Posts Tagged ‘Midwest corridor routes’

Amtrak’s Venture Fleet is Coming Back

October 6, 2022

The last I knew, the new Venture passengers cars built by Siemens for corridor services in the Midwest and on the West Coast had been sidelined due to various mechanical issues.

The cars had begun revenue service in February in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, but that assignment proved to be brief.

It didn’t take long to discover that some tray table magnets were too strong, that trap-door handles were falling off, that bathroom doors were malfunctioning, and that sliding step extenders were getting jammed with snow.

But last Sunday in Porter, Indiana, I saw evidence that these issues apparently have been resolved and the Venture coaches are back in service.

Shown is above is a three-car Chicago-bound Pere Marquette, which originated in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The consist includes two Venture coaches and an Amfleet food service car. Eventually Venture cafe cars with a business class section are expected to join the fleet.

The train shown above is entering the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern from the CSX Grands Rapids Subdivision. On the point is an SC-44 Charger locomotive, also built by Siemens.

The Chargers are now the standard motive power for Midwest corridor trains. Note how the Venture coaches have a higher profile than Amfleet equipment.

Amtrak Updates Winter Storm Cancellations

February 3, 2022

Amtrak has updated its list of service cancellations and modifications due to winter storm Landon. The update includes service changes set for Friday.

Today (Feb. 3) the following trains have been cancelled:

The Cardinal from Chicago to New York; the Capitol Limited from Chicago to Washington; the Saluki from Carbondale, Illinois, to Chicago; the Illini from Chicago to Carbondale; Lincoln Service Nos. 300 and 302 from St. Louis to Chicago; the Pere Marquette from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago; all Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Pontiac, Michigan; the Blue Water in both directions between Chicago and Port Huron, Michigan; the Missouri River Runners in both directions between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; the City of New Orleans in both directions between Chicago and New Orleans; and the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas.

Some trains today will operate on modified schedules. They include the Vermonter, which will terminate and originate at New Haven, Connecticut; and the northbound Ethan Allen Express, which will terminate at Albany-Rensselaer, New York.

On Friday (Feb. 4) the Missouri River Runner is cancelled from Kansas City to St. Louis.

Also on Friday the Vermonter will terminate and originate in New Haven while the Ethan Allen Express will originate in Albany-Rensselaer.

Details Set for Amtrak Service Cancellations

January 18, 2022

Amtrak’s service cancellations of long-distance trains that take effect on Jan. 24 will mean that trains will not depart from their terminal of origin on consecutive days, Trains magazine reported on its website on Monday.

The cancellations, which extend through late March, were announced on Jan. 14. At the time Amtrak, cited employee shortages prompted largely by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in large numbers of workers being off work due to being sick or having to quarantine after being exposed to someone with COVID-19

The announcement said 8 percent of departures would be cancelled system wide and 6 percent of its state-supported network trains.

As it turned out in the Midwest the only trains to be affected will be one roundtrip between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, and several Hiawatha Service trips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

All trains in the Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Michigan; Chicago-Quincy, Illinois; and St. Louis-Kansas City corridors will continue operating daily as scheduled.

Canceled until March 27 in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor was the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini. The suspension of Nos. 391 and 392 became effective Jan. 18.

The days that long distance trains will cease operating starting Jan. 27 are staggered.

Among western long distance trains the Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles) will not depart on Monday and Tuesday. The California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville, California) will not depart on Sunday and Monday.

The Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland) will not depart on Thursday and Friday. The Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio) will not depart on Wednesday and Thursday. The Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles) will not depart on Wednesday and Thursday).

Among eastern long distance trains, the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington) will not depart on Friday and Saturday. The Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) will not depart on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Crescent (New York-New Orleans) will not depart on Tuesday and Wednesday. The City of New Orleans (Chicago-New Orleans) will not depart on Saturday and Sunday.

Unaffected by the cancellations are the Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) and Cardinal (Chicago-New York), both of which already operate three days a week.

The Silver Star (New York-Miami), Auto Train (Lorton, Virginia-Samford, Florida) and Palmetto (New York-Savannah, Georgia) will continue to operate daily.

The Silver Meteor (New York-Miami) is suspended entirely between Jan. 24 and March 27.

The staggered days of operation mean that for some trains their first day or not operating will occur after Jan. 24.

Cancellations of Hiawatha Service (Chicago-Milwaukee) is as follows: Trains 341 and 342 are cancelled in their entirety starting Jan. 24. Train 329 will operate only on Saturday and Sunday. Train 330 will operate only on Sunday. Train 343 will operate daily except Friday.

All of the service suspensions in the Empire Corridor will occur with trains operating between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, New York. All trains between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo, will continue operating daily.

In Pennsylvania, the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian will continue operating daily and there are no service suspensions planned for Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, via Philadelphia.

More information is available in the Trains report at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/analysis-a-closer-look-at-the-impact-of-amtraks-cancellations/

Track Works Leads to Wolverine Sked Changes

July 22, 2021

Schedules of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will be temporarily changed between July 20 and Oct. 31 due to track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Train 350 will depart Chicago 15 minutes earlier at 7:05 a.m. and will be scheduled to arrive in Pontiac at 2:46 p.m.

Train 351 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:43 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:47 a.m.

Train 354 will depart Chicago at its scheduled time of 5:50 p.m, but be rescheduled to arrive in Pontiac 15 minutes later at 1:17 a.m.

Train 355 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:28 a.m and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:55 p.m.

An Amtrak service advisory said Trains 352 and 353 remain suspended but are expected to resume operation on Sept. 7.

Wolverine Service during the COVID-19 pandemic fell to one pair of trains between Chicago and Pontiac. Service increased to two pairs of trains on July 19.

Wolverine Service Frequency to Rise July 19

May 19, 2021

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have agreed to add back an additional daily roundtrip to the Chicago-Detroit corridor that was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicago-Pontiac Wolverine Service train will begin operating July 19, going westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening.

The two parties also said that effective May 25 speed limits on 45 miles of the corridor will ncrease to 110 miles per hour.

The faster speeds were authorized between Kalamazoo and Albion, Michigan, on track owned by MDOT

The higher speeds are being allowed following completion of Federal Railroad Administration certification of the signal system.

Officials said additional track infrastructure work is needed before the top speed can be increased between Albion and Dearborn in the Detroit suburbs.

The faster speeds will not reduce the scheduled travel time in the corridor but MDOT and Amtrak officials contended in a statement that improved on-time performance can be expected because the higher speeds will enable trains to make up time lost elsewhere.

This includes segments shared with freight railroads in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, and in the Detroit region.

Speeds of up to 110 mph have been in place since 2012 in the corridor on the Amtrak-owned segment between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

That segment uses an Incremental Train Control System signaling system.

That system has since been placed into operation east of Kalamazoo as an overlay to the interoperable I-ETMS positive train control system.

The schedule effective July 19 will have Wolverine Service trains 350 and 354 departing Chicago at 7:20 a.m. and 5:50 p.m., respectively.

Westbound trains 351 and 355 will depart Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.

The new schedule will restore connections from western long-distance trains to Michigan points that were lost during the pandemic.

Currently, the lone Wolverine Service on the corridor departs Pontiac at 5:43 a.m. and arrives in Chicago in late morning.

The return trip, though leaves Chicago at 1:25 p.m., which is too late to make connections from inbound Western long distance trains.

An MDOT official said the agency will consider adding back the third roundtrip to the corridor “as travel demands increase and COVID-19 vaccination rates rise in Michigan.”

Before the pandemic, trains departed Pontiac in early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Trains departed Chicago in early morning, early afternoon and early evening.

Amtrak Anniversary Saturday: The Greatest Travel Advance Since the 747

April 30, 2021

Over the course of five decades, Amtrak has written a lot of chapters in its history, some of which largely have been forgotten or were never widely known.

One of those is illustrated in the photograph above made in Joliet, Illinois, in 1974 by Robert Farkas.

In Amtrak’s early years it was limited as to what it could do to improve intercity rail passenger service.

It could tinker with schedules somewhat, but much of its fate was in the hands of its contract railroads, which employed the operating and onboard personnel associated with the trains. In essence the freight railroads ran the trains and sent Amtrak the bill.

One opportunity to show that Amtrak was doing something to “make the trains worth traveling again” as the marketing slogan went, came in late 1972.

The French company ANF-Frangeco was building 16 sets of turbine-powered trains for the French National Railways.

The latter agreed to lease to Amtrak sets 9 and 10 with an option to buy.

The first Turboliner arrived in Chicago on Aug. 11, 1973. The red, white and blue train was billed by Amtrak in more than a bit of hyperbole as being perhaps the greatest advance in travel since the 747.

An Amtrak advertisement described the Turboliner as “the jet train that glides down the track . . . so smoothly you can hardly feel the rails.”

The Turboliner made a publicity run between Chicago and Bloomington, Illinois, on a rainy Sept. 28, 1973, piloted by Wilton V. Hall, whose father had been the engineer of the first diesel-powered train from Chicago to Bloomington, Illinois, on the Alton Route in the 1930s.

Revenue service for Amtrak’s Turboliners between Chicago and St. Louis began on Oct. 1.

That month the Chicago Tribune sent three reporters on a “race” from Tribune Tower to the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis.

One reporter flew out of Midway Airport and went the distance in three hours, 15 minutes. A second reporter rented a car and drove to St. Louis, arriving at the hotel in five hours, 20 minutes.

The third reporter took Amtrak. He was delayed leaving Union Station by eight minutes and his train stopped in a siding three times. He arrived at the hotel in six hours, 14 minutes.

The Turboliners received a lot of attention, but also displeased many because of their narrow seats that reclined very little, narrow aisles, and doors that could be difficult to open.

With a fixed consist, some passengers had to stand on days when more people boarded than there were seats and some passengers were turned away.

Capable traveling 125 miles per hour, the top speed on the now Illinois Central Gulf route was 79 p.m., although the Turboliner running time was a half-hour faster than convention equipment on the Chicago-St. Louis route.

The Federal Railroad Administration rejected Amtrak’s bid to operate the Turboliners at 90 mph because of their superior braking ability.

In its decision the FRA said the route lacked an automatic train stop or cab signal system. At the time the FRA made its ruling, a series of grade crossing collisions involving Turboliners had received widespread news media attention even though no one had been killed or seriously hurt in any of those incidents.

Amtrak ordered additional Turboliners and placed them in service in the Chicago-Detroit corridor in April 1975. Unlike the Turboliners used on the St. Louis run, the Michigan Turboliners had drop down tables and more luxurious reclining seats.

The Turboliners were credited with driving an immediate sharp increase in ridership on the Detroit route.

Amtrak President Paul Reistrup would testify at a congressional hearing that Amtrak was fortunate to be able to buy something off the shelf that was flashy, had large windows, and looked like it was going a million miles an hour when in reality it was actually doing 60 on well-worn Penn Central rails.

As occurred on the St. Louis route, the fixed capacity of the Turboliners of slightly less than 300 led to standees on busy travel days.

On the St. Louis route, the Turboliners were replaced for a time with conventional equipment and then Amfleet cars when those became available in late 1975. A similar process played out on the Detroit line although Turboliners continued on some Michigan trains into the early 1980s.

The Chicago-Toledo Lake Cities, which operated via Detroit, had Turboliner equipment in its early days, making it the only Amtrak train in Ohio to ever be turbine powered.

Turboliners also lasted in the Midwest on the Chicago-Milwaukee route into the 1980s. Another generation of turbine trains, built in California under license saw service on the Empire Corridor for several years and would be Amtrak’s last turbine powered trains.

While living in Springfield, Illinois, in the middle 1970s, I often saw and a few times rode the Turboliners. They were nice, but I preferred Amfleet coaches after they came along.

I even rode the Lake Cities when it still had Turboliners and rode on the Milwaukee line once in a Turboliner in 1980, my last time aboard one.

They rode fine, but I could always feel the rails. Nor did they glide down the track as the advertisement claimed. As for the interiors, I liked those large windows. The cafe section, though, was way too small.

I still remember radio jingles for the Turboliner when they went into service with a chorus singing the line, “hitch a ride on the future (pause) with Amtrak.”

The Turboliner may not have lived up to its billing as a high-speed conveyance but it did for a time enable Amtrak to achieve the objective of offering something new that promoted the appearance of the passenger carrier doing something to improve intercity rail travel after years of neglect, benign or intentional.

Turboliners were not Amtrak’s future but a transition step toward the Amfleet era, which is still very much with us today more than 45 years after it began.

Article by Craig Sanders, Photograph by Robert Farkas

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.

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.

Amtrak Midwest Services Being Curtailed

March 18, 2020

Amtrak has announced its first service reductions due to the COVID-19 virus to effect service in the Midwest.

Effective March 19 the carrier will cancel the Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette and reduce service on the Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) route from three daily roundtrips to two.

Service on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service route will also be reduced to four daily roundtrips.

Wolverine Service trains will leave Chicago in early morning and early afternoon with the evening trip canceled.

Westbound trains will depart from Pontiac in early and mid morning with the evening trip to Chicago canceled.

Hiawatha Service will depart from Chicago at 6:10 a.m., 8:25 a.m., 3:15 p.m., 5:08 p.m. and from Milwaukee at 6:15 a.m., 8:05 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:35 p.m.

There will be an 11:40 p.m. bus from Chicago to Milwaukee but not returning bus service is shown on the Amtrak website.

Amtrak earlier had announced that the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian would be canceled between March 19-29.

Other eastern corridor service has also been curtailed with some trains operating on shortened routes.

Extra Capacity Planned for Thanksgiving Holiday Travel

October 14, 2019

Amtrak plans to operate extra train service and added capacity in the Midwest and other regions of the country during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period.

In the Midwest, this will primarily mean extra trains to some downstate Illinois cities.

Additional capacity will be added to other Amtrak Midwest corridor routes in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Passengers traveling on the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service trains will need reservations for travel between Nov. 26 and Dec. 2.

In a news release, Amtrak said it expects to operate every available rail car in its active duty fleet.

Additional trains are planned for the Northeast Corridor while additional cars will be added to corridor routes in the Midwest and West.

Added capacity will expand consists of Amtrak’s Keystone Service and the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

Keystone trains and the Pennsylvanian will require reservations for travel between Nov. 25 and Dec. 2.

Pacific Surfliner trains will require reservations between Nov. 27 and Dec. 2 for travel between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, California, via Los Angeles.

Last year Amtrak said it carried over 846,000 passengers systemwide during the Thanksgiving travel period include 160,000 customers the Sunday following Thanksgiving.