ARCOLA, TUSCOLA, PEPSI-COLA. The expanded Amtrak service to Carbondale, Illinois, is not yet as comprehensive as the mini-corridor service the Illinois Central operated until the coming of Amtrak, but it now permits a day return trip to either end of the line.

Illinois Central services, February 1970.
Click the image for the actual sized schedule.
Note Memphis service. Northbound American runs on a comparable schedule.
Southbound City of Miami is about 30 minutes faster into Carbondale.

The new trains have seen a 61 percent increase in ridership over comparable totals a year ago and the corridor serves a number of the Illinois public universities along the eastern border of the state.

At Christmastime, the Great Hall (why not call it a waiting room?) of the Chicago Union Station is well-decorated.

The mini-corridor service originated at Chicago's Illinois Central Station on the lakefront. Amtrak rerouted all trains into Chicago Union Station, making use of a connecting track called the St. Charles Air Line that involves a reverse move out of the station and some slow running on elevated trackage.

The Metra Electric has been taking delivery of a new fleet of electric gallery cars (the original units are pushing 40) that have the control station upstairs, as is the case with the diesel control trailers on the other lines. A few of the older cars are on the easterly tracks.

In the background is the rebuilt Soldier Field. I sometimes wish the Chicago authorities had said "Build your new stadium in Arlington Heights" or "Go back to Decatur" rather than foist this questionable aesthetic on the lakefront.

The train ultimately makes its way out of suburban territory (including the southbound odyssey out of Kankakee) but it's unable to make the 1970s timings. Illinois Central was the last of the Chicago corridor operators to remove the 100 mph operation on its passenger mains, and the two-track speedway is now a rather busy single-track line with frequent passing sidings.

At Gilman, we had to duck into the TP&W interchange to clear a path for the northbound morning Saluki.

The station building, which is the setting of a famous double-time-exposure centerspread in Trains in the late 1950s, is in use by CNR maintenance staff. The Gilman station, in keeping with Amtrak's practice of building facilities in suburban locations, is a halt hard by the parking lot of a Citgo mini-mart in the truck stop quarter of town.

Further south, there appeared to be work in progress building an additional siding at Rantoul, and the station at Champaign has been made over as the "Illinois Terminal," although I saw no evidence of electric cars awaiting riders for Danville or Springfield.

The mini-corridor trains do not operate in the push-pull fashion of the Illinois Zephyr or Hiawatha lines. The train arriving Carbondale (close to time) turns on a wye north of downtown.

Concrete coaling towers proved to be such a good investment in durability that their removal is uneconomic. As long as there's enough overhead clearance for stack trains, railroads tend to leave them alone.

The campus of Southern Illinois University is easy walking distance from the Carbondale station, which is staffed with ticket and baggage agents.

Somebody got a deal on the plans for Chadbourne Hall.

I'd like to have train service this close to Northern Illinois University (viewed here from a pedestrian bridge linking the Chadbourne triplets to the main campus on the other side of Highway 51.)

I understand that all the turn-of-the-twentieth century state normal schools received a castle for a main building. This one is named Altgeld Hall, much like its counterpart at Northern Illinois.

I like our design better, and it's oriented for full sun on its front facade most of the day.

The Main Line of Mid-America is still a busy freight railroad connecting traditional CNR property Grand Trunk and new CNR property Wisconsin Central to Gulf ports.

There's not much time in town, especially if the incoming equipment is a few minutes late. On the other hand, there's no risk of getting stranded in Carbondale on a day-return trip as the equipment down as the morning Saluki goes up as the evening Illini. There's usually enough time to recess the train on a center servicing track away from excessively eager passengers and clear of the two tracks through town.

The service is still decently fast, capable of overtaking everything on Interstate 57 in open country, and during the holidays the lighted houses add to the view. Much of the run is at speed through smaller towns with their public illuminations and a Casey's general store at city limits. How long, though, before the secularist killjoys decide that herald angels and westward-leading stars are contrary to the Establishment Clause?

Amtrak 392 Saluki, Carbondale-Chicago, 28 December 2006: Genesis diesel 41, Amfleet dinette-business class car 48177, Horizon coaches 54517 - 54579 - 54536. Temperature approximately 50o (F), dry rail.

Leave Carbondale 4:05:50; DuQuoin 4:26:55-4:28:37; Centralia 5:00:11-5:01:43; Effingham 5:45:44-5:47:15; stop south of Mattoon, no explanation, no meet 6:03-6:06; Mattoon 6:16:21-6:17:40, meet train 393 waiting in siding 6:44, Champaign 6:54:00-6:59:05 (business class full out of Champaign, I suspect that when the semester begins coach will be crowded even with strengthened formations), Rantoul 7:12:36-7:13:00, second stop, moving again 7:16:40; Gilman 7:42:38-7:43:00; Kankakee 8:04:57-8:05:25; Homewood 8:32:14-8:34:48, fast run through south suburbs and no impediments on Air Line or reversal into station, Chicago 9:18:37. I didn't have to run to catch the 9:40 to Elburn.

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