Friday, November 03, 2006

Lincoln Service Begins

Amtrak's expanded service begins

Published Tuesday, October 31, 2006
CHICAGO - The inaugural run of Amtrak's new Lincoln Service departed Union Station early Monday carrying dozens of travelers, including passenger-rail advocates, a business commuter and a junior college student taking his first train ride.

Train 301 left on time at 7 a.m. for St. Louis via Springfield - part of a $12 million Amtrak expansion in Illinois that will add four daily round-trip trains on three rail corridors linking the Windy City with downstate.
"Now we have the next step towards a real high-quality service," said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which lobbied state lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich earlier this year to pay for the extra trains.
Harnish and about 20 members of his Chicago-based organization reserved business-class seats on the first train to St. Louis. They planned to have lunch there before catching a northbound train that would bring them back to Chicago in the evening.
The new 7 a.m. train from Chicago is a daily express that skips some stops to shave minutes off the usual trip. It is one of two new Amtrak trains that will give passengers in either direction an additional morning and evening travel option.
The total number of trains on the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor increases to five round trips - three state-supported Lincoln Service trains and two cross-country trains from Amtrak's national network.
Computer consultant Senia Bartl of LaGrange said she's happy to have a 7 a.m. train that gets her to Normal earlier in the day. She said she spends her work week in Bloomington and relies on Amtrak to get her to central Illinois and back. The cost: $22 round trip.
"It's cheap. There's no way to beat the ticket price," Bartl said as she prepared to board.
Jon Brengle, 19, was taking his first trip on Amtrak after missing a bus ride to the St. Louis area, where he attends Florissant Valley Community College. He said he expected the train to be "faster than a bus, smoother."
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 92 people had bought advance tickets to ride the first southbound Lincoln Service, including 63 who were expected to board in Chicago. The train's capacity was about 225, he said.
Also departing for the first time from Union Station Monday was the new Carl Sandburg train connecting Chicago with Quincy via Galesburg (where the legendary Sandburg, a poet and LIncoln biographer, hailed from). Passenger train enthusiast George Strombeck of Rockford and his friend Deems Jensen of Chicago wanted to be among the first passengers for the 8 a.m. train heading west.
They planned to spend the day in historic Quincy before returning by train later in the day.
"We've been on last runs," Strombeck said. "This is a first run, and it's exciting."
The new trains - designed, in part, to stimulate business travel and tourism in Illinois - hit a potential snag last week when it was disclosed that Canadian National Railway Co. was having second thoughts about granting Amtrak access on two rail corridors.
The CN owns tracks on a portion of the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor and all of the tracks between Chicago and Carbondale that will feature a new Saluki train, named in honor of Southern Illinois University. Under pressure from members of Congress, the CN came to an agreement with Amtrak.
Passenger rail proponents have said more travelers will choose intercity trains over automobiles and planes if they have several arrival and departure options. Harnish, head of the high-speed rail group, said Illinois ideally would offer passenger train service every two hours on the Chicago-to-St. Louis line.
The new trains, which are starting during the first four months of the state fiscal year, have doubled Illinois government's Amtrak budget to $24 million.
Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Vanover said the agency would pursue a full year of funding in the next budget plan. He said it would cost more but declined to offer estimates; one source said the tab could be in the $30 million range.
Amtrak ridership on state-supported trains grew to nearly 1 million during the last fiscal year, IDOT has said. That figure included passengers who rode Amtrak's daily Hiawatha service connecting Chicago and Milwaukee; the cost is shared with the state of Wisconsin.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or


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