Posts Tagged ‘Midwest rail service’

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

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.

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.

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.