Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Central SD70s’

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.

Yeah its Trailing But Look What its Trailing

May 9, 2021

In my perfect world the first Canadian National heritage locomotive I would see and photograph would be ET44AC No. 3008 on the point of a southbound on the former Illinois Central mainline in east central Illinois.

As it turned out my first CN heritage unit was the 3008 and it was running on the ex-IC in east central Illinois. But it was trailing and headed northward.

What’s special about the 3008? It’s the Illinois Central heritage locomotive.

Yeah, my first sighting of it was as a trailing unit, but just look at what it is trailing. No. 3008 was assigned as the third of three units pulling train A407, the daily Centralia, Illinois, to Kirk Yard in Gary, Indiana, job.

In recent months this train has typically operated with former IC SD70 units, many of them still in their IC “death star” livery.

So what we had on Saturday, May 1, was a pair of original IC SD70s, Nos. 1028 and 1001, both wearing their “death star” look teamed up with a “death star” IC heritage unit.

This begs the question of which of these units is the heritage unit.

The 3008 could have been the leader on the A407. It’s nose was facing north. I would later learn that the 3008 was removed from the A407 in Champaign and put on another northbound train as a leader.

I don’t know if working with original IC units is a first for the 3008. CN heritage units are allowed to roam the CN system, which is quite vast so the 3008 will be matched with a wide range of CN motive power.

Whatever the case, this motive power consist was one instance in which I didn’t mind all that much that the heritage unit was trailing. Three out of five isn’t a bad day’s work in railroad photography.

IC 1038 Looked Familiar

February 11, 2021

With another Super Bowl game in the books, I was looking through photographs I made during railfan outings on past Super Bowl Sundays with Marty Surdyk and Craig Sanders.

On Feb. 4, 2018, the day the Philadelphia Eagles upended the New England Patriots 41-33, we caught an inbound Canadian National train at Conneaut with Bessemer & Lake Erie SD40-3 No. 905 on the lead and Illinois Central SD70 No. 1038 trailing.

That meant the 1038 would lead coming out of the lakefront at Conneaut. We were surprised, but happy that B&LE SD38AC No. 867 was put on for the outbound move.

We chased the southbound as far as Hartstown, Pennsylvania, with intermediate photo stops in Albion (shown below) and Conneautville, Pennsylvania.

For some reason, the IC 1038 looked familiar to me. 

In my search for upcoming stories I found where I had seen it. In August 2007 Ursula and I were vacationing in the Galena, Illinois-Dubuque, Iowa area.

We visited the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which is adjacent to the CN (former IC Iowa Division) mainline.

After we toured the aquarium, I heard activity outside on the railroad.

Mystery solved; that is where I had seen and photographed IC No. 1038. That date was Aug. 7, 2007

In the top image, the CN train in Conneaut is passing under U.S. Route 20.

In the second Dubuque photo, look at the road sign at the far right edge of the image.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Good Place Now to Catch IC ‘Death Stars’

November 19, 2020

Not that long ago if you wanted to photograph SD70 locomotives that had been built for the Illinois Central and still wore their “death star” livery a good place to go was Canadian National’s Bessemer & Lake Erie Subdivision.

Back in early spring 2015 CN sent a fleet of ex-IC SD70s to the B&LE where they were, for the most part, standard motive power for most trains.

Of course I was pleased by that and my trips to Conneaut increased dramatically along with my chases of trains on the ex-Bessemer.

But motive power assignments change and in recent months CN has sent an infusion of different motive power to the ex-Bessemer.

The IC SD70s have gone elsewhere, including back to their original stomping ground.

You won’t see ex IC SD70 motive power on every train on the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans but based on my experiences of the past year the odds of finding one are greater now than they had been.

To be sure, CN is slowly repainting the SD70s into its own colors and I’ve even seen motive power sets of pure SD70s in CN red, black and white.

But there are enough “death stars” still on the rails so that if you spend any time railfanning the one-time Mainline of Mid-America you have a reasonable chance of catching one of them leading a train.

That was the case on a recent Sunday when I ventured over to the CN Champaign Subdivision where good fortune fell my way.

I was driving north on U.S. Route 45 when I spotted a southbound in the distance led by ex-IC No. 1036.

A quick turnaround on an intersection rural road had me headed for South Tuscola (top image) where the siding in Tuscola ends on the south end.

Adjacent to the tracks were corn fields still awaiting harvest. In the background are grains bins of the massive Archer-Daniels-Midland facility at Tuscola that is served by CN and Union Pacific.

After getting my photos here, I sped off for the Dewitt Avenue bridge in Mattoon. This is the northernmost of the five bridges that span the former IC tracks in my one-time hometown.

Interestingly, this was only the second time I’ve photographed a train on the ex-IC from Dewitt Avenue.

Earlier in the day I had caught the “death star” duo of Nos. 1000 and 1029 leading a northbound at Pesotum.

Pairs of “death stars” are not necessarily common, but not unheard of either.

I had caught one of these duos earlier this year. That had also occurred in Pesotum but with a southbound.

It was like going back in a time machine to when the IC was still an independent railroad run by the legendary E. Hunter Harrison.

In time the SD70s will either be repainted or sold off and “death stars” will no longer be seen on the ex-IC. But in the meantime I’ll look for as many of them as I can.

Finding New Photo Ops on the ex-B&LE

October 9, 2020

Last Saturday I did a Bessemer & Lake Erie chase.  I found some new spots and even chased to the Pittsburgh area and got the return trip north on the Alleghany River bridge which has been on my bucket list for a while now.

The top photograph was made somewhere on the north end passing a searchlight signal.

Next the train is crossing a bridge about to go under Interstate 79.

The train crosses the Alleghany River north of Pittsburgh and in the last photograph it is shown in the last light of day at Butler, Pennsylvania.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

‘Death Stars’ Still Roam ex-Bessemer

July 23, 2020

About two weeks ago I did a quick chase on CN’s former Bessemer & Lake Erie railroad.  Three former Illinois Central SD70s commonly referred to as Death Stars led the train south from Conneaut.

Anywhere else his would be the catch of the week if not month but here this was more of a disappointment.  Still they made for some nice photos all the same.

The top image was made along Conneaut Creek in Conneaut where the next two images were made in Albion, Pennsylvania.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

January Treat in Conneaut

January 23, 2018

A southbound taconite pellets train slowly makes it way out of Conneaut. The view is from the U.S. 20 bridge over the valley of Conneaut Creek.

I’ve photographed the former Bessemer & Lake Erie in Conneaut in every season except winter. Now I can cross that off my to do list.

On a cold but mostly sunny mid-January day, fellow Akron Railroad Club member Peter Bowler and I trekked to Conneaut with little time to spare to catch a southbound Canadian National train finishing its work in the yard and heading out of town.

I was driving and Peter was monitoring my scanner as we neared Conneaut on Interstate 90. He reported hearing a lot of chatter on the B&LE radio frequency.

That was good news because it meant the crew was either disassembling or assembling its train.

It turned out to be the latter. As we arrived at the CN grade crossing on Old Main Street, the train was coming out of the yard in its final move before stopping to wait for the conductor.

Peter jumped out and bolted for the bridge over Conneaut Creek, having in mind getting an image of the train along the ice-covered river.

I wanted to get that, too, but couldn’t get into position as fast as he could because I had to park and then gather up my camera.

I also wasted time getting an image from the west side of the tracks of the train coming out of the yard. By the time I got onto the bridge, the lead unit was past the open area and obscured by brush.

I was hoping that the crew had more work to do that would require a back-up move and I’d have a second chance at the shot I had missed.

But they were done with working in the yard. We made some images of the train sitting there and the engineer got out to fix something on the third unit as we waited to see what was next.

Down Main Street came a CN block truck and it was time to get into position for our next series of images.

Those would come from atop the U.S. 20 bridge and we got into position there just as the train began moving.

The ditch lights of the lead unit were already flashing as we scrambled into position. Days of snow plowing had left heavy snow on the bridge’s sidewalks. Even with boots on, walking through that snow and slush was like walking through heavy sand.

This vantage point yielded my favorite image of the series. Illinois Central SD70 No. 1038 is about to pass into the shadow of the bridge as the train slowly ambles into the horseshoe-shaped curve it goes around leaving town while grinding upgrade.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, my second favorite image was made from the other side of the bridge. It is not often that a going-away shot captures my imagination as this one did.

I’ve photographed trains from this vantage point before, but not during winter. The snow makes the bare trees and hillsides come alive in a way they don’t during the other seasons.

There is a sense of the train going somewhere as it motors its way through a river valley, even if it is a modest one.

The remainder of my images are pleasant winter photographs. IC black contrasts well with that white snow. Of course, so does CN red and, no doubt, would Bessemer orange.

This was my second favorite image of the CN train leaving Conneaut.

I missed the along the river image I wanted to get because I stopped to make this image. Maybe there will be another opportunity later this winter to get the one that got away.

I See the IC

December 19, 2017

One of my primary motivations for going to Conneaut to railfan is the hope of catching a Canadian National train on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie. Of course, my objective in doing that is getting the former Illinois Central SD70 locomotives that have been assigned to the route since March 2015.

Since the IC units have been assigned to the ex-B&LE, every train I’ve spotted on the line has had IC motive power.

The IC units are not always leading. Much of the time, the motive power consist includes at least one engine painted in CN colors and markings.

On a rare occasion, there has been a unit still wearing its B&LE colors and markings. I’ve also seen pure IC motive power consists.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was sitting by the Main Street crossing monitoring the rail traffic on Norfolk Southern.

Then the gates started coming down on the B&LE tracks at the Main Street crossing. The incoming train had CN 5422 leading and IC 1034 and IC 1018 trailing.

That was good news. It would mean IC power would be leading when the train came out of the yard heading south.

Last September, the last time I caught a B&LE train, there had been a CN unit leading southbound.

I didn’t chase this train out of town. I photographed it from the east bank of Conneaut Creek, from the Main Street crossing, and from the U.S. 20 bridge. That was enough for this day.

Reflections in Conneaut

December 5, 2017

Illinois Central SD70 No. 1018 and its running mates are reflected in the relatively calm water of Conneaut Creek.

One of the challenges of railroad photography is finding new ways to portray something you’ve already captured a dozen or more times.

Even then it might not be that you are doing something new as much as putting a new twist on something you’ve done before.

I ended up doing that during a visit last Sunday to Conneaut. My objective in going there was the same as it always is: Capture all three railroads that come into town.

But I also wanted to do something I hadn’t done in awhile. I recently showed some images of Norfolk Southern trains crossing the trestle that I had made in November 2005.

During that outing, fellow Akron Railroad Club member Ed Ribinskas and I had stood fairly close to the trestle carrying the former Nickel Plate Road tracks over Conneaut Creek.

I’ve been to Conneaut dozens of times since then, but seldom have I stood near the trestle. All other times I photographed from a distance with a telephoto lens.

I did that this past Sunday, too, but for the passage of eastbound NS intermodal train No. 206 I got close to the trestle.

The lighting conditions last Sunday were similar to what we had had during that 2005 outing. Both were sunny days with low sun angles that produced a warm feeling.

I created an image of the NS motive power crossing the bridge that was similar to the work that I did in 2005.

But after photographing the NS motive power, I noticed that the train was being reflected in the relatively calm water of Conneaut Creek.

I had to step back to fit the train and its reflection into the frame. The results are shown below.

I also created some reflection images when the Canadian National taconite pellets train came out of the yard later that day on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie. Those results can be see above and below.

The reflections are not as pronounced as they were with NS 206 and its containers and trailers, yet still pleasing.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve used Conneaut Creek as a mirror. It was the first time I’ve done it since the ex-ICRR locomotives showed up in 2015 and it was the first time I’ve focused on reflection photography from the NS trestle in this manner.

 

Easy Catch in Conneaut

May 4, 2017

I had a hankering to see some Illinois Central motive power so, naturally, I went to Conneaut to find it.

It didn’t take long. I had parked opposite of the former New York Central passenger station along the CSX Erie West Subdivision.

I turned on my scanner and the first radio transmission I heard was a Canadian National crew making switching moves in the yard of the former Bessemer & Lake Erie.

So off I went to the Main Street crossing to wait. Within 15 to 20 minutes IC SD70 No. 1034 and two other IC sister units pulled down by the Norfolk Southern trestle.

It would be the easiest catch of the day.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders