Posts Tagged ‘Midwest rail service’

Remembering My First Amfleet Experiences

January 22, 2019

The familiar profile of an Amfleet car brings up the rear of the southbound Saluki pulling out of the station in Mattoon, Illinois, in July 2018. When the equipment was delivered in the 1970s it didn’t have wi-fi antennas.

Amfleet equipment will still be around for at least a few more years and maybe longer, but the recent request by Amtrak for proposals to replace its Amfleet I fleet reminded me of just how long it has been an Amtrak mainstay.

It a dark early evening night in 1975 back in Springfield, Illinois, when I saw Amfleet equipment for the first time.

I lived in an apartment four blocks from the quasi street running of the former Gulf Mobile & Ohio mainline used by Amtrak through Springfield.

I was out walking when I noticed the crossing flashers activate on East Allen Street. It was about time for late afternoon northbound train No. 304 from St. Louis to Chicago to arrive, so I paused to watch.

I couldn’t see much, just a line of lights on the side of the cars in the windows. But something about these windows looked quite different. The rectangular-shaped windows were uniform in size and shaped differently than the square shaped and larger windows of the Turboliners that had been the usual equipment for this train.

The locomotive pulling the train also looked difference from anything I’d seen on the point of an Amtrak train to date.

I didn’t know it at the moment but I had seen Amfleet and a GE-built P30CH for the first time.

A couple days later I was downtown when No. 301, the first southbound St. Louis-bound train, halted at the former GM&O depot used by Amtrak.

That provided me my first opportunity in daylight to see the new Amfleet equipment and a P30 in the flesh.

There was a guy with a camera running around snapping photographs of this train like a proud father recording every move of his first-born child.

I recognized the Amfleet and P30 from photos I’d seen in Trains magazine.

In daylight I was able to see how the shape of an Amfleet car closely resembled that of a Metroliner even though at the time I had yet to see a Metroliner car in person.

I would later learn that Trains 301/304 had been the first Midwest corridor trains to receive Amfleet equipment effective Dec. 18, 1975.

The new Amfleet equipment intrigued me. At the time I considered the conventional streamliner equipment Amtrak had inherited as old fashioned. I wanted to see and ride something modern and new.

I got my first opportunity to see Amfleet from the inside the following January when I rode No. 304 from St. Louis to Springfield.

My first impression of an Amfleet coach was that it resembled the inside of a jetliner cabin with its fold-down tray tables, overhead reading lights and small windows. That was a good thing in my mind.

Those smallish windows have been panned over the years, but I never had any problem with them or being able to view the passing countryside from them in a window seat.

By early 1976 Amtrak had begun to assign Amfleet coaches and café cars to other Midwest corridor trains, including the Chicago-Carbondale Shawnee.

By the end of the year Amfleet was ubiquitous on Illinois-funded corridor routes.

Aside from its jetliner-like appearance, I was impressed with Amfleet because its head end power heating and cooling meant a more consistent environment.

HEP came in handy for Amtrak during the brutal winter of 1977 when it assigned Amfleet equipment to three long-distance trains radiating from Chicago, the Panama Limited, James Whitcomb Riley and the Inter-American.

Those assignments would stick on all those trains except the Inter-American, which reverted back to conventional equipment that spring for several months before being “Amfleeted” again.

I rode in Amfleet coaches numerous times over the next decade when I was most active in riding Amtrak throughout its national network.

This included overnight trips on the Panama Limited, Pioneer and Cardinal.

Some Amfleet coaches were equipped for longer distance travel and had fewer seats, leg rests and a foot rest attached to the seat ahead of you.

The lack of the latter had been one of the few amenities I had missed about conventional fleet coaches. But I never really found the leg rests all that comfortable.

In time the Horizon fleet arrived to spell most of the Amtrak coaches used on Midwest corridor trains, particularly the Amfleet coaches.

Horizon cars have a more conventional profile, but their interiors are similar to those of Amfleet.

The arrival of the Horizon fleet didn’t excite me in the same way that the coming of Amfleet had.

I was older then and less prone to getting excited about equipment changes. From a passenger perspective there wasn’t much difference between Horizon coaches and Amfleet coaches.

My reaction to whatever equipment that Amtrak comes up with to replace its Amfleet I fleet is likely to be similar. It will be interesting and I’ll enjoy riding it and seeing it for the first time.

But it won’t be the big deal that the coming of Amfleet was back in 1975.

New Platforms in Use in Carlinville

August 13, 2018

New platforms at the Amtrak station in Carlinville, Illinois, are now in use.

In a service advisory Amtrak said its trains can arrive and depart on the west or east platform so passengers should check the station information displays and listen for announcements to know where their train will be arriving or departing.

Passengers are urged to use caution when crossing between platforms on the north ends where the sidewalk and Illinois Route 108 (West Main Street) cross the tracks.

Carlinville is served by Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service trains and the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

Not Open for Meals

August 1, 2018

Bringing up the rear of Amtrak’s northbound Saluki is Viewliner diner Indianapolis.

But the diner is not open to serve meals to passengers. Instead, it’s purpose is to help Train 390 meet an axle count requirement mandated by host railroad Canadian National.

It’s a safety measure to ensure that the train triggers grade crossing warning devices. Any Amtrak train using a CN route must have a minimum number of axles.

The Indianapolis is the not the only dining car on the Saluki. Ahead of the baggage car is Heritage diner No. 8505, a former Northern Pacific car built by Budd in 1957.

Amtrak may have retired its Heritage diners from their intended purpose, but some of those cars continue to run up miles in a different type of revenue service.

The Saluki is shown departing Effingham, Illinois.

Jackson Ticket Office Closed

April 4, 2018

Ticket agent staffing of the Jackson, Michigan, Amtrak station ended this week.

Amtrak said that effective April 2, it closed its ticket office in Jackson, but will continue to serve the station with its six daily Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures during normal station hours of 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

However, half of the Wolverine trains arrive and depart in Jackson outside of during those hours.

Amtrak personnel aboard the trains will assist customers boarding and detraining.

Passengers who pay for their tickets with cash may still do so aboard the train, but such tickets will be priced at the highest fare and subject to availability if not reserved in advance.

Amtrak said passengers who require full customer service for unaccompanied minors traveling on Amtrak or other services provided by employees should travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, located 37 miles east of Jackson.

Extra Trains for Holland Tulip Festival

April 4, 2018

The Michigan Department of Transportation is sponsoring additional Pere Marquette service in May to a tulip festival in Holland, Michigan.

Amtrak will operate extra trains on May 5 and 12 departing Chicago Union Station at 7:05 a.m. and returning at 8:24 p.m. The schedule is set up to allow a day trip to the Tulip Time Festival.

The extra train to Holland will stop at Hammond-Whiting, Indiana, at 7:30 a.m., and make intermediate stops in St. Joseph and Bangor before arriving in Holland at 11:29 a.m.

The return trip to Chicago will leave Holland at 5:50 p.m. The trains will operate as Nos. 374 and 375.

In a news release, MDOT said the festival has been heralded as America’s “Best Flower Festival” and “America’s Best Small-Town Festival,” with more than 5 million tulips in bloom.

Fares on the extra service will range between $26 and $48 each way.

All regular Pere Marquette trains also will stop at Hammond-Whiting on May 5, 6, 12 and 13.

Texas Eagle Detouring Again

April 3, 2018

Union  Pacific track work again has the Texas Eagle detouring in Illinois and has disrupted some Lincoln Service trains through April 5.

Lincoln Service trains are operating only between Chicago and Normal, Illinois, with alternate transportation being provided to missed stops at Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis.

Amtrak said that St. Louis to Normal buses will operate earlier than the train schedule at St. Louis, Alton, Carlinville, Springfield and Lincoln.

Normal to St. Louis buses will operate later than the train schedule at Bloomington, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton.

The Texas Eagle will detour in both directions between Chicago and St. Louis via a former Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad route via Tuscola, Illinois.

Nos. 21 and 22 will miss all intermediate stops at Joliet, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton.

No alternate transportation is provided southbound. Instead, passengers are being referred to Lincoln Service trains and substitute buses.

However, northbound Texas Eagle passengers traveling to points in Illinois will be able to detrain in St. Louis and transfer to Bus 3022.

Amtrak said in a service advisory that Nos. 21 and 22 may be delayed up to 60 minutes by the detour move.

Wichita Eyes Grant to Lure Back Amtrak

March 28, 2018

The city of Wichita, Kansas, is seeking a federal grant to be used to lure Amtrak back.

City officials , including the the mayor, city council, and others, traveled to Washington to meet with Trump Administration officials and other government agencies to discuss infrastructure need and other issues.

While in the capitol, they also met with Amtrak executives to discuss the proposal to return Amtrak to Wichita, possibly by extending the Heartland Flyer there from Oklahoma City.

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said the city may qualify for a Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements or CRISI grant.

He said the grant could cover most costs of getting Amtrak to Wichita.

Amtrak has studied extending the Flyer to Kansas City via Wichita but has no firm plans to do so.

Wichita has been off the Amtrak map since October 1979 when the Chicago-Houston Lone Star was discontinued during a massive route restructuring.

Track Work to Affect NB Illini, NB CONO

March 16, 2018

On Monday through Friday of each week starting March 22 and extending through May 4, Amtrak’s northbound Illini will operate 30 minutes later at all stations en route due to track work being performed by Canadian National. Train 392 will operate on its normal schedule on Saturdays and Sundays.

Although it has not yet been announced, CN track work will also affect the schedule of the northbound City of New Orleans starting April 4.

No. 58 will begin departing New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 10:45 a.m., which is three hours earlier than the normal schedule. The train will be scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 6 a.m.

The revised scheduled will remain in effect through May 8 with the normal schedule resuming the next day.

Track Work Disrupts Chicago-St. Louis Trains

March 16, 2018

Select Amtrak Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle will be disrupted by track work being performed by Union Pacific on March 18 and 20.

Train 303 will operate between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, with alternate transportation provided to missed stops at Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville and Alton, Illinois, and St. Louis.

Train 304 will operate between Bloomington-Normal and Chicago with Bus service provided to passengers boarding or detraining at St. Louis, Alton, Carlinville, Springfield and Lincoln.

The westbound Texas Eagle will hold at the Bloomington-Normal station until 4:15 p.m. for an open track.

Amtrak said that buses 3103 and 3004 will operate non-stop express from Bloomington-Normal to St. Louis. Buses 5003 and 5004 will make limited station stops, serving Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Alton and St. Louis on March 18.

Buses 6003 and 6004 will make all station stops, serving Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, Alton and St. Louis. Northbound buses will operate earlier and southbound buses will operate later than the train schedules.

Passengers should check with Amtrak.com for updated schedules.

Proposed Minnesota Rail Route Clears Hurdle

March 9, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration has found that a proposed passenger rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, would have no significant impact on the environment.

That finding will enable the Minnesota Department of Transportation to seek federal and state funding for the 152-mile Northern Lights Express.

The proposed service, which would use BNSF tracks, is expected to cost between $500 to $600 million and make intermediate stops in Coon Rapids, Cambridge, and Hinckley, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin.

Studies have projected the trains would generate 700,000 to 750,000 rides in the first year of operation.

“It’s a significant hurdle because we can now work on getting an agreement with Amtrak, BNSF, and funding for final design and construction,” said Frank Loetterle, MnDOT’s transportation department’s project manager,

Amtrak operated a state-funded train known as the North Star on this same route until 1985.

During the 1970s, the North Star originated in Chicago for a time.