The bad news is that freight train interference is still a problem.
Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, said total ridership for both the new Carl Sandburg train and the long-established Illinois Zephyr was 14,103 passengers during November. That's up from 10,469 passengers in November 2005 when the Zephyr was the only local option.
"The good news is that the Carl Sandburg appears not to be taking passengers away from the Illinois Zephyr, which I presume means we're attracting more passengers," Magiliari said.
David Johnson, assistant director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, agreed that the new trains do not seem to be draining many riders from the existing routes.
"Imagine that. You add routes and give people convenient times and you get more riders," Johnson said.
Amtrak officials are excited about the 34.7 percent increase in passengers between Quincy and Chicago. They've got even more good news along other routes that got new trains — all debuting on Oct. 30. During the first month there were 61 percent more passengers along the Chicago-to-Carbondale corridor and 49 percent more riders between Chicago and St. Louis.
"All the new Illinois trains are off to strong starts," Magliari said.
Although ridership numbers were good, Amtrak had a disappointing 53 percent on-time performance in November. Some of the late arrivals during the month were caused by railway congestion. A single track is available over most of the corridor between Quincy and Galesburg.That single track line once hosted the Kansas City Zephyr and American Royal Zephyr as well as Burlington's Kansas City - Chicago freight business, presumably that mostly uses the more direct former Santa Fe line.
Contemporary timings are not bad for a single-track line without the safety appliances required for speeds in excess of 79 mph. For example, the evening departure from Quincy is carded at 48 minutes over the 56 miles to Macomb: 70 mph. Macomb to Galesburg is 40 miles in 38 minutes and Galesburg to Kewanee 31 miles in 28 minutes.
As a present for finishing the grades, I decided to explore this route, which is new territory for me beyond Galesburg. It's easier to drive to Mendota to catch this train rather than ride a suburban train into Chicago. The morning train leaves Chicago at 8.00, covering the 83 miles to Mendota in 85 minutes inclusive of two stops. I left DeKalb just after 8.00 and intercepted the morning Illinois Zephyr, running a few minutes late, at Mendota.
Mendota is one step up from what the British would call a "halt" in that there is an enclosed, heated station building with washrooms that is open at train time, as well as when the town's railroad museum is open. There is neither a station agent nor a ticket machine.
The Milwaukee branch-line combine is not out of place in Mendota. It's part of the museum collection, parked on former Illinois Central trackage used by Milwaukee across the Burlington. The Illinois Central's original Centralia - Freeport line and Milwaukee's Rockford - Rochelle - Ladd line were all lifted in the early 1980s.
In time the westbound Carl Sandburg showed up, with a cabbage car in the lead. Time for a second cup of coffee, another book review, and an approximately on-time arrival at Quincy. The Quincy station is another of Amtrak's new-style stations located on the edge of town. Quincy is not that large a city, although it is on some hills, and I estimate my total walking to the riverfront downtown and back to the station as five or six miles. The legs are still objecting.
Quincy is home to a Franciscan college now known as Quincy University (with masters' programs in business and education) housed in a few buildings on the northeast side of town, with a baseball and football field along the way to the station.
The related St. Francis Solano school building has the kind of motto that would provoke questions that got my fourteenth great-grandfather tossed out of the Anglican Church.
"That's enough out of you, Mr Brewster."
There's also this rather imposing St. Francis Church, in the German style, complete with a clock that chimes the quarters in the German fashion.
(There's another chiming clock on the university building that chimes quarters in the Westminster fashion. The two clocks are not synchronized. The German clock goes first.)
I also found a neat-looking boat club, but the photo-upload isn't working at the moment.
But on Thursday night, the upload took. Enjoy.
Then it was time to walk back to the station and head home. The train didn't get into the station until 5.32 (the layover tracks are somewhere in West Quincy, Missouri, and at one time this train was called the "Quincy Local" and its station was in West Quincy.)
Amtrak 382 Carl Sandburg, Quincy-Mendota, December 18, 2006: Genesis diesel 128, Horizon coaches 54441 - 51000 - 54561, Amfleet dinette-business class car 48165, cabbage car 90222. Temperature approximately 32o (F), dry rail.
Leave Quincy 5:36:55, Macomb 6:30:13-6:33:13, Galesburg 7:10:34-7:12:20, Kewanee (a halt) 7:39:26-7:40:41, Princeton 8:03:34-8:04:17, Mendota 8.24, seventeen minutes late.