On Nov. 4, 1971, the longest-operating state-sponsored Amtrak train in our network was born, the daily Illinois Zephyr. To this day, it connects Quincy, Macomb, Galesburg, Kewanee, Princeton and Mendota with Chicago, its suburbs and exurbs with eastbound trains each morning and westbound trains each evening. Another train, the daily Amtrak Carl Sandburg, began service in October 2006, for morning westbound and evening eastbound travel. Both of these trains are sponsored by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
This Wednesday, Nov. 3, community leaders and stakeholders will celebrate the 50th and 15th anniversaries of these services with morning events at their stations, connected to the schedule of Train 380, the eastbound Illinois Zephyr.
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 3
WHERE: Amtrak Stations in Quincy (6:10 a.m.), Macomb (7:01 a.m.),
Galesburg (7:37 a.m.), Kewanee (8:06 a.m.) and Princeton (8:30 a.m.)
WHO: Local and State Officials, other Community Leaders and Amtrak
A limited number of seats are available for media travel, with a return trip that morning on Train 381 from as far east as Princeton or that evening from anywhere on the route, including Chicago, on Train 383. Please contact Amtrak (below) as soon as possible.
BACKGROUND, by “Amtrak in the Heartland” Author Craig Sanders:
As Amtrak prepared to begin operations on May 1, 1971, dozens of communities across the country faced the loss of intercity rail passenger service because the trains serving them had not been chosen (by the U.S. Department of Transportation) to operate under the Amtrak banner. Among them were the Western Illinois cities of Quincy and Macomb, both of which were served by trains of Burlington Northern (BN). Both cities were stops for the unnamed Trains 5 & 6 between Chicago and West Quincy, Missouri, which were once known as the Kansas City Zephyr but were now known informally as the “Quincy Local” since the service on to Kansas City ended in 1967.
With the Quincy Local set to make its final trips on April 30, 1971, officials of Quincy College (now Quincy University) Western Illinois University and the cities of Quincy and Macomb went to court on April 28, 1971, where Federal District Court Judge Joseph Sam Perry issued an injunction ordering BN to continue to operate the Quincy Local. The federal court vacated the injunction on May 10 and the service ended.
But QC, WIU and its allies weren’t through with their fight to preserve intercity rail passenger service to their communities. They filed suit In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, arguing that the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, as Amtrak is formally known, was an unconstitutional attempt to regulate commerce that is solely intrastate. A three-judge panel on June 21 disagreed and also rebuffed the argument of the plaintiffs that discontinuance of the Quincy Local violated section 403(b) of the 1970 Act, which authorized Amtrak to operate service beyond its initial basic route network if management thought it would be prudent to do so. The court’s decision was appealed and on February 22, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court.
But even as the plaintiffs were in court, legislation had been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to appropriate $4 million to pay for service to Quincy and Macomb under section 403(b), which enabled state and local governments to request Amtrak service if they agreed to pay two-thirds of the operating deficit. The bill was approved and the Illinois Zephyr began operating between Chicago and West Quincy, Missouri, on November 4, 1971, with intermediate stops at LaGrange Road in the Chicago suburbs, Aurora, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg and Macomb.
Service began at Plano on April 30, 1972, while Naperville replaced Aurora as a station stop on April 28, 1985. Service to Quincy proper began April 24, 1983. After flooding damaged the West Quincy station in July 1993, Quincy became the western terminus for the Illinois Zephyr on May 1, 1994.
Service on the Chicago-Quincy route expanded to two daily roundtrips on October 30, 2006, with the inauguration of the Carl Sandburg. The Illinois Zephyr continued its traditional schedule of leaving Quincy in the early morning and arriving in Chicago by 10:30 a.m. while departing Chicago in early evening for a 10 p.m. arrival in Quincy. The Carl Sandburg, which was named for a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and biographer who had been born in Galesburg, was scheduled to depart Chicago at 8 a.m. and arrive in Quincy shortly afternoon. The return trip to Chicago left Quincy in the late afternoon and arrived in Chicago before 10 p.m.