Posts Tagged ‘Chicago-St. Louis Corridor’

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

UP Derailment Hindered Amtrak Service

February 18, 2021

A Union Pacific derailment last Saturday hindered Amtrak service in Normal, Illinois, leading to the cancellation of some Lincoln Service trains.

UP derailed 16 cars of an intermodal train, the ZG4MQ-13, damaging the track and blocking several grade crossings.

Lincoln Service Train 300 terminated at Springfield, Illinois, and Trains 303, 306, and 307 were canceled.

The northbound Texas Eagle detoured between St. Louis and Chicago, missing seven intermediate stops.

Passengers traveling between St. Louis and Chicago were offered alternative transportation.

Further complications occurred a few days later when fire broke out during the wreck site cleanup process.

Authorities said the fire was caused by refrigeration units on some of the containers being hauled by the intermodal train that derailed.

The fire damaged the vinyl siding of an adjacent apartment building.

The derailment of the southbound train came within 25 feet of an Illinois State University student housing building.

One track was reopened to rail traffic on Sunday, but Amtrak cancelled two Lincoln Service trains and shorted the route of another.

UP and Federal Railroad Administration officials were conducting an investigation into the cause of the derailment.

State of the Amtrak Motive Power Art 1972

January 28, 2021

For a short period of time in the early 1970s Amtrak operated the Abraham Lincoln and Prairie State between St. Louis and Milwaukee, running through Chicago Union Station.

The trains were pulled by locomotives of The Milwaukee Road and the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, as can be seen in this image made in Joliet, Illinois, on Oct. 13, 1972.

On the point is Milwaukee Road E9A No. 35C. A GM&O unit trails. The photographer believes this train might have been the Abraham Lincoln.

In this era the Milwaukee-St. Louis trains were shown in timetables with multiple numbers, so the northbound Abraham Lincoln would have been Nos. 326-303.

An equipment listing for that train recorded on Dec. 28, 1972, shows it to have had five cars, including coaches of Northern Pacific and Seaboard Coast Line heritage, a former Great Northern dome coach, a Union Pacific dining car and parlor-observation car Port of Seattle. The latter had been built for the Great Northern.

On that day the train had locomotives of GM&O vintage and Union Pacific heritage plus a UP B unit.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

A Pooch in Joliet

January 13, 2021

Amtrak purchased 25 P30CH locomotives from General Electric in the 1970s. Although the thinking at the time was that the units could be used for long-distance service once new equipment with head-end power capability arrived, that plan didn’t quite work out that way.

The P30s, known by some as “pooches,” did haul some long-distance trains on a regular basis, including the Cardinal, Panama Limited, Sunset Limited and Auto Train.

They saw spot duty on other long-distance trains and based on photographs I’ve seen from the late 1970s were assigned to the San Francisco Zephyr between Chicago and Denver for a time.

If you lived in the Midwest, though, you probably saw P30s on the point of corridor trains using Illinois Central Gulf tracks.

Shown above is No. 724 leading the Ann Rutledge southbound at Joliet, Illinois, on Aug. 13, 1976. At the time it was a Chicago-St. Louis train.

In the background is Joliet Union Station.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Lincoln Station Temporarily Closed

November 27, 2020

The station waiting room in Lincoln, Illinois, has been temporarily closed.

Amtrak did not say in a service advisory why the station  has closed or when it will reopen.

Passengers will continue to have access to boarding platforms for Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains.

Gotta Act Fast on the Prairie

October 30, 2020

It is the early years of Amtrak operation on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

The trains are still pulled much of the time by former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio locomotives but the array of liveries and names on the letter boards gives testimony to the mish mash of equipment that Amtrak is operating.

To the south is the headlight of the northbound Abraham Lincoln.

It is coming fast, really fast. These two images were all that the photographer could manage to get as the train blasted through Lexington, Illinois.

That is U.S. Route 66 in the background in front of the locomotive nose in the top image.

Seemingly as fast as it came, the train was gone. All that was left was the rustle of the wind, traffic noise and a memory of something that would soon be vanishing into the annals of history.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Amtrak No. 303 at Chenoa

September 17, 2020

Although I’ve written dozens of posts in the past years about the project to upgrade Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis route for higher speed service, it has been more than a decade since I visited that line.

On a recent Friday morning I drove to Chenoa, Illinois, to photograph Lincoln Service No. 303, which barrelled through on time.

Much has changed since I last saw operations on this route. The trains travel faster, the tracks have been rebuilt, new signals have been installed and the motive power is SC-44 Chargers.

Many of the grade crossings are no horn zones with barriers and fencing having been installed for safety.

But the consist of Horizon and Amfleet cars was the same as what I saw during my previous visit years ago. Some things have not changed.

Odd Running Mates

May 7, 2020

Penn Central E8A 4061 and former Gulf Mobile & Ohio E7A No. 101 team up to lead an Amtrak train headed for St. Louis out of Joliet Union Station on April 20, 1973. To the right is an ex-GM&O Alco RS1.

The image was made during Amtrak’s rainbow era when sights such as this were not unusual although they might have been a couple year earlier.

Photograph by Robert Farkas