Amtrak announces 'Eclipse Express' special to southern Illinois

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Amtrak's Eclipse Express will offer a same-day round-trip from Chicago and Champaign-Urbana for the solar eclipse viewing on August 21.
CHICAGO — Amtrak has sold out a special train to southern Illinois catering to travelers who want to see a total solar eclipse on U.S. soil. Following protracted negotiations finalizing operating and logistical details with host railroad Canadian National, Amtrak on Sunday announced that it would run an additional round-trip, the Eclipse Express from Chicago to Carbondale, Ill., on Aug. 21. That trip sold-out within 24 hours, Amtrak officials say.

The southern Illinois city is situated a few miles from the Makanda, Ill., location where the moon will pass in front of the sun for the longest duration of totality anywhere in the United States.

The southbound special, designated No. 399 in Amtrak’s reservation system and available for sale since Sunday afternoon, will depart Chicago at 3 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Carbondale at 8:30 a.m., making one stop at Champaign, Ill. along the way at 5:05 a.m.

The first phase of the eclipse begins at 11:52 a.m., reaching totality between 1:20:07 p.m. and 1:22:44 p.m., with the partial phase ending at 2:47 p.m.

The daily southbound Saluki, scheduled to depart Chicago daily at 8:15 a.m., has a scheduled Carbondale arrival at 1:45 p.m., past the period of totality. For the last two weeks, the train has arrived more than 30 minutes late 50 percent of the time, suffering the longest delay on July 28 when it was over an hour late.

The special’s allotted time traveling to Carbondale is exactly the same as the Saluki, despite making eight fewer stops. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells Trains News Wire that the Eclipse Express is not departing later because, “There is a lot going on in Carbondale and the surrounding area that day. This schedule enables a full day in Williamson County without affecting our other services.”

Those events include an “Eclipse Day” celebration at Southern Illinois University’s Saluki Stadium, a Family Fun Zone area and Shadowfest, all within walking distance of the station.

The return special to Chicago, train No. 398, will depart Carbondale at 5:15 p.m. one hour after the regularly-scheduled Illini, also only stopping at Champaign.

Unlike other Illinois corridor trains, the Eclipse Express will not carry pets or bicycles and won’t have business class seating, but it will have a café car. Magliari has promised that overhead lighting in the coaches will be turned off for early morning snoozers.

One way fares from Chicago to Carbondale start at $65 ($38 from Champaign) southbound train, but northbound pricing is only being offered at $88 ($52 to Champaign).

Amtrak’s northbound Illini, train 392, has been sold out on Aug. 21 for weeks, even after heavy demand prompted the company to add an extra coach to bring capacity up to 340. Since the special is bypassing other intermediate stations, travelers from Homewood to Gilman, Ill., and Mattoon to DuQuoin, Ill., can’t make a same-day round-trip.

If Amtrak, the state, and CN had agreed to reschedule the southbound Saluki earlier months ago, there would not be the existing imbalance of traffic on Aug 21 which made running a special train a necessity. If that happened and demand was heavy enough, extra sections could have been added to satisfy it. Between Aug. 1 and Aug 18, the northbound morning Saluki is scheduled two hours earlier to accommodate track reconstruction north of Champaign.

Although some Carbondale hotels have been sold out for nearly a year and just a handful of rooms within 100 miles of the city have been available for months, Amtrak only announced its co-sponsorship of Carbondale events on June 27. Part of the involvement includes distribution on the Express of special glasses, which are necessary to prevent permanent eye damage from viewing the sun in its partial eclipse phase. They will be given out on the southbound Express.

UPDATE: Train to Carbondale, Ill., sold-out within 24 hours according to Amtrak. Aug. 7, 2017. 1:37 p.m. Central time.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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