29.11.12

ADDITIONAL CAPACITY FOR THANKSGIVING.

The Alton Route segment between Dwight and Pontiac, in Illinois, once again supports 110 mph running, just in time for the traffic heading over the river and through the woods.  A lot of that traffic is collegians bound for Chicago, on the Alton Route from Illinois State and neighboring universities.  (Somehow we make do at Northern Illinois without a train, although it's frustrating watching stack trains go by at 70 mph and wondering what if.)  Passenger loadings were high.  Because there is no large pool of spare equipment, the Chicago area corridor service is mostly reserved, and reservations were hard come by.
The biggest bottleneck in the Midwest is also on Sunday, when all five Chicago to St. Louis trains (including the Texas Eagle) are sold out between the endpoints; only the early morning departure is available on Wednesday. All Lincoln Service trains are running with five Amfleet I or Horizon coaches instead of the usual four. The situation is much better on Michigan’s Wolverine corridor than it has been in past Thanksgivings.
In the Chicago area, Amtrak assigned additional cars to the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service, including a full-length lounge car offering table space for groups or card players, and the one remaining full-length dome car, a former Great Northern car giving its best impression of a Super Dome Hiawatha.  (For a short time after the discontinuance of the Olympian Hiawatha, Super Domes were assigned as cafe-lounge cars on Madison and Milwaukee corridor trains.)

The carrier also demonstrated an almost British capability to service and turn consists quickly, with an additional round trip on the Quincy line provided by turning the 10.20 arrival of the Illinois Zephyr as a relief train leaving at 11.30, returning to Quincy in time to cover the 5.30 departure of the Carl Sandburg for Chicago.  Some additional trains on the Michigan corridor turned back at Kalamazoo, laying over at the Kalamazoo station on Amtrak's own tracks.  Passengers purchased the additional seats very quickly once the new trains were announced.
Amtrak added 20 additional frequencies out of Chicago between Nov. 21 and Nov. 26. Although most extras were on the Amtrak-owned Wolverine route to and from Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, Mich., two extra trains also operated on the Illinois Zephyr-Carl Sandburg corridor between Chicago and Quincy, Ill. Instead of making of only two trips at the beginning and end of the day on Nov. 25, each set of equipment made a midday return journey.

Extra train No. 385 left Chicago at 11:30 a.m., less than an hour after No. 380 arrived from Quincy. It departed on time and carried more than 300 passengers, mostly students returning to colleges in western Illinois. One Horizon coach was held empty for passengers boarding west of Chicago; by the second stop at suburban Naperville, every seat was taken and conductors were scrambling to help passengers boarding further west at Plano and Mendota find seats. Train No. 385, like most short-distance Midwest trains over Thanksgiving weekend, operated with five coaches, one more than the regular consist, and a business class/café car. Of the 25 regional and long-distance trains departing Chicago on Nov. 25 (excluding the non-reserved Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawathas), only eight had any seats remaining at the time of departure.
I decided it was worth getting up early on the Sunday so as to be able to observe this rare Passenger Extra in action. Business class seating was available at the time I placed my reservation, but those seats were all occupied by the time the train left.

I'd previously ridden this route to the end of regular service at Quincy, as well as on the Missouri wye trackage used by trains running with one diesel, and by the Nebraska Zephyr.  The amenities of Quincy are at some distance from the station.  Thus the excursion turns at Macomb.

It used to be that one went to the department stores on State Street (or Fifth Avenue, or Wisconsin Avenue) to look at the animated displays in the windows.  We now make do with simulacra in the concourse of North Western Station, er, the Ogilvie Transportation Center.


The virtue of holding a Business Class ticket is that it allows use of the Metropolitan Lounge at Chicago's Union Station, far (until train time) from the madding crowd that fills the lame excuse for a concourse, with the overflow herded into the waiting room.  The stockings will be hung by the chimney with care.


I had plenty of reading material packed, but unaccountably not my notepad or pencil.  Thus, this report will not feature any train timings.  The consist was a matched set of Horizon cars topped and tailed by Genesis diesels: 31 - 54511 -54541 - 54532 - 54528 - 54574 - 54140 - 32.  Paint a yellow stripe above the windows on the Business Class end of 54140 and a Britisher would know where to go for first class.  The train was given a number 385 but not a name in the original announcement, although it was posted as "Carl Sandburg" on the monitors and departure board at Union Station.  Given the preponderance of passengers ticketed for Macomb, you could call it the "Leatherneck Zephyr."   The idea of holding coaches closed for boarding down the line dates to the traditional railroads.  Gone, however, is the custom followed by Illinois Central of parking more coaches than the train will require in Chicago, loading the coaches from the diesel back, then, when train time arrives, cutting the remaining coaches for following trains.


At Plano, some bar patrons might be relying on the horses' instincts to get them home.  That's not something you see every day in a smaller town.

A substantial number of passengers disembarked at Galesburg, where a Burlington Hudson observes the comings and goings of contemporary Zephyrs.


The bulk of the load left the train at Macomb.  Behind the camera and across the tracks were the city buses, lined up and awaiting passengers.  Many people decided to walk to their quarters at Western Illinois, which is across the tracks ahead of the camera.


I headed into the business district looking for some chow.  The town common was decorated for the holidays, as was this courthouse.


Nearby, an establishment called Chick's On the Square was open, serving sandwiches with sides, cold bock beer on tap, and football on the various televisions.  People were still returning to campus and many of the downtown businesses were closed for a long weekend.

The return train, using the same consist as the outward, with no wye move in West Quincy, was close to time and well-patronized for the return to Chicago.  It arrived in time for a connection to the last train to Kalamazoo, something Amtrak probably would not encourage, although there's no reason Midwestern railroads can't restore the tradition that a fifteen-minute connection at Union Station ought to be nominal performance.

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