Steam in Illinois
April 12-20, 2011

Don Winter


This trip was to attend the Spring 2011 NRHS Conference in Urbana, IL, which included a visit to the Monticello Railroad Museum for a ride behind steam. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak.

The Journey East (4/12-4/14)

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Shortly after lunch, we leave home for the 120-mile drive to Los Angeles Union Station, reached before 4 pm, with the usual biology break. In LAUS, we check the big bag to Champaign, and acquire the tickets from the ticket window, then go sit in the north quadrangle to read in the sunshine until it's time to start boarding preparations. We then walk back to the car (in the MTA garage), get our carry-on bags, and make our way to Track 11, where the train is already waiting for passengers to board. Once our stuff is in the room, I walk the platform to collect the consist before the train is ready to depart.


P42                 75
P40                817
Baggage        1206
Dorm            39017
Sleeper          32118    Wyoming
Sleeper          32019
Diner              38062
Lounge           33019
Coach            34077
Coach            34048
Coach            34031

Train 4, 4-12-2011



Los Angeles

 6:15 pm

6:15 pm


6:50 6:59-7:07


7:33 7:51-55

San Bernardino

7:59 8:11-24



Winslow                             PT

5:39 am 6:08-10 am

Gallup, NM                         MT

8:21 8:36-41


12:10 pm
12:10 pm


1:15 1:48-51

Las Vegas, NM

3:03 3:32-34


4:50 5:14-18

Trinidad, CO

5:40 6:26

La Junta                           MT

Lamar 8:40 8:51



Kansas City, MO               CT

7:26 am
6:59 am

La Plata

9:55 9:52-56

Ft. Madison, IA

11:05 11:04-10

Galesburg, IL

12:08 pm 12:08-12 pm


12:58 1:08-10


1:13 1:24-26


2:42 2:14-16


3:15 2:46

Southwest Chief route description

We have traveled with this crew before: our sleeping car attendant is Brian, the other one Chuck, the dining car steward is Ardis, and the cafe attendant is Steve, he of the long and precise instructions for patrons. The train makes a ten minute traffic stop at Buena Park before crossing over there. We eat dinner as the train makes its stops at Riverside and San Bernardino, and are in bed by Victorville.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I awake west of Winslow, and we eat breakfast before arrival in Gallup. Even though the train is a half hour late at Winslow, it's into Albuquerque over 40 minutes early. The dispatcher does the usual good job of weaving our train back and forth among the freights west of Dalies (at least seven of them between Holbrook and Dalies). We eat lunch between Albuquerque and Lamy. Failed signals between CP Madrid and Lamy cause a loss of about a half hour, and a dispatching failure on Raton pass causes a further ten minute loss, which can't be recovered in the schedule padding at La Junta. We're eating dinner surrounding the La Junta stop, and are in bed before the train reaches Kansas.

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

I awake during the fuel stop at Argentine. Last night's tardiness becomes a 25-minute early arrival in Kansas City. We eat breakfast as the train crosses the Missouri River at Sibley, and lunch approaching Galesburg. We meet at least nine freights between KC and Cameron, crossing over to run around them as required. We also see a southbound loaded coal train on the Burlington line north of Fort Madison, and see Amtrak 6 pass Cameron ahead of us on the former Burlington line we'll take on into Chicago, but we never seem to get a delaying signal as a result. The train is a half hour early into Chicago, but since there's a frigid wind blowing off the lake, we make no attempt to leave the station during our over four-hour layover.

In the Metropolitan Lounge, we're interested to watch passengers arriving for an "America by Rail" trip by rail to Miami and then cruise through the Panama Canal. The majority of their passengers are clearly unfamiliar with rail travel procedures in the Amtrak era. They and the other passengers for the Capitol Limited have a 5:30 pm boarding call for a 6:40 pm departure. Some passengers for that train are unprepared for such an early call, and have to be shepherded to their train later.

After their departure, the only passengers remaining in the Lounge are for either Train 59, along with us, or Train 48, much later in the evening. Our boarding call is at 7:15 (for an 8 pm departure), and we use the services of the redcaps to ride out to the train, noting its locomotive and transition sleeper before reaching our sleeper. (As always, this train is in the platform 'backwards', because it will reverse out to Union Avenue before heading forward onto the former Illinois Central over the St. Charles Air Line.) Chris then walks the train to get the rest of the consist.


P42                     97
Dorm                39043
Sleeper              32044
Diner-Lite          37005
Lounge              33044
Coach-Bagg.     31029
Coach               34137
Coach               34075

Train 59, 4-14-2011




8:00 pm

7:59 pm

Homewood 8:54 8:43-54
Kankakee 9:23 9:35
Champaign-Urbana 10:34 10:36-41

City of New Orleans route description

We eat dinner with a mother and daughter who are also heading to Champaign-Urbana. Service is slow, but concluded well before our destination. The train manages to lose twelve minutes before Kankakee, due to waiting for a northbound freight, and is still a few minutes late at Champaign-Urbana, where we pick up the checked bag at trainside. A 'phone call to the hotel brings us the van in ten minutes, and we encounter Wallace Henderson at the check-in counter. (He has driven from his home in western Kentucky.)

In the room, we encounter a couple of maintenance problems which the hotel promises to fix in the morning.

At the Conference (4/15-4/17)

Friday, April 15th, 2011

There are no planned activities today, so we sleep in, ignoring the knocks from the maintenance man. (We later get him to come by and fix the issues.) By the time we leave the room looking for lunch, the housekeeping folks have passed our door, and never check  back to see if we're up, so we have to request that the room be made up, later. We have lunch with Dave Flinn, at a table adjacent to that taken by the Blackhawk Chapter folks when they arrive to have lunch before starting the registration effort. Service at lunch is quite slow, and it takes three attempts for one of the Blackhawk folks to get a modified order correct.

After lunch, we go to the registration table, where we start seeing familiar faces, such as Bob and Diane Heavenrich, arriving for the meetings. Later, Chris and I walk to a nearby Circle-K to buy batteries for the scanner and afternoon snacks, discovering that the frigid winds are still blowing. Later, we wish Greg Molloy happy birthday, as he arrives on our hallway for the Regional Vice-Presidents Meeting.

At dinner, it transpires that the hotel no longer has a fucntioning dinner-time restaurant, despite what the paperwork in the room says, so we have to eat in the bar, with incredibly slow service. (The waiter comes by about every 45 minutes!) We share a table with John and Marge Fiorillo, and greet other passing by in the lobby. The place is full of university students at some kind of fraternity-sorority gathering, some of whom are very sharply dressed.

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Two buses have been provided for the 50-60 people headed for the Monticello Railroad Museum for this morning's rail activity, loading at "8:15 am", and departing at 8:30 am, traveling west on I-74, south on I-57, and southwest on I-72 to the museum's base at Nelson's Crossing on the former Illinois Terminal line between Champaign and Decatur.

The Monticello Railroad Museum was founded, two name changes back, in 1966, and became known by its current name in 1982. The museum has four steam locomotives, one of which is operational, and nine diesel locomotives, at least four of which are operational, 25 passenger cars, 22 freights cars, 13 cabooses, ten company service cars, and twelve maintenance-of-way cars. There is a sufficient set of former Illinois Central passenger cars to make up a complete passenger trains, albeit of mixed heavyweight and lightweight stock, but some of those cars are semi-permanently located in the set of display cars north of the Nelson's Crossing depot. Also at Nelson's Crossing, in the Camp Creek Yard, south of the depot, are the Car Shed, Car Shop, Machine Shop, Engine House and Locomotive Shop. The museum also owns the former Illinois Central line all the way to Monticello. As far as I can tell, all the museum's equipment is maintained in good condition, at least externally, which is more than can be said for some of the railroad museums we've visited!

The museum has coffee and donuts available in their depot gift shop, when we arrive on this frigid, rainy. morning. After there has been time for all to get their refreshments, we board the train, comprising former Southern 2-8-0 401, which finished a 15-year restoration process just last September, hauling an open gondola, two heavyweight commuter coaches, and a caboose. This train takes us northeast, along the former IT, to a crossover that reaches a former Illinois Central line that is then used to head southwest, with a photo runby at a place where there's a road at an appropriate place for the photo line, and then on to the restored IC depot in Monticello, where there is a museum. There's time to visit the museum, and then it's time to head back to Nelson's Crossing, where there's time to visit the museum's display cars in some former Illinois Central passenger and RPO cars, and a former Wabash business car.

The first group of visitors, including Chris and me, departs at 11:30 am, with the remainder scheduled for 12:00 noon. Back in Urbana, some people head for the hotel's cafe, while others, including us, head across the street to the only local restaurant.

Later in the afternoon, the Board holds its pre-meeting working sessions, where matters arising can be discussed off the record. Greg Molloy wants to discuss the budget, which he points out is a three-year rolling budget. This is based on the Strategic Plan that the society's management has been working on, that has been presented but not yet formally approved by the Board. So, I ask Greg if he's really requesting Board approval for a budget based on a strategic plan that the Board hasn't yet approved. The look on his face at this is wonderful to behold, and eventually he manages to force himself to admit that this is, indeed, the case. He says this is because Jeff Smith hasn't had time to prepare the needed document for approval.

After Greg states that the budget out-years are subject to being revisited at future Board Meetings, there is some further discussion of its implications, but not the kind of uproar one might have expected. At the gathering before the banquet, I offer to Greg my help with turning the presentation into an approvable document, to which he says he will have to discuss this with Jeff Smith. We'll see what transpires.

The banquet includes an interesting after-dinner presentation from the head of the Railroad Engineering and Technology Center at the University of Illinois.

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

The Board Meeting itself, on the record, starts at 8:30 am. The budget passes with little further discussion, and no ultimate opposition.  In fact, there is more discussion on the issue of Premium Dues Levels, Introductory Dues Rates and the age limit for Student Membership than there is on the budget, at least in the formal meeting.

After the meeting, Chris and I again have lunch with Dave Flinn in the hotel cafe, where the service is even worse than it had been on Friday, and then later the three of us walk over to the nearby restaurant for dinner, where we also encounter Barry Smith and Don Maxwell, and interesting conversation ensues.

The Journey West (4/18-4/20)

Monday, April 18th, 2011

This morning we have breakfast in the hotel cafe, with Dave Flinn and Don Maxwell, anticipating no time for lunch in Chicago. The normal wait staff has not shown up this morning, so maintenance staff are struggling valiantly to serve us, but progress is even slower than before.

Chris has arranged for the hotel van to take us to the Amtrak station at 9:30 am, for the scheduled 10:14 am train, and ultimately eight of us from the meeting travel in this van. Chris and I are the only ones traveling in Business Class. When the train arrives, late, the boarding process is laborious, and requires those of us in Business Class to walk through two coaches, congested with boarding passengers, before reaching the Business Class car, where we take the last two seats after having the adjacent passengers remove their baggage from them.


P42                     34
Business/Cafe 58002
Coach            54570
Coach            82776
Coach            54530
Coach            54539
Coach            54506
P42                      26

Train 390, 4-18-2011




10:14 am

10:19 am

Rantoul 10:27 10:45
Gilman 10:53 11:11-13
Kankakee 11:15 11:55-57
Homewood 11:44 12:30-32 pm
Chicago 1:00 pm 1:21 pm

In Chicago, Bill Dredge heads directly to the boarding lounge for Train 7 (which is already boarding), and Chris, I and Barry Smith go to the Metropolitan Lounge to await our onward trains. Don Maxwell is flying out, Dave Flinn is headed elsewhere for the duration before his Train 48 leaves this evening, and the man from Kansas City is traveling coach on Train 3. Barry heads off to get lunch, and while he is gone, as I had warned him (he left his bags with us), our train is called and we depart. The redcaps take us out to the train, and I collect the consist as we pass it by to our sleeper. I note that there is an extra sleeper on this train compared to Train 4, last week.


P42                      90
P42                    177
Baggage            1161
Dorm              39033
Sleeper            32073    California
Sleeper            32099    New Mexico
Sleeper            32103    Ohio
Diner               38060
Lounge            33030
Coach             34037
Coach             34105
Coach-Bagg.   31020

Train 3, 4-18-2011




2:45 pm

2:45 pm

Naperville 3:20 3:16-20
Mendota 4:09 4:12
Princeton 4:31 4:32
Galesburg 5:23 5:21-23
Fort Madison 6:27 6:18-27
La Plata 7:36 7:29-36
Kansas City              CT 9:56
Lamar                      MT 6:59 am 7:13 am
La Junta 8:15
Trinidad 9:50 9:48-50
Raton 10:56 10:46-56
Las Vegas 12:38 pm 12:40 pm
Lamy 2:24 2:38-42
Albuquerque 3:55
Gallup                      MT 7:08 7:11-31
Winslow                  PT 7:50 8:15
San Bernardino 5:32 am 6:05-10 am
Riverside 5:53 6:28-35
Fullerton 6:34 7:30-35
Los Angeles 8:15 8:10

On the way out to Aurora, we pass Amtrak 4, two Metra trains, an NS freight connecting to the BNSF, and three BNSF freights. West of Aurora, we meet Amtrak 6 and five freights, two of them loaded coal trains, while we're still on the former Burlington line. On the former Santa Fe, we meet six intermodals and a loaded coal train (on the Mississippi River bridge at Fort Madison), before darkness takes over. Chris and I eat dinner starting at Marceline. Train 3 reaches Kansas City just before its St. Louis connection gets there!

Tuesday, April 19th, 2010

Just after I sit up in the bed, I see the Colorado State Line sign on the highway alongside. Breakfast, however, is on Central Time, so we have to get up and get to the Diner before service ends, east of La Junta. As we approach Trinidad, an empty BNSF coal train passes above us on the former Colorado & Southern Trinchera Pass line. After lunch, south of Las Vegas, NM, we encounter a 13-minute stop waiting for Train 4 at Glorieta siding. West of Lamy, we encounter the same signal failure as we had going east last Wednesday, causing us to lose an amount of time approximately equal to the schedule padding going into Albuquerque. At the latter, we get there at the same time the afternoon RailRunner trains are boarding, so the conductor has to walk the train through the commuters crossing the track we're running on.

About 6:30 pm, we hear the crew make a radio call to the Dispatcher for Paramedics to meet us at Gallup, since a passenger is having chest pains. The Paramedics show up about seven minutes after we stop in Gallup, and eventually take the passenger off the train. The 23-minutes late at Gallup becomes 25 minutes at Winslow, during the time we've eaten dinner, and we're in bed before Flagstaff. 

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The train is 38 minutes late at San Bernardino, where I awake, and sits at Riverside while a Metrolink train for the line via Corona leaves. This causes us to run on yellow signals all the way to at least Atwood, making us an hour late out of Fullerton. Dave Arthur stops by the room to say hello, since he's working the train today (one of the conductor slots from Kingman). By the magic of schedule padding, the train is actually five minutes early into Los Angeles!

We don't have a checked bag (since it wasn't possible to check one from Urbana), so we can head directly to the car in the MTA garage. Even with the usual visit to Bristol Farms in South Pasadena, we're home just after 11 am. All appears to be well.