Amtrak’s Midwestern Service Got More User-Friendly This Summer

Upgrades include easier transfers, students discounts, and bike- and pet-friendly service

Amtrak's 2018 midwestern network.
Amtrak's 2018 midwestern network.

Today Amtrak and state sponsors of the railroad’s midwest network touted service improvements made this summer on local routes, including easier connections, student discounts, and more bike- and pet-friendly service. Since Chicago is the hub for midwestern routes, these upgrades are obviously good news for Chicagoans.

To ease connections and shorten layovers, schedules are now adjusted on Amtrak trains to and from Michigan, Wisconsin, downstate Illinois and Missouri. For example, Amtrak now offers service between Milwaukee and Detroit twice daily, and Milwaukee and St. Louis three times a day. The two legs of each trip are coordinated so that there’s only a short layover between trains at Chicago’s Union Station.

The service improvements are partly funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin DOTs. Trains used in these states are mostly powered by new, low-emissions locomotives with diesel engines manufactured in the midwest.

This summer the railroad rolled out a 15 percent discount on Midwestern routes for students ages 13-25. Tickets must be purchased online.

In July Amtrak launched new roll-on bike service on the Wolverine route between Chicago and Detroit, and similar service is planned on the Hoosier State route between Chicago and Indianapolis, sponsored by the Indiana DOT.

And last month the entire Midwest network became pet-friendly, with the addition of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. Dogs and cats of up to 20 pounds are accepted for a $25 surcharge. The animals must travel in a carrier under the passenger’s seat.

The Amtrak Midwest Network carried over 3 million passengers in the 12 months ending last September, an increase of more than four percent from the previous year. State-sponsored services are the fastest growing Amtrak business sector, according to the railroad.

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  • DoctorTecate

    There has always been at least 3 if not 4 trains between Chicago and St. Louis.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The change is that three of those trains now have their schedules coordinated with trains to Milwaukee. No real change for people traveling to or from Chicago, but a benefit for travelers connecting in Chicago.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I wish Amtrak would also work on better coordinating their thruway bus schedules. There are bus routes that extend the reach of Midwest service into northern MI and WI, but the routes are almost useless because they add 3+ hour layovers to trips that only take 5-6 hours to drive.

  • ATK87

    Galaxy Brain: Make Chicago Union Station a through-running station rather than a terminal, upgrade speed and frequency on the Midwest core regional lines, and permit through-running trains (STL-DET, IND-MKE, etc.).

  • 神隠し

    Any idea when the Chicago – St. Louis high speed rail will start operating at top speeds? I think it tops out at around 90mph currently but is supposed to get in the 120mph range.

  • Opening through running tracks at Union Station is part of a long-term plan, although it hasn’t been designed and funding hasn’t been allocated.

  • what_eva

    I’m always confused when I read about through tracks needing to be “designed”. They exist! IINM, there’s 2 of them. It’s certainly possible that they need work or something, but they are already there. They’re visible from the Adams St bridge. I know ages ago (probably 20 years ago) I defintely boarded an Empire Builder on the through track.

  • Kevin M

    I’ve boarded the Empire Builder from one of the through-tracks as well, and much more recently than 20 years ago. IINM, there’s only platform access to one of them (the other passes on the other side of the track that is platform-accessible), so that greatly limits the capacity in CUS’s current configuration. It seems to me that they could try this with at least one or two more trains, though.

  • Rail Provocateur

    How long does it take Amtrak to figure it out? Back in 1972, when Amtrak was managed by a far more enlightening management team, run thru service was initiated between Milwaukee-St. Louis thru Chicago on 2 trains, the “Abraham Lincoln and Prairie State, with parlors, domes, and dining/lounge services.

    The recent announcement of improved coordination of Midwest schedules is long over due; yet, no where does it indicate that the connecting trains will be positioned on adjacent tracks, with the exception of the Milwaukee service on the north corridor at Union Station. And what happens when the connecting trains arrive late, as they typically do now?

    In actuality, there is already one north/south run thru track on east side of Union Station; a second such track on the west side merely requires a platform. If we could ever get a straight answer we would learn if the new Sprinter engines can handle cab signals/PTC between different lines; if the T&E districts allow for run thru, or, a quick change in Chicago of engine and train crews would be required?

    Although Amtrak claims its future is in short haul corridors, as it throws the long distance routes under the train, its bureaucratic approach to run thru and connecting services in Chicago is pathetically archaic. Every such announcement is set to “wow” us, when in reality, the railroads that used to provide passenger services had already accomplished these improvements long ago!

  • what_eva

    Seems like they could do *something* with a crossing of the inside track and have trains stop in specific spots or something like that.

  • rwy

    If a train is late arriving in Chicago, will they delay another train leaving Chicago?

    Also, why limit pets to just cats and dogs? Many small pets are less annoying than a dog.

  • RealitySandwich

    There is at least one segment between Dwight and Pontiac that is 110 mph.

  • crazyvag

    Any word on when we’ll see 110mph service along most of the St. Louis – Chicago corridor? There’s a short segment up and running and there was talk a year ago about a 2 phase speed up, but there’s really been a dearth of updates in the last 12 months.

    I’m guessing delays are due to PTC, but any word on how that’s going?