Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Central Railroad’

Sweeping Through Broom Town

July 1, 2022

Arcola, Illinois, likes to describe itself as “broom town.” That’s because back in the 1920s the area was known for the production of broom corn which led to Arcola being a center for the manufacturing of brooms.

Every year the town of 3,000 population celebrates is broom corn heritage with an annual festival.

Arcola is bisected the mainline of the Chicago-New Orleans route of the Illinois Central Railroad, now owned by Canadian National.

On a Saturday morning a pair of bicyclists watch as a northbound CN manifest freight passes through town.

In the Hole at South Tolono

November 17, 2021

A crew member of a southbound Canadian National manifest freight is on the ground to give a roll by inspection to a northbound at South Tolono on the Champaign Subdivision.

During the days when Illinois Central removed the double track in favor of centralized traffic control and passing sidings every so many miles, the control points were named north and south after the nearest city or town. CN has retained the former IC control point names.

Hence South Tolono refers to Tolono, Illinois, where the IC crossed the Wabash line from Detroit. The ex-Wabash is now the Lafayette District of Norfolk Southern.

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.

Reminiscent of the Illinois Central

September 27, 2021

Norfolk Southern manifest freight 14N had something quite out of the ordinary in its consist when it left Elkhart, Indiana, on Sunday afternoon en route to Conway Yard near Pittsburgh.

Tacked on the rear were two former Iowa Pacific passenger cars reportedly en route to the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern, a Pennsylvania regional railroad.

The cars are painted in a livery inspired by the orange and chocolate brown of Illinois Central passenger trains, which reflected the interests of former IP CEO Ed Ellis.

The observation-type car is named Lookout Mountain and lettered “Rio Grande Scenic,” one of a number of passengers operations once operated by IP.

The cars were sold in the wake of financial difficulties that led to IP filing for bankruptcy protection in March 2021. As part of that proceeding, the trustees of IP began selling the company’s fleet of passenger equipment.

The train is shown at the west end of the CP 367 interlocking in Waterloo, Indiana.

Familiar Face From My Past

July 13, 2021

I was set up in Onarga, Illinois, waiting to photograph a southbound Canadian National train on the former Illinois Central. The train had a consist of all hopper cars and I wasn’t sure if they were carrying or on their way to pick up coal or stone.

A cut of the cars, though brought back reminders of my past. I spent many years railfanning the former Bessemer & Lake Erie between Conneaut and Greenville, Pennsylvania.

So I had seen BLE reporting marks many times not to mention locomotives in the Bessemer orange livery.

About a third of the way into this CN train was a cut of cars with BLE reporting marks. Another cut was positioned toward the rear of the train.

It was good to see something from the past that I haven’t seen for a while even if it was just a set of reporting marks.

Happy 4th of July

July 4, 2021

Old glory waves in the breeze from a bridge in Paxton, Illinois, over the Chicago Subdivision of Canadian National, formerly the Illinois Central.

Shown is a southbound CN auto rack train whose consist also had a few boxcars of, perhaps, auto parts.

The train was captured on July 3, 2021, during a holiday weekend. The train had slowed here for a possible meet with a northbound, but the dispatcher elected to move the meet to the next siding to the south at Rantoul.

Amtrak Anniversary Saturday: Where Were You and What Were You Doing May 1, 1971?

April 30, 2021

Where were you on May 1, 1971? Did you do anything to observe, document or celebrate the transition between freight railroad operation of intercity passenger trains and Amtrak operation?

Maybe you were too young to remember or to have been aware of the day that Amtrak began. Or maybe you had yet to be born.

I was a senior in high school on the day Amtrak started. It was a Saturday just as the 50th anniversary this year is falling on a Saturday.

At the time I was living in Mattoon, Illinois, which would be a stop for Amtrak trains operated between Chicago and New Orleans, and Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

I recall seeing from my backyard the first New Orleans-bound Amtrak train from Chicago.

I was disappointed that it looked exactly like the Illinois Central City of New Orleans of the day before with locomotives and passenger cars wearing IC chocolate brown and orange with yellow striping.

Like all teenagers I was naïve about how the world worked. I had read in newspapers about this new Amtrak operation that was to begin on May 1.

Yet I was expecting the trains to look quite different than they had. In fact, it would be more than a year before I saw a passenger car or locomotive that had been repainted into Amtrak’s livery.

Aside from seeing the first Chicago to New Orleans Amtrak train I also saw the last IC passenger train to complete its final journey.

The last northbound City of New Miami had left its namesake city on April 30. Trains that left that day were to continue to their terminus.

Therefore, the last pre-Amtrak train to finish its trip that was not slated to be part of Amtrak would not halt for the final time until May 2.

The City of Miami would not be joining Amtrak. Instead, it passed through Mattoon around 3 p.m. just as it had for many years and rolled into history. The number of trains making their final runs was a major focus of news coverage of the coming of Amtrak.

Sometime that summer cars from other railroads began showing up in the consists of the Amtrak trains that served Mattoon.

It had always been a thrill for me to see whenever I could passenger cars from other railroads. It wasn’t something I got to see often.

That June, I began college although I wouldn’t begin living on campus until late August.

I sometimes saw Amtrak trains during my trips home and during school breaks and made mental notes as to how they had changed or not changed.

My first opportunity to ride an Amtrak train did not come until late 1972.

In looking back I recall having had a sense of something historic occurring but I’m not sure I realized the gravity of it.

I wish now I could have done more – far more, actually – to have experienced and documented those historic days.

But I didn’t have a camera, didn’t have much money, and didn’t have anyone who could have taken me to ride and/or photograph trains in their final hours.

Besides, I was in school and the only time I might have been able to do that would have been on weekends.

So I just followed what was happening by reading about it in the newspapers. I did, by the way, save some of those newspaper stories from April 30 and May 1.

Fifty years later I’ve ridden most Amtrak routes at least once and made thousands of photographs of Amtrak trains and related operations.

More than a decade ago I started collecting Amtrak system timetables and have a nearly complete set.

In fact the last printed Amtrak system timetable still sits on my desk. Dated Jan. 11, 2016, I refer to it often when looking up information for stories I’m writing about Amtrak.

My collection also includes some Amtrak memorabilia, including dining car menus, annual reports, and route guides.

My Amtrak photo collection may be vast, but not nearly as comprehensive as I wished that it was.

I wish I had photographed more or had the opportunity to photograph more widely during Amtrak’s first decade, which I still consider the most interesting one in its history.

Much of my collection of things Amtrak was prompted by my research for a book that was published by Indiana University Press in 2006 titled Amtrak in the Heartland.

I have had a keen interest in Amtrak since it began, probably because I’ve always had a passion for passenger trains.

In many ways, the company that calls itself America’s Railroad and I came of age at the same time and have grown older on parallel tracks.

I can’t remember a day when I wasn’t interested in Amtrak and can’t envision a time in which my interest in the history and current day affairs of the carrier will ever wane.

So, happy anniversary Amtrak; it’s been quite a ride we’ve had together.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

Railroad Photo Archive Now Available Online

March 6, 2021

The Lake States Railway Historical Association has posted on its website an archive of its collection of more than 35,000 images.

“Rail historians, prototype modelers, authors, editors, archivists, and others will find this a valuable research tool, easily accessible from anywhere.” Said LSRHA vice president Paul Swanson.

“We plan to continue scanning negatives and transparencies from our collections for the foreseeable future. We want these to be available to the community.”

Among the photographers whose work is represented in the archive are Chicago natives Bruce Meyer and Lee Hastman, Wisconsin native Ed Wilkommen, DeKalb-based school superintendent F.R. Ritzman, and avid collector William S. Kuba from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

There are also collections of Illinois Central and Rock Island company photography, builders’ photos from AC&F and Ohio Falls Car Manufacturing Company, and some photo postcards.

Prints and digital images are available for sale with proceeds supporting the association’s archives operation.

Alan Boyd Dies, Was Amtrak’s 3rd President, 1st U.S. Secretary of Transportation

October 19, 2020

Alan Boyd, 98, a former president of the Illinois Central Railroad and Amtrak and who was the first U.S. Secretary of Transportation, died on Sunday in Seattle.

Alan Boyd

He served as head of the IC between 1969 and 1972 and headed Amtrak between April 1978 and June 1982. He was the third president of the intercity rail passenger carrier.

During his time at Amtrak, the passenger carrier underwent a series of route and service reductions including a major route restructuring in 1979 that ended five long-distance trains.

More train and route cuts came in the early 1980s, including the temporary discontinuance of the Cardinal and permanent cancellation of the Shenandoah, among other trains. during a period that has some parallels with what is happening with Amtrak today.

However, during Boyd’s term as Amtrak’s third president the carrier transitioned from steam-heated equipment inherited from the freight railroads and replaced it with head-end powered Amfleet and Superliner equipment.

Shortly after leaving Amtrak, Boyd said in an interview with The Washington Post that public funding of the passenger carrier was a reality that was unlikely to change.

“I don’t see any particular reason why rail passenger service should operate without public support,” he said at the time.

“We have any number of programs in this country which deal with the redistribution of wealth in the public interest. Subsidy represents a judgment by the government that the expenditure of this money is in the public interest.”

Boyd was an undersecretary of commerce for transportation during the Lyndon Johnson administration and led a group that wrote the bill creating the U.S. Department of Transportation.

He was the first secretary of transportation but stepped down when Richard Nixon became president in 1969.

Boyd was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and served as a C-47 pilot in World War II.

He earned a law degree and also served as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Until retirement, he was North American president of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

Getting Half Lucky With a Short Line

September 8, 2020

Unless you know its operating pattern or have inside information, photographing a short line railroad often requires getting lucky.

Of course 100 percent of that luck involves being track side in the right place at the right time.

I recently decided to try my luck at photographing an Illinois short line I had never seen in person and knew little about.

The Bloomer Shippers Connecting Railroad, better known as The Bloomer Line, is a granger operation based in Gibson City.

It is known for locomotives painted bright red and gray in a design reminiscent of the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.

That seems odd for a carrier using track of former Illinois Central and Wabash heritage and somewhat far from former Q territory in the Prairie State.

The name “Bloomer” has an IC heritage. In 1985, the Bloomer acquired the IC’s Bloomington District, which linked Bloomington, Illinois, on a circuitous route with the IC Chicago-New Orleans mainline at Otto south of Kankakee.

The Bloomington District had long been known as the Bloomer line.

As the Bloomer’s formal name suggests, the primary purpose of the railroad is to connect with larger carriers.

Owned by Alliance Grain Company, it serves that firm’s eight facilities.

A railfan website devoted to the Bloomer noted that grain is the primary commodity hauled with some plastic and lumber mixed in.

I had a fairly small window of opportunity to catch the Bloomer while on a outing whose primary purpose was to photograph Amtrak in action on two routes.

I planned my travel between those routes to pass through Gibson City, a once bustling railroad junction that remarkably still has most of its original rail lines.

At one time, a Nickel Plate Road line to Peoria, the Wabash line between Chicago and St. Louis, and the IC line to Springfield and St. Louis crossed here.

Today, NS still operates the former Wabash and NKP south and west of town respectively. CN owns the ex-IC and the Bloomer has the ex-Wabash north of town. Only the ex-NKP east of Gibson City is no longer in place.

Grain is the major reason why all these rail lines still come here. Gibson City is home to a number of large grain elevators and the Bloomer funnels corn, soybeans and some wheat into town to interchange with NS.

I had studied Gibson City on Google maps and determined from a satellite view where the Bloomer locomotive shop and yard were located.

After checking those out I planned to drive north on Illinois Route 47, which runs parallel to the Bloomer as far as the tiny hamlet of Risk. I hoped to see a train on the line along the way, perhaps working at a grain elevator.

As I drove into downtown Gibson City I saw flashing lights for a railroad crossing.

Maybe luck was with me. But it wasn’t. It turned out to be a malfunction at the CN crossing. There was no train coming.

A brief look around town yielded nothing moving on any of the rail lines.

It took a little doing, but I eventually found my way to Bell Street, which runs parallel to the Bloomer.

In short order I spotted two locomotives sitting outside the engine house, including GP9 No. 7591 painted in that Q-like livery.

It’s nose was coupled to LTEX GP38-2 No. 3801. Both units were running, but no one was around.

I had hoped to see a train being made up in the yard or getting ready to head north, but what had looked on the satellite map like a yard turned out to be just the lead tracks to the engine house.

There were no freight cars parked nearby and no sign of any activity.

I headed out of town on Route 47 and in a couple of miles any hope I had of seeing a Bloomer train on the road was dashed.

A crew was working on the track and had the aura of likely to be there for some time.

If the Bloomer would be running today it wouldn’t be during my window of opportunity.

I had a date with Amtrak Lincoln Service train No. 303 in about a half hour so I didn’t have time to further explore the Bloomer to see if something was happening elsewhere.

I considered myself to have been half lucky to have been able to photograph a Bloomer locomotive.

Perhaps I’ll try again later this fall when the grain season harvest season is underway.