Amtrak sets more cuts in Midwest, announces first changes on West Coast

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Lincoln Service train 302 speeds through Odell, Ill., on a 110-mph test segment in November 2016. It is one of the two Lincoln Service round trips cancelled as of Saturday.
Bob Johnston

CHICAGO — Beginning Saturday, March 21, Amtrak service on three Illinois routes out of Chicago will be reduced beginning Saturday, March 21. The reductions, for an indefinite period, reflect dwindling ridership during the coronavirus outbreak.

The West Coast will also see its first service reductions beginning March 23, with a dramatic decrease for Northern California’s Capitol Corridor service. In the Pacific Northwest, one Amtrak Cascades trip is being dropped.

Saturday’s changes will also see the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha, already reduced from seven trips to four, cut to just one daily round trip. The Empire Builder will handle local passengers on that segment and add stops at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport and Sturtevant, Wis. The move eliminates the ability of passengers to travel northbound from Chicago in the morning.

The other changes to Chicago-based routes:

Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service: Two round trips are cancelled. Southbound, the 7 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. departures (trains 301 and 305) will be cut, while the 9:25 a.m. (train 303), 1:45 p.m. (Texas Eagle) and 7:00 p.m. departures will continue to operate.

Northbound, the 4:35 a.m. St. Louis departure, which affords Illinois boarding passengers a 10:00 a.m. Chicago arrival, is joined by the 7:55 a.m. Texas Eagle, and 5:30 p.m. Lincoln Service trains out of St. Louis, with service dropped that had departed at 6:30 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. (trains 302 and 304).

Chicago-Quincy, Ill: The Carl Sandburg round trip is cancelled. Only the morning departure from Quincy and afternoon trip out of Chicago are retained, though Mendota, Ill., Princeton, Ill., and Galesburg, Ill., travelers will still have an option to take either the California Zephyr or Southwest Chief from to and from some of those stations.

Chicago-Carbondale, Ill.: One of two round trips is cancelled. With an additional nocturnal frequency continued to be provided by the City of New Orleans in each direction, the state has opted to keep the morning Saluki departure from Carbondale and the 4 p.m. Illini out of Chicago.

The reductions in Illinois aren’t as extensive as those in Michigan. As of Saturday, only one of three Chicago-Pontiac, Mich., Wolverine round-trips continues, in addition to the Chicago-Port Huron, Mich., Blue Water. The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Mich., Pere Marquette has been cancelled.

The Capitol Corridor will drop from 15 to five weekday departures in each direction (plus the Coast Starlight) on Monday over its busiest Sacramento-Emeryville, Calif., segment; as of late Wednesday, reductions on the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner corridors had not been announced. The Cascades, which had already stopped service north of Seattle, will eliminate the last round trip of the day.

No long distance train reductions have been planned, according to Amtrak’s Marc Magliari.

Jacob Walls, a graduate student at Chicago’s Chaddick Institute of DePaul University who is compiling statistics on the impact of the coronavirus on transportation, tells Trains News Wire that Lincoln Service train 303 he rode from Chicago to Bloomington/Normal, Ill., on March 17 had mainly single travelers spacing themselves in the two open coaches.  

“I had used Guest Rewards points for the trip, but Amtrak let me change the reservation without imposing a point reduction penalty,” he says.

During a Chaddick Institute-hosted webinar Wednesday, transportation consultant Erik Cempel told participants that Amtrak’s current bookings are down 60%, future reservations are off 80%, and passenger cancellations are up 400% from the same period last year.

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