Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Saluki’

The Saluki and a Colorful Tree

November 11, 2021

My quest for fall foliage continued last Sunday with a trip to the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National, the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans.

I found some colorful trees next to the tracks in Pesotum, Illinois, and worked with them.

Shown here is Amtrak’s northbound and southbound Saluki, which operates daily between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, and is funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

For more than a year the Saluki has operated with Superliner equipment and due to a CN-required minimum axle count carries more cars than does the Capitol Limited.

Although the southbound train is shown in the top image, it was the second of the two trains to pass my position.

Riding Amtrak Still an Enjoyable Experience

October 3, 2021

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, behind an SC-44 Charger locomotive.

Back in July Amtrak sent me an email warning that my Amtrak Guest Rewards account had been inactive for 24 months and my points would expire in mid September.

The email listed ways to keep my account active including buying an Amtrak ticket or redeeming points for travel or Amtrak-branded merchandise.

I filed all of this in my “to do” mental folder. As September dawned I needed to do something.

My account had 21,000 points, which isn’t enough for a spectacular trip, but I didn’t want to lose those points either.

I thought about using points for a day trip to Chicago on the Cardinal. I also considered making a short trip from Effingham to Mattoon, Illinois, on the Saluki, an Illinois Department of Transportation funded train between Chicago and Carbondale.

The distance between those two towns is 27 miles and the trip takes just 24 minutes. That wouldn’t be much of a train ride.

Instead I decided on something I hadn’t done since 1983.

The equipment for the southbound Saluki lays over in Carbondale for 2 hours, 20 minutes before returning to Chicago as the Illini.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I had on occasion ridden Train 391 from Mattoon to Carbondale and returned that evening on Train 392. In those days they were named the Shawnee.

Since I was last in Carbondale, the Illinois Central passenger station has been renovated and received an IC equipment display of a GP11 and caboose. I could photograph that.

Amtrak opened a new Carbondale station three blocks south in October 1981. I have hundreds of photographs of Amtrak trains on the former Main Line of Mid-America but none in Carbondale.

However, instead of leaving from Mattoon, I would depart from Effingham.

I planned to use points for the trip but that changed when I discovered a one-way non-refundable fare of $8. Even if for some reason I couldn’t make the trip I would only be out $16.

I booked it for Sunday, Sept. 12, a mere three days before my points were to expire.

Booking travel on Amtrak is more involved than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

You must click a box agreeing to wear a mask in stations and aboard the train.

Amtrak also tried to get me to buy trip insurance. Did they really think I was going to do that for a $16 ticket?

The afternoon before my trip Amtrak sent me an email directing me to fill out a short form online. Aside from the standard COVID symptoms questions that I’ve become used to answering every time I visit a doctor I also had to agree – again – to wear a mask.

On the day of the trip I arrived at the Effingham station three hours before train time to get in some railfanning before No. 391 arrived.

Effingham back in the day had a station used by the IC and Pennsylvania Railroad. Flanking the passenger station were express depots for both railroads.

Today the passenger station is a cosmetology school and the ex-PRR express depot is used by a catering company as a kitchen.

Amtrak uses half of the ex-IC express depot with the other half used by a tattoo parlor.

I arrived to find work underway to rebuild the Amtrak boarding platform, which complicated my photography due to high construction zone fences and orange fabric barriers.

CSX sent one train through town, an eastbound grain train, while Canadian National sent two northbounds and a southbound past the station.

A CN train working the yard came north of the diamonds for headroom and to clear the block before going back into the yard.

Three of the four CN trains had IC SD70 locomotives wearing the pre-merger IC black “death star” livery.

One of the southbounds had a motive power consist of two IC “death stars” and a Grand Trunk Western geep in its original livery. Talk about a heritage consist.

I also observed the coming and going of the northbound Saluki.

For nearly a year Amtrak has assigned Superliner equipment to its Chicago-Carbondale trains. The Saluki and Illini are pulled by SC-44 Charger locomotives owned by IDOT and leased by Amtrak.

My foray to Carbondale would be my first trip behind a Charger locomotive. Interestingly, my first trip aboard a Superliner coach was a day trip to Carbondale in June 1979 when the then-new cars were in break-service on Midwest corridor trains before being assigned to the Empire Builder that October.

No. 391 was about 15 minutes late. I stood alone on the platform, mask firmly in place, the only passenger to board on this day.

I wasn’t surprised. When I had bought my ticket Train 391 was shown as at 13 percent of capacity.

I presented my ticket to the conductor but he said he had already checked me off. About 10 passengers disembarked.

I was one of just two passengers in my coach. The conductor came to my seat and asked if I had ridden with Amtrak before.

Yes, I have – many times actually – but not since before the pandemic. The conductor noted there was a café car up ahead. I didn’t plan to patronize it but thanked the conductor for that information anyway.

I settled back in my seat and enjoyed watching the countryside pass by. It had been more than three decades since I had seen Southern Illinois in daylight from the vantage point of an Amtrak coach window.

As we slowed for the Centralia station, a northbound BNSF coal train passed on an adjacent track. It had a distributed power unit on the rear.

Centralia was once the home of a large IC car shop. As best I could determine, most of that complex is gone.

It used to be that southbound passenger trains went around the Centralia yard complex on the west side. That wasn’t the case today although I could see that track still goes over that way.

We passed the yard on the east side.

The yard had a moderate number of freight cars and some motive power, including the two “death stars” and GTW geep I had seen earlier. A massive coaling tower still stands in the yard.

Our next stop was Du Quoin where Amtrak shares a small modern depot with the local chamber of commerce. It opened in August 1989.

Carbondale used to have a large yard, too, but most of it is gone. The former St. Louis division offices were razed years ago.

All that’s left are a few tracks and the twin coaling towers that stand near where the roundhouse used to be.

Due to schedule padding we arrived at the Carbondale station 15 minutes early and slightly less than two hours after leaving Effingham

It turns out most of the Carbondale passengers had been in other coaches.

Shortly after No. 391 arrived, the crew backed the equipment north to the yard and turned it on a wye track.

I made photographs of the ferry move in both directions passing the former IC station.

It was a warm day and I walked to a Circle K to get a large bottle of Gatorade. I walked around a bit, photographing the old IC station, which houses a small railroad museum that wasn’t open on this day, as well as offices of the chamber of commerce and a non-profit organization that promotes downtown Carbondale.

A statue of an IC conductor pays tribute to the railroad’s long history in Carbondale, which used to be where St. Louis cars were added or removed from trains bound to and from New Orleans and Florida.

A northbound CN tank car train came through during my layover.

I was dismayed to find the Carbondale Amtrak station is only open during the day on Wednesdays. But it’s open seven days a week at night to accommodate passengers for the City of New Orleans, which arrives in both directions in the dead of night.

There were around 50 of us waiting outside the station.

There would be just one conductor on tonight’s Train 392. He opened two doors of the train and stood on the platform.

I was expecting him to come up to the crowd and announce that boarding was ready to begin.

Instead he raised an arm and waved it a bit, which I interpreted as a signal to come out and get on board.

I started walking toward the train and the crowd followed me. Everyone was put in the same car.

We left on time and made the same stops as we had earlier. In Centralia I spotted a young man running from the parking lot toward the train, which was about done boarding.

If the conductor saw him, he ignored him because the train began moving. I expected the conductor to see the guy and order the engineer to stop. But we kept going.

CN and Amtrak have been at loggerheads for years over a number of operating issues including CN’s edict that Amtrak operate with a minimum number of axles to ensure that grade crossing signals are activated.

That is in part why I was riding a train with seven Superliner cars with far fewer passengers than the train’s capacity.

Amtrak and CN also have sparred over dispatching with Amtrak accusing CN of needlessly delaying Amtrak’s trains.

I know from years of experience in riding Amtrak between Mattoon and Chicago that delays due to freight train interference are not uncommon, particularly around Champaign.

But on this day we didn’t meet a single CN freight during on my trip.

I was the only passenger getting off at Effingham. Seven people were waiting on the platform to board.

A woman at the back of the line was not wearing a facial mask and the conductor refused to let her board.

I don’t know why she was maskless, but as I walked to my car I noticed the conductor had placed the step box aboard the train and stood in the doorway as the woman gestured while making her case – whatever that was – for not wearing a mask.

The conductor was having none of it and No. 392 left with the woman standing on the platform.

It had been an enjoyable outing and not all that much different from other trips I’ve made on Amtrak. The number of passengers aboard was less than I expected given that it was a Sunday, which normally is a heavy travel day on this route.

Sometime within the next year new Siemens Venture cars are expected to be assigned to Midwest corridor trains and maybe I’ll do another Carbondale roundtrip to experience them.

A pair of IC SD70s and a Grand Trunk geep pass the under construction Effingham Amtrak boarding area.
The DPU on a northbound BNSF coal train in Centralia.
Disembarking at the Carbondale Amtrak station.
The equipment for Amtrak’s northbound Illini passes the former IC passenger station at it backs down to the Amtrak depot in Carbondale.
A northbound CN tank train passes the Carbondale Amtrak station where the Illini awaits its 4:05 p.m. departure.

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.

Charging Past Some Lingering Fall Color

November 15, 2020

I didn’t expect to find any fall foliage still in its glory during a mid November excursion to east central Illinois.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find some trees in Pesotum, Illinois, on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National still boasted peak seasonal color.

Show is Amtrak’s northbound Saluki headed to Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois.

On the point is a SC-44 Charger locomotive owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which also funds the operation of No. 390.

The Siemens-built Chargers are standard motive power on Amtrak’s Midwest corridor trains.

Within a couple years Chargers will replace the GE-Built Genesis units that pull Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Saluki these days is operating with Superliner equipment made “surplus” by Amtrak’s reducing the frequency of operation of its long-distance trains to tri-weekly.

This Time I Got it Right. Or Did I?

July 29, 2020

Back in mid June I stopped in Arcola, Illinois, to photograph Amtrak’s northbound Saluki passing a massive grain elevator complex.

My objective was to recreate an image I had made here of that train in August 2012.

Since then the P42DC locomotives used to pull the Saluki have been replaced with Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotives.

My June photograph was not bad but not quite what I had wanted.

I had not spent enough time checking out the photo angles and the arrival of the train caught me by surprise and out of position.

I had to scramble to get across the street and into position and ended up photographing the train a little too soon. It was more grab shot than planned image.

Last Sunday I was again in Illinois hunting trains to photograph. I timed my trip so I could get Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans shortly after sunrise in Rantoul and then catch the northbound Saluki three hours later.

This time, I did it right. I checked out various photo angles well before the train arrived.

As is typical, Train No. 390 was running a few minutes late when it left Mattoon, its previous station stop.

Having ridden this train numerous times when I used to take Amtrak from Cleveland to Mattoon to visit my Dad, I knew about how long it took the train to reach Arcola.

Soon there was an LED headlight in the distance and I got into the position I wanted to be in. No. 390 was not going to catch me off guard this time.

The grain complex in Arcola that I wanted to feature is laid out in three rows.

There is a row of silos, some of then concrete, next to the former Illinois Central tracks. There is another row of metal silos to the west of those and a third row on the other side of U.S. Route 45.

Without having a drone you can’t get all three rows of the complex in a photograph with an Amtrak or Canadian National freight train.

The top photograph above is the best of the images I made as the northbound Saluki rushed past last Sunday.

Pleased with what I’d captured, I declared it “mission accomplished” and moved on to find something else.

But a funny thing happened as I was writing this post and started comparing the 2012 image with the photographs I made this year.

That June image is far more similar to the 2012 photograph than is the July image.

You can see for yourself. The middle image above was made in June and the bottom image is the August 2012 photograph I was trying to duplicate.

My opinion of an image can change as I work with it. What looked good on the screen on the back of the camera doesn’t look so good when the image is downloaded onto my computer and projected onto the large screen that I use.

Of course I’ve seen it happen the other way, too. I’ve also begun to warm to a photograph as I processed it in Photoshop and eliminated some of its “imperfections” through cropping and adjusting such things as color, tone and shadows.

In a direct comparison of the August 2012 and June 2020 images, I still give a decided edge to the 2012 photograph in terms of quality.

The 2012 rendition does better at encompassing the enormity of the grain elevator complex and the light is a little less harsh. The latter is probably the difference between photographing in June versus photographing in August at approximately the same time of day.

You may notice that in 2012 the service building to the right had white siding whereas six years later it is tan.

There is another footnote to the comparison of the June and July photographs. In June, No. 390 was carrying a Heritage baggage car in order to meet a host railroad imposed minimum axle count for Amtrak trains using single-level equipment.

But by late July the Heritage baggage car had been replaced by a Viewliner baggage car. In neither case was checked luggage being carried in that car.

All three of the images create a sense of place and do a nice job of contrasting the size of the grain complex with that of the train.

We tend to think of trains as large objects, which they are, but it is all relative to what you compare their size with.

The way that grain complexes loom over trains adds to the drama of the photograph by creating contrast.

My original theme for this post was that last Sunday I got the photo right in a way I had not done it in June.

But once I started comparing the June and July images I began seeing that really wasn’t true. That June photo was more like the August 2012 image than I had remembered.

Ultimately, it wasn’t so much about getting it right versus getting it wrong, but how I felt about what I had just created when walking away from the scene.

Upon further review, there are reasons to feel good about all three images. Although they may be similar all three have their own character that I found pleasing. Each comes with its own set of memories of the trip on which it was created.

Coming to a Long Distance Train Near You

November 18, 2019

Northeast Ohio has two Amtrak’s long-distance routes but no corridor operation so you’re probably tired of seeing a steady drumbeat of Amtrak’s P40 and P42DC locomotives on the point of the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

They’ve been the mainstay of the long-distance trains since the 1990s with the current blue and silver livery dominant since the early 2000s.

In fact some P40 locomotives have been in service for more than 25 years. Yeah, the Genesis series locomotives built by GE have been around for a long time.

Late last year Amtrak announced it had ordered 75 Chargers from Siemens that will be assigned to long-distance trains starting in summer 2021.

The SC-44 is already the motive power of choice for Amtrak’s Midwest corridor trains.

So if you haven’t seen a Charger in the flesh, here is a preview of what you might be seeing in a couple years on the point of the Lake Shore or Capitol.

Shown is the southbound Saluki passing the former Illinois Central depot in Pesotum, Illinois, as it makes its way from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois.

In the meantime, the Chargers are now being used on Michigan corridor trains so if you want to see or photograph a Charger in action you’ll need to go to that state up north.

Getting Really Lucky

November 12, 2019

At first glance this might appear to be another run of mill image of an Amtrak train.

It’s the southbound Saluki rushing through Pesotum, Illinois, on its daily trek from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois.

But take another look at that intermediate signal. It is displaying two indications simultaneously of clear and stop.

I probably could not have planned this image if I had tried. I just happened to catch the signal head as it was transitioning from one signal indication to another and, apparently, red comes on a millisecond or two before the green goes out.

Those baggage cars, by the way, are not carrying anything. They are on the train to meet a Canadian National mandated minimum axle count.

This One is For Marty

August 9, 2019

If you know anything about Marty Surdyk you know about his passion for photographing trains and grain elevators.

So I thought about him as I captured this scene of Amtrak’s southbound Saluki passing a massive grain elevator complex alongside the former Illinois Central mainline in Arcola, Illinois, that is now owned by Canadian National.

A few years ago I had shown an image during an Akron Railroad Club program of the northbound Saluki passing this same complex.

Marty had liked the photograph and said so. So, Marty, if you’re watching, this one is for you.

One Foggy Morning in Neoga, Ill.

December 17, 2014

There is still a slight bit of fog still in the air at Neoga, Ill., as the signal is lined for a southbound manifest freight to take the siding at North Neoga.

There is still a slight bit of fog still in the air at Neoga, Ill., as the signal is lined for a southbound manifest freight to take the siding at North Neoga.

Back in August I ventured back to my home state of Illinois to spend some time catching the action on the former Illinois Central mainline, which today is owned by Canadian National.

I could have picked a better time to go. During much of my time in the Prairie State it was overcast and raining.

But it was what it was and I made the best of it. It was foggy on the morning of August 6 as I left my motel room.

I made my way to Neoga, Ill., with the goal of photographing the northbound Amtrak Saluki.

If I was lucky, I would get a nice fog shot. But by the time I got to Neoga, the fog had begun lifting and was replaced by overcast skies. I would have preferred the fog.

I did catch a break when I noticed a manifest freight stopped just north of town.

The dispatcher had lined this train into the siding to meet Amtrak. But to avoid tying up too many grade crossings the southbound was holding to the north until the Saluki left Effingham, some 15 miles away to the south.

Amtrak was running about 15 minutes late. Finally, the dispatcher instructed the southbound to bring ’em on down.

The northbound Saluki came blasting through Neoga at 9:37 a.m. It should have arrived at its next station in Mattoon six minutes ago.

A northbound manifest freight had followed Amtrak No. 390 out of Effingham. The plan was for it to meet the southbound at South Neoga and swap crews.

I had seen this same maneuver done a couple years earlier during another trip out to Illinois to railfan the ex-IC.

The southbound had gotten onto the Chicago-New Orleans mainline at Mattoon after coming down from Decatur.

The northbound would diverge at Mattoon and get track authority to go to Decatur Junction. I am not sure if these trains originate and terminate in Decatur.

The route continues on to Peoria and both Decatur and Peoria are still major industrial centers that generate considerable rail traffic.

Meanwhile, back in Neoga, another southbound was arriving. I had heard this train trip the detector just south of Mattoon. It initially stopped north of town but then began moving southward into town.

The dispatcher had lined it into the siding behind the earlier southbound. The signal indication was one I had not seen before of red over flashing red.

The second southbound had an eclectic motive power consist. The middle unit is lettered for IC and carries CN markings.

Yet it is painted in Conrail blue, which gives a clue that it was originally neither IC nor CN.

The third unit was an IC SD70. It was filthy, but given that the IC is my favorite railroad it was a beautiful site.

I did not stick around to record the northbound leaving town. I wanted to get to Mattoon to photograph the southbound Saluki.

I also knew that the northbound would be working in Mattoon Yard and there would be time to catch with it on the road to Decatur. I did, but those images are for another story.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Waiting outside of town to avoid blocking any crossings.

Waiting outside of town to avoid blocking any crossings.

Finally, the dispatcher instructed the crew to bring 'em down.

Finally, the dispatcher instructed the crew to bring ’em down.

My goal was to get the head end splitting the southbound home signal and the water tower. I sort of did that. Even with a camera that can rip off a few frames per second it can be hard to thread the needle with a train cruising along at more than 70 miles per hour.

My goal was to get the head end splitting the southbound home signal and the water tower. I sort of did that. Even with a camera that can rip off a few frames per second it can be hard to thread the needle with a train cruising along at more than 70 miles per hour.

Three food service cars bring up the rear of the northbound Saluki, one of which is likely to be occupied. The additional cars are by CN mandate so the train will be long enough to trip the grade crossing circuits.

Three food service cars bring up the rear of the northbound Saluki, one of which is likely to be occupied. The additional cars are by CN mandate so the train will be long enough to trip the grade crossing circuits.

Swapping crews at South Neoga. You might think this was Norfolk Southern and not Canadian National.

Swapping crews at South Neoga. You might think this was Norfolk Southern and not Canadian National.

The second southbound slowly rolls into Neoga.

The second southbound slowly rolls into Neoga.

It may have been filthy, but this IC SD70 still earing an IC livery was a beautiful sight for this IC fan.

It may have been filthy, but this IC SD70 still earing an IC livery was a beautiful sight for this IC fan.

Amtrak Extends Pets Aboard Program

August 8, 2014

Amtrak’s experiment of allowing pets aboard select trains is being extended on Aug. 11 to the Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Saluki and Illini.

Trips must originate from a station where an Amtrak ticket office is open. The pets and a customer-supplied carrier must weigh no more than 20 pounds, a flat fee of $25 will be charged for each dog or cat, no more than four pets can be reserved per train, and reservations must be made at a staffed station or with a 800-USA-RAIL agent.

Staffed stations on the route include Chicago, Homewood, Champaign-Urbana, and Carbondale. The Homewood ticket office is only open in the afternoon so passengers can only use southbound train No. 393 and evening train No. 392 (which stops only to discharge passengers).

Passengers with pets are only allowed to ride in one designated car and can’t bring them to the café or remove them from the carrier. They must stay with their animal at all times. The pilot program began in May on the Chicago-Quincy, Ill., Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr.

Amtrak said multi-ride tickets cannot because passengers must pay separately for a reserved seat if they want to bring a pet along. Fewer than 20 dogs or cats have traveled since the program began.

Amtrak has yet to establish rules for carrying pets as checked baggage on trains with baggage cars, part of the yet-to-be-passed “Pets on Trains” legislation originated by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. Passengers with pets cannot travel on the City of New Orleans, Southwest Chief, or California Zephyr, which share the routes of the trains in the pet program.