Endpoints: Chicago-Springfield, Illinois
Numbers: 311, 312
Intermediate Stations: Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington, Normal and Lincoln, Illinois
Host Railroads: Illinois Central Gulf (1986-1987), Chicago, Missouri & Western (1987-1989, Southern Pacific (1989-1996) [Former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio]
Amtrak Operated: April 27, 1986 to June 28, 1996
Named for: A well-known section of downtown Chicago known as The Loop
Amtrak History: As early as 1984, the State of Illinois was discussing funding a second train in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor to compliment the state-funded Statehouse. The proposed train would operate opposite of the time slot of the Statehouse, departing Chicago in the morning and returning in the evening.
Two years later the Illinois put up the money to launch The Loop, a daily except Sunday train. Amtrak already had a train departing Chicago in the morning, the Chicago to Kansas City Ann Rutledge. A schedule shuffle had the Loop departing at 8:15 a.m. and the Ann Rutledge leaving in late morning.
Unlike the Statehouse, the Loop terminated at Springfield rather than St. Louis. After laying over in the Illinois capital for nearly four hours, the Loop departed in mid afternoon. This was the earliest scheduled afternoon departure from Springfield in the Amtrak era to date.
The lack of turning facilities meant that the Loop initially operated in push-pull fashion, using former Chicago & North Western bi-level coaches that had done similar duty on other Midwest corridor routes.
Although the Loop began service on April 27, 1986, inauguration ceremonies were held on May 7. The Loop and Statehouse began service at Dwight on October 26, 1986, and at Summit in suburban Chicago on October 25, 1987.
Amfleet cars with trainline capability for push-pull service, began being interspersed with the bi-level coaches in the first half of 1987.
The southbound Loop derailed after hitting a garbage truck on June 26, 1987, three miles south of Joliet. The bi-level cab car, two Amfleet cars and F40 locomotive left the tracks with the cab car turning over on its side. No passengers were in the cab car. The 28 passengers and four crew members suffered minor injuries. The truck driver was killed. Amtrak later retired the cab car, No. 9622.
The bi-level coaches were removed from the Loop in mid-December 1987 in favor of Amfleet I cars because of limited accessibility for physically impaired passengers in the bi-levels. Another change following the June 1987 derailment was that the Loop‘s equipment began being turned on a wye at the former GM&O Ridgely Yard in Springfield.
This arrangement did not last long. Former Metroliner cab cars were assigned to the Loop and push-pull operation resumed. The train was stored during its layout on a siding just north of the Springfield station.
Deteriorating track conditions following the sale of most of the Chicago-St. Louis route to the Chicago, Missouri & Western led to slower schedules, routinely late trains and a threat by Amtrak to remove service from the former GM&O route because of poor operating conditions. CM&W entered bankruptcy and ceased to maintain the track. The bankruptcy trustee at one point asked court permission to abandon the line.
Amtrak made contingency plans to reroute the Chicago-San Antonio Eagle and hinted that it would no longer operate the Loop or the Statehouse.
In 1988, the state provided emergency funding to CM&W to repair its track in order to preserve Amtrak service. At the same time the state opposed the bankruptcy trustee’s efforts to liquidate CM&W’s assets, including its track.
The state offered to provide funds to Southern Pacific for track rehabilitation if it was allowed to acquire the route from CM&W. As part of that offer, the state said it would convert some loans made to CM&W to grants. The sale to SP closed on November 8, 1989.
The Loop began serving Normal on October 26, 1989, the first train to provide daily service to the home of Illinois State University and a twin city of Bloomington. Select trains had provided weekend service to Normal since April 25, 1982. All Amtrak trains began serving Normal on June 11, 1990, after Amtrak opened a new station there and closed the Bloomington station, which had been built by the Alton Road. The Bloomington station subsequently was razed.
A mid-1990s budget crisis threatened to sideline the Loop. Amtrak said on April 6, 1995, that it would end the train on June 11, and cut the frequency of operation of other Illinois-funded trains. An agreement between Amtrak and the state announced on June 2 saved the Loop and prevented most of the service cutbacks. However, the Loop no longer would operate on Saturdays and lost its food service on July 3.
Illinois had its own budget issues in early 1996 and funding of Amtrak service was reduced by the legislature. Amtrak and the state were at odds over how much was needed to fund the Illinois service. When the dust had settled there wasn’t enough money to fund both the Loop and the Statehouse so the Loop made its last trips on June 28, 1996.