Transit Adventures

Greyhound to the Champaign to the Illini back to Chicago

As I was waking up I saw the Texas Eagle on its diversion leaving town crossing a more southern bridge across the Mississippi out my 20th floor hotel room window. I wish I had been able to figure out a way to ride it diverted without spending a bunch on a sleeper since #322, the thru coach isn’t operating and Amtrak restricts sales on #22 except to Sleepers between St Louis and Chicago. With my camera not really working I decided to spend my morning in St Louis sightseeing. I first wondered into the old courthouse, where the infamous Dred Scott trial began. Next I decided to go on a truly propaganda filled tour taking the bus down to the Budwiser plant for its free tour which included a free beer, soft drinks and pretzels. 

I then returned downtown picked up my $13 Greyhound ticket to Chicago via Champaign which I will abandon there (a ticket just to Champaign was $23 in the odd world of Greyhound’s prices) for my $15 ticket on the Illini up to Chicago, a small price to pay for what will hopefully be a nice stopover.

I got back to the Intermodal Station at 1:35 and to my surprise there was a line and driver already collecting tickets. We leave on time at 2:00. The bus crossed the Mississippi and I noticed an Amtrak train approaching the St Louis Station from the south, I wonder if that is where they go to be weyed? I am able to grab a seat in the second row from the front and the bus is empty enough that I don’t have to double-up. It is a fairly uneventful ride along I-70 to I-57 with a quick stop at a generic highway rest stop. We arrive at 5:00 to the Champaign Illinois Terminal Station. The rail line crosses through town on a viaduct and the station is a tall building with the Amtrak station on the second floor and an overpass to the Amtrak platform. The main problem for me and pictures is the Amtrak platform is one with controlled access and access isn’t given until the train has entered the station, so no entrance photos. I have a good wonder of this college town, finding a diner for an early dinner. Heat restrictions on the CN railroad keep pushing the departure time back. Around 6:35, 20 minutes late Southbound Illini #393 pulls in with an impressive 7 cars, both Amfleets and Horizons, many passengers get off to board the 3 Van Galder buses waiting outside for Bloomington thru St Louis. This is a coach USA subsidiary, along with MegaBus which competes with Amtrak.

The departure time of my train gets later and later, and the station agent announces the train will be crowded and to please let parties o 2 or more board first. At about 7:30 Illini Train #392 pulls in, I’m stuck watching it from inside the glass station waiting room and the station agent finally opens the automatic doors to the overpass to the platform after it has fully entered the station, led by an F40 Cabbage with about 7 cars a mixture of Horizons and Amfleet-Is (some deadheading including a Northeast Regional Cafe). I am directed to a car towards the front of the train and I frantically snap photos of the platform as I head down to my Horizon’s car, the car is relatively empty and was obviously closed until the train arrived in Champaign.

At 7:40 we leave Champaign as I settle into an empty car briefly getting photos after the train to my disappointment has entered the station in the sunset. The conductor announces that the lateness is due to hear restrictions with speed reduced to 65 from 80mph. We leave passing a concrete factory of rubble and the sunsets on strip malls.

  • 7:54 — we come into Rantoul, with a bus shelter next to a historic station house. It has new signs and a new platform. The sun sets over more trees and fields. I-57 is visible off in the distance of the flat landscape.
  • 8:04 — we go through another town with the line still grade separated
  • 8:09 — go through the town of Loda at a quite high speed as I read from its fire department.
  • 8:19 — run by trees passing a freight train on the opposite track, no delays so far. We go Onarga as we speed with the announcement for Gilman.
  • 8:22 — we slowly come to the lights of what looks like a truck stop town as the conductor announces it as “Welcome to the Truck Stop Gilman” in the dusk with a simple shelter on the platform.
    Darkness finally descends and the towns seem relatively numerous.
  • 8:44 — we cross a wide river as we enter Kankakee and at 8:46 were off again. We then run very slowly due to debris on the track and resume a good speed as I guess the F40 could push the debris away. There are now clearly strip malls off the distance and a few more lights in Chicago’s suburbs. I decide I should walk the open portion of the train, 3 cars are open, two are only for Chicago and the one closest to the cafe is intermediate, and is the only one with seat checks.
  • 9:08 — speed by the southern end of Metra electric at University Park. I can’t tell if we’re running under wire. I will definitely be trying to catch one of these trains from a Metra electric station. If its the City of New Orleans it will be very strange to photograph Superliners from a high level platform. They all have islands. There a lot of people getting off there in my car. We come into Homewood on a low level platform across from a newer looking high level one. We leave exactly an hour late but there is plenty of recovery time in the schedule. Time is 10pm approximately.
  • 9:28 — we have slowed down quite a bit and pass the CONOL with Metra stations extremely frequently appearing all looking similar with staircase entrances.
  • 9:37 — were back in Chicago as I glimpse a sign for 63 Street.
  • 9:44 — Slow down and pass 47th-Kenwood, where my cousins live as we slow down to use whatever connection takes us into Union Station. I had no idea that Amtrak bypasses that tiny stop. Were definitely not running under wire now as a freight passes. We get an announcement that we have to stop for a Metra/South Shore train as a freight passes us. I think the freight has passed except there just flat cars, now passing.
  • At 9:49 we keep following Metra before passing under McCormic Place and it’s Metra stop. The train slowly curves away from Metra and Lake Shore Drive to head across to Union Station passing the lights of apartment buildings just north of 16th. I clearly see a red signal in front of our NPCU. We then cross the Metra Rock Island Line at grade and then the well lit Chicago River going over the Amtrak train yard before backing into Union Station. The conductor announces this with two stops as we enter Union Station with one for safety until we actually stop. There is lots of switching as the conductor comes to tell us we will be getting off at the rear of the train car. We cross over 94/90 and Halstead Street on Metra before stopping at 10:08. The back up move starts almost immediately. We’re right along it’s platform. That would be fun to photograph. At 10:13 were curving by the main Amtrak yard. There isn’t anything that new in it.

    We enter Union Station as the Lake Shore is just leaving it has the one Viewliner diner Indianapolis on the consist. A car with what looks like an excellent cathedral dining room for a meal. We come in on track 22:21 I notice the aisle is already full of people as we slowly back in. Official arrival time is 10:22 47 minutes late. I slowly leave the station as there are two other Short Distance Horizon sets parked overnight. I see the Empire Builder set (arrival time 9:19) Running through a thru track and wonder around, I have an hour and a half until my overnight MegaBus Ride up to Grand Rapids to take a ride on the Pere Marquette back.

3 replies on “Greyhound to the Champaign to the Illini back to Chicago”

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the shots and prose concerning Boston. I grew up near Central Avenue and rode the PCC’s to Ashmont or Mattapan most days for something or other – either to get downtown for work, or to get to high school, or going to the movies, you know, everyday things. Anyway, really enjoyed it. Thanks, man!

Oh, one thing: On your Blue Line section, it’s “BowdOIn”, not “BowdIOn” (and it’s pronounced BO-d’n, in case you didn’t know, so I hope I’ve provided you some value in return for your work!)