by Craig Sanders, Photograph by Robert Farkas