The Cold Spring Shops "Free Rein to 110" campaign is bearing some fruit, with test runs taking place in Illinois, and scheduled service now in place in Michigan. With the coming of summer, and the four-day energy-conserving schedule in place at the office, there's no guilt in checking the Amtrak website for business class space on a Michigan train. Sure enough, space available to and from Royal Oak, the destination on a pre-speedup trip four years ago. Because of changes Norfolk Southern has made to its freight service, the current service is faster west of Kalamazoo, but slower east to Detroit and Pontiac. The new Dearborn station will be adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum, if that is ever built, and the faster services Michigan is promising might make day-trips from Chicago to that museum possible. Perhaps in another four years?
Amtrak Wolverine 350, Chicago to Pontiac, 6 July 2012: P32 diesel 27, Amcafe 48178, Horizon coaches 54559, 54541, 54519, P32 diesel 26. I don't know whether the diesels are top-and-tailed, or if the trailing one in each direction is along for the ride. Temperature is hot and sticky. Business Class allowed to board around 7 am; attendant passes out Chicago Tribune. Leave 7.30.19 (watch set to the National Bureau of Standards online time service a few days earlier, not synchronized with the public clocks in Union Station); hold for inward Rock Island scoot at Englewood 7.44; Hammond-Whiting 8.00.42 - 8.03.13, meet 29 at station; 110 mph running begins in earnest east of Michigan City, New Buffalo 9.46.55 - 9.48.00; Niles 10.06.49 - 10.10.11; Dowagiac 10.19.49 - 10.21.05; head in Decatur, meet 351 10.30, stop at east siding switch 10.30.40, go 10.31.43, head in Lawton, meet 363 10.43, no stop; arrive Kalamazoo 10.58.10. Thus endeth the fast running. But there is fast running, something that's missing from the Hiawatha service, as is food service, something this mural in the cafe emphasizes.
Leave Kalamazoo 11.02.31; Battle Creek 11.31.52 - 11.37.18; Jackson 12.27.31 - 12.28.31; meet 353 east of Chelsea 12.52, no stop; Ann Arbor 1.08.58 - 1.45.11, large crowd waiting; Dearborn 1.43.02 - 1.45.41; Detroit 2.05 - 2.08, arrive Royal Oak 2.28. The old Grand Trunk line northwest from Milwaukee Junction is in somewhat better shape north of the Ferndale intermodal terminal, although it is still jointed rail. I think that's a downgrade from the state it was in in the late 1980s.
The Detroit area also dealt with some extreme weather, and power was out at businesses on the west side of Washington Street, but on, perhaps in limited quantities, on the east side. The air conditioning was out at a Caribou coffee shop that was nevertheless full of people studying. Royal Oak is home to the first BD's Mongolian Grill, an establishment where you put together a mix of proteins and vegetables that the staff will grill while you wait. Good lunch, cold pop, the Barnes and Noble was open, and the Caribou could whip up iced Mint Conditions. Lots more time to explore when the trains are on time. Now to get that Henry Ford Museum stop open.
A few people boarded at Royal Oak, and the crew made a request that passengers not put luggage on seats or nap on two seats. Three coaches constitute a skimpy rake for a weekend Michigan train, even with the colleges on summer schedule. Leave Royal Oak 5.55.30, conductor advises a delay with an intermodal train going into the Ferndale yard 5.59.36; stop, start, stop, start, stop, good to go 6.07.12; Detroit 6.28.28 - 6.31.06; Dearborn 6.49.25 - 6.52.13, meet 352 near Wayne Junction 6.54; Ann Arbor 7.23.25 - 7.26.30.
This diesel and coach, damaged sometime this spring, await shipment to Beech Grove or Wilmington from Jackson. There's still a Conrail Shared Assets area in Michigan. Jackson 8.01.09 - 8.03.00; conductor advises there is a brush fire ahead near the Jackson airport and we will be held. Stop 8.12, moving 9.41 at restricted speed; conductor advises we have not been cleared past the fire, which is still not struck, stop 10.20, go 10.29, pass fire site 10.39, pass Albion 10.54. Train will swap crews with 354: stop 11.03 to trade engineers, move 11.08, stop 11.09 to swap train crews, go 11.15; arrive Battle Creek 11.44.01, conductor advises passengers to hit the bricks to smoke, as there will be another crew exchange, this crew delayed a few hours on 364 account engine troubles in Chicago. Go 11.56.25; Kalamazoo 12.26.20 - 12.31.06, train loading on track away from station platform; Dowagiac 12.55.46 - 12.56.31; Niles 1.05.49 - 1.07.16; all eastbound trains have arrived and left and temperatures are low enough to allow uninterrupted cruising at 110; New Buffalo 1.25.40 - 1.26.26; Michigan City 12.39.20 - 12.40.30 Central time, no chance of catching the last dinky to Aurora; Hammond 1.22.15 - 1.23.25; arrive Chicago 1.50. The equipment for 8-28, with the Super Dome and Skytop Lounge Cedar Rapids, is leaving for the coach yard as we arrive. Union Station now closes at 1 am or when the last Amtrak arrives, station staff advises there are all-night eateries in Greektown. Yes, and some interesting people-watching -- the city that never sleeps is a different city after dark than by day. First dinky of Saturday morning gets away at 6.30. Hot shower and change of clothes welcome at 8.30.