In exciting news for our state's economic development, Amtrak expansion is starting tomorrow.
The Illinois General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich get the credit for coming up with the money for the expanded service, and Senator Durbin has done a ton of work to make sure a last-minute monkey wrench thrown by one of the freight railroad companies that owns part of tracks didn't derail the expansion.
Here is the expanded schedule.
To make it easier for the lobbyists, staffers and electeds who might want to take a train from Chicago to Springfield, here's the deal:
There are now 5 daily trains leaving Chicago to Springfield.
There's a 7 a.m. express train that stops in Joliet and Bloomington-Normal before arriving in Springfield at 10:15 am.
Then a 9:15 am that arrives in Springfield at 12:20 pm.
A 2:00 pm train that arrives in Springfield at 5:30 pm (that's the train that goes all the way to Texas).
A 5:15 pm train that arrives in Springfield at 8:39 pm (very convenient for working days in Chicago).
And finally a 7:00 pm train that arrives in Springfield at 10:24 pm, so you can grab dinner before you come back to Springfield. That's a great return train for day trips for fun up to Chicago.
All of these southbound trains will continue to run pretty much on time.
The northbound trains have been a problem. Here's the new schedule (just Springfield to Chicago).
The early morning train leaves Springfield at 6:33 am and arrives in Chicago at 9:55 am. Very good for working meetings -- and memo to all state department heads: please schedule morning meetings for 10:30 am and not before so your Springfield staffers can take the train and get there on time.
The next northbound leaves at two hours later at 8:33 am and arrives in Chicago at 11:55 am.
These first two trains should be very reliable, as they both start in St. Louis.
The next one leaves Springfield at 10:29 am and arrives in Chicago at 2:14 pm. However, the 10:29 am train is the Texas Eagle and that can run very late. A good trick is to check the train status of the Texas Eagle (it's train number 22) by checking www.Amtrak.com or calling 1-800-USA-RAIL as if you want to get a northbound train at noon or 2 pm, sometimes the Texas Eagle is running three or four hours late so it works out perfectly.
The next northbound train leaves Springfield at 5:07 pm and arrives in Chicago at 8:30 pm. This should be a reliable train as well, because even though it starts in Kansas City, Missouri, they build in some time in St. Louis to make up for expected delays. (The track in Missouri is a mess).
Finally, there's an after-dinner train leaving Springfield at 7:28 pm and arriving in Chicago at 10:50 pm. This is perfect for day trips to Springfield.
Keep in mind if you are a state employee, you are eligible for a one-way state rate of $17 (unless they raised it a bit), so be sure to call 1-800-USA-RAIL and book your state rate (or ask the ticket agent at the station).
Finally, a commercial. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is a client of mine and a main proponent of this Illinois Amtrak expansion. We're a membership-based organization, so please consider joining. You can do so here. More immediately, we're celebrating the biggest Midwest Amtrak expansion in more than a decade by riding the initial run at 7:00 am Monday morning all the way to St. Louis, having a lunch downtown at the Hyatt Regency and then riding back. Anyone is welcome to join us, particularly for the lunch at 1 pm (that's $50 per person). If you'd like to be a part of the ride, just buy a ticket. The St. Louis lunch information is available here.