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Transit Adventures

The Late Lincoln Service to St Louis and Spontaneously Deciding to Stop in Alton Along the Way

Although tomorrow busing starts again on the Lincoln meaning I’ll probably take the dog or MegaBus back to Chicago, the Texas Eagle on its detour would require me to spend $150 on a room, something I’m not willing to do. Yesterday around noon I got an email ┬áthat welcomed eTickets on all routes. I spent the day for sightseeing and a Chicago Cubs game in the friendly confines in Chicago. I was stunned that I could ┬ájust walk up and buy a $23 upper grandstand ticket and enjoyed the ancient ballpark without modern amenities like a diamond vision but TVs showing the game and ads between innings along the pillars that hold up the roof. I didn’t really get any website work done and at the game realized there is definitely something not working with my camera.

This morning as I walked out of the hostel I noticed a QR code had been activated on the reservation I made just on Saturday along with my return trip to New York via Washington. I got to Union Station at 6:40 and stopped at QuikTrak Machine and got the modern electronic travel document.

Boarding a short distance train was as bad as a long-distance one with a line stretching out of the boarding lounge, and confusion with some passengers in line for the 7:30 Wolverine, not my early Lincoln Service Train. I flashed my iPhone at the gate agent who needed me to scroll down to see the train number. We were then hustled out to the platform with the gates closed between the cars requiring us to board by destination. I was put in the quite crowded St Louis car and got a seat mate before we left Chicago. BiLevels with their electronic doors will really be great for sit anywhere seating.

The train left Chicago I assume right on time, my phone died between showing it to the gate agent and plugging it in. The conductor came by so I handed her the printed bar code, no one got seat checks, as we slowly pass the main yard where I noticed the Ocean View dome and a Surfliner car are sitting before curving to follow the CTA Orange Line out of Chicago.

At 7:17 we finally leave the orange line and slowly cross another rail line at grade before stopping. At 7:23 it’s announced we’re waiting for Metra, guess one of the three Heritage Corridor trips. Finally at 7:41! A train comes by and we start moving again. We come to another stop and then keep moving and stop again by some truck yards along the railway line for another Metra train at 7:50. I wonder if this happens every weekday for train 301? At 8:09 as we’re still stopped its announced the cafe car is only accepting cash because the credit card machine isn’t working. At 8:17! Metra finally passes, so much for this express trip. At 8:20 were moving passed a long freight train which I wonder if was the main cause of delay although it was alongside a yard.

  • 8:22 — pass the simple Metra station of Summit shared with Amtrak, before we stop again, the third Metra? A baby cries I wish this train had a quiet car.
  • 8:35 — finally regain full speed as we pass another Metra station
  • 8:41 — go through Lemont Station
  • 8:47 — zoom through industry of Chicago’s suburbs. They announce we were late because of CN signal problems that made Metra late for the timed meets.
  • 9:08 — we pull into Joliet, complete our station work and then start running backwards for some reason past there ballpark, don’t know if this is standard. We then told we moved because train #300 needs to pass first. It isn’t due for 20 minutes.

  • 9:15 — were finally back to zooming along fields with equipment for track work idol alongside.
  • 9:32 — Cross a nice wide river and go through Wilmington
  • 10:06 — slowly go through another town, Pontiac and bypass it before leaving town and crossing a river going slowly again, the track is in good shape though.
  • 10:16 — We slow to pass sister train #306 along some fields but luckily it is already there.
  • 10:25 — pass Chenoa, the view continues with agriculture mixed with trees
  • 10:41 — slowly pass subdivisions as we start entering Bloomington. Then we stop to wait for the line up to get into the siding into the new Normal station. There is a freight train in the old station. I see people crowding the vestibules waiting to get off as we wait for the signal time out.
  • 10:52 — finally moving again before stopping now because of a malfunctioning grade crossing, the conductor mentions he might halve to get out and flag them. They announce it is luckily resolved and the next 3 crossing gates should go down. We pass an old AmStation with orange webbing (I might have done a photo stop here except that the 9:00 #303 was already at the $40 bucket when I booked my ticket) and come to a stop by a modern parking garage built on top of the new intermodal station where it sounds like the kinks are still being worked out. We leave at 11:00 and start passing suburban houses and a large freight yard.
  • 11:07 — we are back in fields following a highway
  • 11:15 — McLean with a few houses
  • 11:23 — We keep following I-55 as there is a sign for Lincoln
  • 11:27 — zoom through Lincoln passing an old Illinois modular brick AmShack (like the old one in Kewanne) next to a historic one. The train continues through fields
  • 11:35 — go through the little town of Elkhart and reach its siding where I notice continuously welded rail. At 11:40 we stop to wait for our sister train, the Texas Eagle and stop by a field. At 11:46 it passes us by and we continue through fields by trees and through another town. The landscape is totally flat.
  • 11:57 — all of a sudden were going through trees and pass another empty rail yard

At 12:03 we start entering Springfield as the toddler in my car keeps fusing, I bet there empty seats in the rest of the train but lacking a seat check I can’t really move! We enter Springfield and stop in front of a nice, old brick depot blocking a grade crossing. There is an information display on Lincoln’s final journey. We slowly go through Springfield which definitely looks interesting for a relatively long layover if I ever have a chance to do the stations of the Lincoln service on a multi-city ticket. We pass what looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright House as we leave the station. With the track work and me booking so late this is really just a scouting trip.

We stop again this time for freight traffic in front of us. These delays I would expect on a regular train but not a corridor with 5 trains per day! A Norfolk Southern train soon comes through horn blowing. We’re finally really leaving at 12:23.

  • 12:29 — we have returned to fields and pass a lake. It’s more endless corn and other crops.
  • 12:36 — pass a nice, large cemetery
  • 12:45 — we come to another stop in a cornfield along a single track section because of signal issues. The conductor announces we will then continue into Joliet before correcting herself.
  • 1:02 — pass Carlinville with just an AmShack and enter another stretch of forest. We Glimpse another field but keep passing primarily trees
  • 1:14 — pass Shipman, a small town as it’s water tower says.

I’m getting hungry and with my train running so late realize the following Lincoln Service train running only a half hour late and a ticket to St Louis only $2.50 on it decide to stop for lunch. My train finally arrives at 1:29 and since I’m in the St. Louis car the conductor actually says “Sir, this isn’t your final destination” as I step off and get a few photos before starting to walk into town.

Town is a bit farther away than I would like. I see a nice looking diner but know I don’t have time for it so I end up at a Subway and buy one of their editable but mediocre sandwiches. I wonder back to the station of the simple brick station house on a concrete platform beneath the ballast requiring a stool and wonder if budgeting has been done to rebuild the platforms for bilevel car automatic doors operations.

Train #303 Comes in at 2:41, it looks like a real train with four coaches (one Amfleet, the rest Horizons) and an Amfleet cafe on the rear of this train. I get on We then sit in the station waiting for a track warrant to proceed. I here what are a ton of letters and numbers reread over the radio of a nearby conductor and at 2:52 we finally get the double toot to leave the little station. A younger conductor comes by and can’t seem to scan the QR code in my iPhone but looks up my name (only one other passenger has boarded) and collects my ticket that way.
At 3:00 we pass a huge chemical plant as we approach St Louis.
We slowly pass houses and suburbs going through Granite City of industry. The conductor announces were following a freight train, he also apologizes for the delays because of track work for high speed rail. We slowly go through a train yard and I see some old Heritage Fleet cars in a random train yard. He makes the announcement again about the exciting time of implementing high speed rail.

At 3:30 we are moving the other way and slowly rise onto a bridge with subdivisions on each side of the train. We cross over a highway and another rail line to start crossing over the Mississippi which begins at 3:33. It is the most impressive part of this trip. We slowly curve down and pass industry and the scrapyard as we enter St Louis with a lumber yard off to one side. Then an even larger scrapyard, entering a city through its back door. We go under a rail line which was clearly once electrified. We follow the Mississippi but there is industry between us and it. We go under a new bridge across the Mississippi and finally start following it a bit. I move to the other side of the train as we directly follow the Mississippi. I see Metrolink crossing on the lower level of a bridge which we cross beneath.

At 3:49 we curve away from the river to head south of downtown where the station is.

The train arrives in St Louis at 3:53 on the closer Platform A at the modern intermodal transportation center, the afternoon Missouri River Runner #313 is waiting and boarding across the platform and I get some photos on my camera that I need to bring to a camera store of the meet.

I then walk out of the station and to Metrolink. I have iPhoned a camera store but the nearest one, only slightly accessible by Metrolink is in the suburb of Clayton. I hop on the train there and am immediately impressed by the scale of the system, particularly the underground stations. I get to Clayton and walk out to the camera store where the friendly staff immediately diagnoses the problem as my lens (probably from dropping it somewhere, I am a heavy user of my camera, it does happen) and put a replacement on and I immediately realize I need to spend the $180 on a new lens. Unfortunately the cheepest one they have in stock to sell me is a $700 Sigma. I leave the store empty handed and decide I will just have to return to St Louis to photograph Metrolink (and go to a Cardinals game, there away today) I do make a point of riding the train out over the Mississippi to Washington Park, IL to experience to the impressive Mississippi River crossing on a steel bridge.

The other problem for me in St Louis is that not one but two people have told me to avoid the one hostel in St Louis and that it was so awful neither of them lasted the night. That morning I did book a $70 hotel room downtown (via hotwire) in the tower Millennium Hotel on the 20th floor (posted rate is over $200) and I spend the evening being a tourist going up the little gondola car up the Gateway arch.