Posts Tagged ‘Midwest Corridor trains’

Track Works Leads to Wolverine Sked Changes

July 21, 2021

Schedules of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will be temporarily change between July 20 and Oct. 31 due to track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Train 350 will depart Chicago 15 minutes earlier at 7:05 a.m. and will be scheduled to arrive in Pontiac at 2:46 p.m.

Train 351 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:43 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:47 a.m.

Train 354 will depart Chicago at its scheduled time of 5:50 p.m, but be rescheduled to arrive in Pontiac 15 minutes later at 1:17 a.m.

Train 355 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:28 a.m and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:55 p.m.

An Amtrak service advisory said Trains 352 and 353 remain suspended but are expected to resume operation on Sept. 7.

Wolverine Service during the COVID-19 pandemic fell to one pair of trains between Chicago and Pontiac. Service increased to two pairs of trains on July 19.

Missouri River Runner Service to Increase

June 4, 2021

The State of Missouri of Missouri will use pandemic relief funding to help pay for restoration of a second Missouri River Runner roundtrip between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The additional service will begin on July 19 and bring the corridor up to pre-COVID-19 pandemic service levels.

State officials said the second roundtrip will operation for the remainder of 2021.

“We appreciate the General Assembly and Gov. [Mike] Parson providing necessary resources for the Amtrak Missouri River Runner service in the state’s budget as well as the additional COVID relief funds enabling us to restore this important transportation service to Missourians,” Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna said in a statement.

McKenna said his agency will review in the fall whether the federal transportation budget will enable the state to continue to support two daily round-trip service.

McKenna said his agency will review in the fall whether the federal transportation budget will enable the state to continue to support two daily round-trip service.

The second roundtrip was suspended in March 2020. Even before that had occurred, Missouri legislators had been debating whether to cut the state’s Amtrak funding to support just a single daily roundtrip.

A provision in the state budget bill mandating single daily ser ice was removed by the Missouri Senate so that MoDOT and Amtrak could begin discussions about a restoration of double daily service.

2 for Amtrak’s 50th Anniversary

May 3, 2021

I wanted to get out and photograph Amtrak on its 50th anniversary day last Saturday. I began my quest by setting next to the CSX Monon Subdivision south of Linden, Indiana, to capture the westbound Cardinal.

No. 51 was right on the money about 10 minutes past 5, having made a station stop, in Crawfordsville about 12 minutes earlier. It was about a half-hour after sunrise.

Next I motored over to east central Illinois to get the northbound Saluki, a corridor train funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation that originates in Carbondale and travels to Chicago.

No. 390 is shown above taking a signal at Humboldt, Illinois. It, too, was running on time.

None of the equipment seen in these photographs existed in 1971 and most of it had not been created yet as a concept.

The Amfleet coaches and food service car of the Cardinal come closest because Amfleet equipment was based on the design of the Budd Metroliners of the 1960s. Superliner equipment was inspired by the Hi-Level cars of the Santa Fe.

In 1971 EMD E and F units with a handful of passenger equipped geeps, U boats and SDs were the common motive power. It all wore the markings and liveries of its owners.

The Saluki does not normally operate with Superliner equipment, but has since Amtrak reduced the frequency of most long-distance trains last year to tri-weekly.

Starting May 24 Amtrak plans to begin to restore daily service to most long-distance trains — the Cardinal and Sunset Limited are exceptions — so the Superliners now on the Saluki probably will be replaced with Horizon and Amfleet equipment.

But not for long as Amtrak has begun taking delivery of and testing the new Siemens Venture cars and they are expected to begin revenue service later this year.

The long distance trains are also slated to begin receiving Charger locomotives similar to the SC-44 seen above pullking the Saluki albeit with a difference livery.

With Amtrak things are always changing even if it doesn’t always appear that way at first glance.

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

Hiawatha Service being Restored May 23

April 28, 2021

Full restoration of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service will be implemented on May 23.

There will be seven weekday round-trips between Chicago and Milwaukee with an additional Chicago departure on Friday nights.

The Saturday schedule will be seven departures from Milwaukee and six from Chicago. On Sunday there will be six round-trips.

Also being restored are two daily round-trip Amtrak Thruway buses between Green Bay and Milwaukee, with stops in De Pere, Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Amtrak said this service provides connections to and from Chicago using Hiawatha trains.

Reservations will continue to be required for travel on the Hiawathas and other pandemic safety measure remain in effect.

Amtrak said those with monthly or 10-ride passes must confirm their travel plans using Amtrak RideReserve on the company website or smartphone apps.

Stimulus Money Conveyed to Amtrak

April 28, 2021

The U.S. Department of Transportation said this week that it has conveyed to Amtrak $1.69 billion in economic stimulus funds authorized by the American Rescue Act of 2021.

The funding includes $728.6 million for Amtrak’s long distance and regional trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak was directed by Congress to allocate $174 million of that total to offset what the carrier charges states for corridor services.

However, the law does not require states to restore their Amtrak corridor services to pre-pandemic levels.

Most states reduced their corridor services during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a plunge in ridership.

Several states have begun restoring suspended services but others have yet to announce their plans.

Among the routes yet to be fully restored is the Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The route had three roundtrips pre-pandemic, but since March 2020 the level of service has been a single daily roundtrip.

Some Illinois and Missouri routes also continued to operate below pre-pandemic levels.

The directive also mandated that Amtrak return long-distance service to daily operation if they operated as such before last year.

Amtrak has said daily operation will be phased in over a three-weekly period beginning May 24.

The Northeast Corridor will receive $969.4 million of which $109.8 million will go to states and commuter railroads to cover their share of capital costs Amtrak charges them for using the Northeast Corridor.

Another $100.8 million will be used for debt relief that Amtrak incurred before the legislation was adopted on March 11.

Missouri Legislative Committee Cuts Funding For Amtrak Service

April 1, 2021

A Missouri legislative committee has approved reducing the state’s funding of Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The action by the Missouri House of Representatives’ Budget Committee approved $9.85 million to support one daily roundtrip. Two daily roundtrips would cost at least $12.65 million.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring service on the route has been one daily roundtrip.

Even before the pandemic, some Missouri lawmakers had been pushing to cut funding to support just one roundtrip a day.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials have said the route carried more than 170,000 passengers a year before the pandemic.

Ridership began falling in 2019 after service was suspended due to flooding.

Financial problems have long shadowed the service, known as the Missouri River Runner.

In 2017, former Gov. Eric Greitens cut $500,000 in funding for the service and since 2010 the state has failed to pay Amtrak its share of the bill and owes an estimated $3 million.

There has been some discussion about not operating the trains on Mondays and Tuesdays so that service could be two roundtrips on weekends.

A MoDOT economic impact study released recently found the trains annually generate more than $208 million in economic activity statewide and create 1,250 jobs.

The study said passengers spend an estimated $12.8 million in hotels and an additional $25.3 million in food and sightseeing costs each year.

This economic activity contributes to an estimated $11 million in federal, state and local tax revenue, according to the study.

More than half (56 percent) of passengers answering a survey said they used Amtrak as a way to visit friends or family.

Thirteen percent of passengers said they were traveling for recreation or leisure travel, and 11 percent say they were using the trains for work or business-related travel.

Other reasons given included vacations (8 percent), personal or family events (6 percent), traveling to or from college or school (5 percent) and shopping, 1 percent.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak plans to introduce new Venture coaches to the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor later this year.

He said that if service falls to one daily roundtrip it would six to 12 weeks to work out the logistics of increased service if the state were to decide to fund two daily roundtrips.

Just One of Many

March 13, 2021

Over the course of its 300 mile journey from Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago Amtrak Train No. 390 passes dozens of signals.

One of them is this one located in Pesotum on host railroad Canadian National.

The Saluki is shown on Feb. 27 getting a clear signal here one of many it would take before halting at Chicago Union Station to safely conclude another trip.

On Time at Pesotum

March 5, 2021

Amtrak’s daily Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, combination is still running these days with Superliner equipment. The northbound train, which operates as the Saluki, is on time as it barrels through Pesotum, Illinois, en route to its next station at Champaign-Urbana.

This equipment will turn later in the day to return to Carbondale as the Illini.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year about this time, the Illinois Department of Transportation paid for a pair of Chicago-Carbondale roundtrips. For now it is only sponsoring one roundtrip.

This image was made on Feb. 27.

Minnesota Gov. Seeks Funding for New Passenger Service

February 26, 2021

Bonding authorization for development of a Chicago-Twin Cities train was included in a proposal issued this week by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

The governor’s $518 million capital investment bonding proposal includes $10 million for the train, which would be the second to serve the route via Milwaukee.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder currently operates tri-weekly on the route on its Chicago-Seattle/Portland trek.

Minnesota’s funds would match a a $32 million federal grant awarded last year.

Studies have concluded the cost of creating the additional Chicago-Twin Cities service will be $53 million.

That includes $40 million for track and signal work in Minnesota to add capacity for passenger and freight trains.

Amtrak and the State of Wisconsin have already approved their share of the matching funds.

The new service is projected to serve 13 stations and have ridership of 124,000 annually.