Endpoints: Chicago-Champaign, Illinois
Numbers: 394, 395
Intermediate Stations: Homewood and Rantoul
Host Railroad: Illinois Central
Amtrak Operated: November 1971-March 5, 1972
Named for: College students at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign, were the primary market for the train.
Pre-Amtrak History: Although Amtrak’s Campus was not a direct descendant of a pre-Amtrak train, it did have some Illinois Central cousins. In the late 1940s, the IC operated a Friday Champaign to Chicago train named the Campus Special. Later, IC had a Chicago-Carbondale train named the Campus that operated between March 12, 1967, and February 1969 when it was renamed the Illini. The Campus was a remnant of the Chicago to New Orleans Southern Express and the New Orleans to Chicago Creole.
Amtrak History: The Campus has the dubious distinction of being the shortest lived Amtrak corridor train to serve the Heartland, lasting just under four months. To understand how it came to be, you have to go back to the eve of Amtrak when the Illinois Central operated three pairs of Chicago-Carbondale trains, the Chicago-New Orleans Panama Limited and City of New Orleans and the every other day City of Miami between Chicago and Florida. Since summer 1968, the IC had marketed its Chicago-Carbondale service as the “Mini Corridor.” Trains were rescheduled to operate on memory schedules, the running times was shaved by eliminating stops at smaller town stations and excursion fares were introduced.
Although IC’s service had deteriorated in the years before Amtrak, its trains still carried a lot of people, particularly students from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Illinois University in Charleston (served through Mattoon 10 miles to the west). The campus travel market was so formidable that the IC added additional cars and ran special trains during peak travel periods.
Amtrak’s incorporators largely turned their backs on the Mini Corridor, electing to keep one Chicago-New Orleans train and one Chicago-Carbondale train.
In November 1971, though, Amtrak introduced a pair of weekend trains between Chicago and Champaign to serve the student traffic. Ridership during Amtrak’s early months had been heavy on weekends out of Champaign on the City of New Orleans and Shawnee.
The Illini operated on Fridays, departing Chicago Central Station at 12:15 p.m. and Champaign at 3:30 p.m. The Friday and Sunday Campus operated on a later schedule, departing Chicago at 6:30 p.m. and Champaign at 9:45 p.m. The running time was two
The Campus and Illini first showed up in timetables issued November 14, 1971. That was a Sunday, which suggests it was the first day of operation of the Campus. However, the Campus and Illini may have started two days earlier on Friday, November 12.
Amtrak needed just one set of equipment to cover all four trains. In early 1972, the trains typically had five cars, including a coach-bar lounge that seated 32. The cars were drawn from a pool of former IC and Norfolk & Western coaches. Two IC locomotives pulled the trains.
The Illini and Campus were discontinued in March 1972 when Amtrak ceased using Central Station. Amtrak claimed that adding 35 to 40 minutes to the schedule to compensate for the circuitous routing into Union Station would discourage patronage. The Campus made its final trips on March 5.
Although the Campus has retreated into obscurity, it does hold the honor of being the last passenger train to depart and arrive at Chicago Central Station. Railfan Doug Wornon bought the last ticket sold at Central Station and University of Illinois student Ron Schultz missed the last departure of the Campus.