Posts Tagged ‘Midwest corridor routes’

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.

Buses Replace Some Wolverines on July 16, 17

July 16, 2019

Certain Amtrak Wolverine Service trains will be replaced by chartered buses on July 16 and 17.

Workers are conducting track work and replacing a bridge in Michigan.

On July 16, Train No. 354 from Chicago to Pontiac (Detroit) will terminate at Albion, Michigan, with bus service provided to passengers traveling to Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac via Bus 3354.

On July 17 Train 353 will originate in Battle Creek, Michigan, with Bus 3353 picking up passengers at Pontiac, Troy, Royal Oak, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Jackson.

Bus 3353 will not connect to Train 353 and will not stop at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles, New Buffalo and Hammond-Whiting.

Bus schedules will follow train schedules. All other Wolverine Service trains will operate as scheduled.

Hoosier State Makes Final Trips in Style

July 1, 2019

Operating on CSX as P317, Amtrak’s northbound Hoosier State passes through Linden, Indiana, between Crawfordsville and Lafayette on Sunday.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State made its last trips on Sunday with two private cars riding on the rear of the train to mark the occasion.

The cars, both of which are painted in a Pennsylvania Railroad livery, were the ex-PRR lounge car Colonial Crafts and blunt-end observation car Frank Thomson.

The latter carried a tailsign in the shape of a Pennsy keystone with the Hoosier State name on it.

The cars were chartered by Keiwoon Krause and Gideon Comanse, who sold tickets to 40 passengers.

Otherwise, the last trips of Nos. 850 and 851 were just another day on the railroad even if it was the last day.

Seven passengers boarded the last northbound Hoosier State in Crawfordsville while the trip was sold out between Chicago and Lafayette.

The consist of the train was its usual two coaches and a business class/café car along with a deadheading Superliner sleeper, a heritage baggage car and a Horizon fleet coach.

In Crawfordsville, there was a banner thanking the Amtrak crews who worked the train.

No. 851 was 24 minutes late departing Indianapolis and 31 minutes late arriving in Chicago.

The Chicago-Indianapolis route will continue to be served by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal and Greyhound has added a few additional Thruway bus trips between the two cities that will stop in Lafayette.

Amtrak’s Transformation at Work in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

Last week Amtrak touted improvements it has made in its Midwest corridor network, including schedule adjustments to allow for more intra-Midwest connections and implementing student discount fares.

But in Amtrak’s statements was a hint that there might be another agenda at work.

It may be that Amtrak was doing nothing more than trying to get some marketing mileage from a series of relatively small steps. Yet if you view what was announced in a larger context you might see a transformation at work.

Throughout 2018, Amtrak has taken or talked about implementing actions that passenger advocates fear are designed or will weaken the carrier’s long-distance network.

In early June Amtrak yanked the full-service dining cars from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Last spring it sharply restricted the carriage of privately-owned passenger cars and all but eliminated special moves and charter trains.

Amtrak has talked about creating a bus bridge for its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, rather than continue to operate over a BNSF segment in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico that lacks positive train control and over much of which Amtrak is the sole user and thus responsible for the maintenance costs of the rails.

The carrier also has changed its booking practices to make it more difficult for tour operators to book large blocks of sleeping car rooms.

A Trains magazine columnist wrote last week that he’s been told of Amtrak plans to remove chefs from the dining cars of the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

The columnist said he’s heard from passengers who’ve ridden long-distance trains lately that complimentary juice in sleeping cars is gone and coffee is being limited to one half-pot per day.

Fewer towels and bottles of water are being distributed to sleeping car passengers.

An amendment sponsored by Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to force Amtrak to reopen ticket offices closed in a cost-cutting binge last spring was quietly removed from a transportation funding bill recently approved by the Senate.

Some passenger advocate see these and other moves as part of a larger plot to make long-distance trains unattractive so ridership will fall and management can make the case that the need for these trains isn’t there anymore.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has reportedly told state department of transportation officials that the carrier has studied chopping up long-distance routes into a series of corridors, each of them less than 750 miles in length.

That would force the states to fund those routes under the terms of a 2008 law that requires states to fund corridor routes that Amtrak had previously underwritten.

Those plans are not expected to be implemented immediately, but perhaps Amtrak management is just biding its time.

What does this have to do with the announcement about improvements to Midwest connectivity?

If Amtrak is seeking to re-invent itself as a provider of short- and medium-distance corridors it needs to show that it is developing a network of them.

Most people probably think of the Midwest corridors as ways to link cities in their state with Chicago.

Yes, some travelers connect in Chicago to other Amtrak trains, including the long-distance trains, but how many people think about getting on in Milwaukee and going to Detroit or St. Louis?

Well they might think about it and some do it every day, but Amtrak hasn’t always made such connections convenient. Some layovers last for hours.

The schedule changes made this summer are designed to address that, at least on paper, or in Amtrak’s case on pixels given that paper timetables are a thing of the past.

Amtrak touted its “new” schedules, noting that you can travel between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times daily. Of course that means changing trains in Chicago.

To be sure, Amtrak gave a nod to the long-distance trains, noting that in making the departure of northbound Hiawatha train No. 333 from Chicago to Milwaukee later, it enabled connections from long-distance trains from the East Coast.

As for the student discount, it is 15 percent and designed for Midwest travel. Amtrak also plans to soon allow bicycles aboard the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State.

When the new Siemens Charger locomotives went into service on Midwest corridor trains, they came with the tagline “Amtrak Midwest.”

Those locomotives were purchased by the states underwriting Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes. Those same states are also underwriting development of new passenger cars to be assigned to the Midwest corridor routes.

It is getting to the point where Amtrak is becoming a middleman of Midwest corridor routes, offering a station and maintenance facility in Chicago; operating, service and marketing support; and a brand.

For now, the state-funded corridors combined with the long-distance trains provide intercity rail passenger service to many regions of the Midwest, including to such states as Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio that do not currently fund Amtrak service.

That might well change if Amtrak follows through on its proposals to chop up the long-distance routes into state-funded corridors. Would Ohio step up to help pay for, say, a Chicago-Toledo, Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Pittsburgh  route in lieu of the Capitol Limited?

Would Iowa agree to fund a Chicago-Omaha train in lieu of the California Zephyr?

Would Minnesota agree to fund a Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul train in lieu of the Empire Builder? What about Chicago-Fargo, North Dakota, with funding from Minnesota and North Dakota?

I’m not optimistic about that.