Amtrak ramping up Midwestern service during Thanksgiving week

By Igor Studenkov For Chronicle Media

Passengers wait at Chicago Union Station’s Great Hall. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

Passengers heading home for Thanksgiving on the train in Illinois and Michigan will have more options than usual on Nov. 22 and Nov. 26.

As it has done for the past few years, Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation added extra trains on the Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr corridor, which serves southwestern Illinois between Chicago and Quincy, and Lincoln Service corridor, which connects Chicago and St. Louis. Amtrak and Michigan Department of Transportation are also increasing service on the routes between Chicago and various points in Michigan. The extra trains will run the day before Thanksgiving and on Sunday, Nov. 26.

Even on the Chicago routes that don’t get extra service, the transit agencies will be adding extra train car. According to Amtrak press release, Thanksgiving week tends to be the busiest ridership week of the year. Nov. 22 tends to be the day most riders travel to see their families, and Nov. 26 tends to be the day they return, so the transit agencies are adding extra service accordingly.

Chicago Union Station serves as the largest train hub in the Midwest, serving as a terminal for all Amtrak routes in the region.

Those routes can be divided into two categories.

The long-distance routes, which tend to be longer then 750 miles, connect major cities across several states and are largely funded by the government. The state-supported routes are no more than 750 miles and tend to run either within a state or several nearby states. As the name implies, most of the operating costs are covered by the states they serve. While long-distance train schedules usually remain the same every day of the year, some states beef up the service on some, if not all, routes they’re funding during major holidays.

State-supported and long-distance trains at the Amtrak/Metra rail yard at Roosevelt Road. (Photo by Igor Studenkov/for Chronicle Media)

The Lincoln Service route makes stops in Chicago, Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlineville, Alton and St. Louis. The train runs four times a day. Between Chicago and Joliet, it shares tracks with Metra’s rush-hour only Heritage Corridor line. While passengers can take the train from Chicago to Summit, St. Louis-Chicago trains don’t pick up any passengers at that station.


Lincoln Service

On Nov. 22 and Nov. 26, Amtrak and IDOT will run an additional Lincoln Service train between Chicago and Bloomington-Normal in both directions. According to the schedule, Chicago-Bloomington-Normal train will leave the city at 10:30 a.m. and arrive at its final destination at 12:58 p.m., stopping at Summit in 10:58 a.m., Joliet at 11:27 a.m., Dwight at 12:01 p.m. and Pontiac at 12:19 p.m. The extra northbound train would leave Bloomington-Normal at 1:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:41 p.m., stopping at Pontiac at 1:43 p.m., Dwight at 2:01 pm., Joliet at 2:43 p.m. and Summit at 3:08 p.m.

The Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr trains follow the same route, with the former traveling from Chicago to Quincy in the morning and returning to Chicago in the evening, while the later travels from Quincy to Chicago in the morning and returns in the evening. Both stop at LaGrange, Naperville, Plano, Mendota, Princeton, Kewaneee, Galesburg and Macomb. Because LaGrange and Naperville are served by Metra’s BNSF line, Quincy-bound trains don’t drop passengers there, while Chicago-bound trains don’t pick any passengers up.

‘Carl Sandburg Extra’

On Nov. 22 and Nov. 26, Amtrak and IDOT will run the “Carl Sandburg Extra” trains in both directions. The train will leave Chicago at 10:30 a.m. and arrive in Quincy at 3:53 p.m., stopping at LaGrange at 11:49 p.m., Naperville at 12:05 p.m., Plano at 12:28 p.m., Mendota at 12:55 p.m., Princeton at 1:16 p.m., Kewanee at 1:39 p.m., Galesburg at 2:13 p.m. and Macomb at 2:53 p.m. The northeast-bound train will leave Quincy at 1 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:23 p.m., stopping at MaComb at 1:48 p.m., Galesburg at 2:26 p.m., Kewanee at 2:55 p.m., Princeton at 3:18 p.m., Mendota at 3:37 p.m., Plano at 4:04 p.m., Naperville at 4:34 p.m. and LaGrange at 4:50 p.m.

Like Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr, Illini and Saluki trains follow the same corridor, running through southeastern part of the state between Chicago and Carbondale. There will be no extra service during Thanksgiving, though acording to Amtrak press release, the two trains will have more train cars than usual.


Hiawatha train runs between Chicago and Milwaukee, making stops in Glenview, Sturevant, Wis. and at Milwaukee Airport Rail Station. As previously reported by the Chronicle, it is the busiest route in the Midwest, running 6-7 trains on weekdays and six trains on weekends. The route is jointly funded by IDOT and Wisconsin Department of Transportation. While they don’t plan to beef up any service, between Nov. 21 and Nov. 27, the usual ticketing policy will be suspended.

Hiawatha is one of the handful of Amtrak trains that uses unreserved seating systems. Riders don’t need to have tickets before they board, but that also means that they aren’t guaranteed seats. For the Thanksgiving week, the train will use the reserved seats system to avoid overcrowding.

Michigan DOT

Michigan Department of Transportation, on the other hand, is adding extra trains on its Wolverine and Pere Marquette routes during the same days as IDOT. Wolverine runs between Chicago and Pontiac, Mich. through northwestern Indiana and most of the southern Michigan, making stops in New Buffalo, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and Detroit, among other destinations. Pere Marquette runs between Chicago and Grand Rapids, Michigan, stopping in St. Joseph, Bangor and Holland. MDOT will run an extra Wolverine train in both directions between Chicago and Ann Arbor. It will skip Hammond-Whiting and Michigan City stops in Indiana and Dowagiac and Albion stops in Michigan.

Pere Marquette usually travels from Grand Rapids to Chicago in the morning and returns to Grand Rapids in the evening. The extra train would run between Chicago and Holland in the morning and make the return trip in the evening.

In an official statement, Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari noted that Thanksgiving week is the busiest week for the entire system — and he expected this year to be no different.

“Last year, Amtrak carried 760,755 customers throughout its national network during the Thanksgiving travel period,” he stated. “Similar customer counts are anticipated this year.”

Thanksgiving Service in Other Systems

In Chicago area, Metra has traditionally added extra afternoon rush hour service the day before Thanksgiving, and it has occasionally added service on some lines during Black Friday. On Thanksgiving itself, all lines operate on Sunday schedules.

Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis told the Chronicle that, while is planning extra service this year as well, the agency isn’t prepared to release details before this issue’s deadline.

The Metra extra service schedules are usually posted on its website at the start of the Thanksgiving week, and paper copies are usually available at most stations at the same time.

South Shore Line

The South Shore Line, which serves Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood and Northwest Indiana, will also follow Sunday schedule on Thanksgiving Day. While it usually offers extra service on Thanksgiving week, those plans have not been finalized by this issue’s deadline, either.


As has been the case during all major holidays, Chicago Transit Authority buses and “L” train lines will operate on Sunday schedule during Thanksgiving day.

Pace suburban bus system doesn’t operate any extra service during the Thanksgiving week. On Thanksgiving day itself, it usually operates a pared-down version of the system, running only certain routes, and having those routes run on Sunday schedules. According to Pace spokesperson Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, the agency is changing up things slightly this year.

As before, the routes Sunday schedules during Thanksgiving will include routes 208, 215, 223, 250, 270, 290, 301, 303, 305, 307, 308, 309, 310, 311, 313, 315, 317, 318, 322, 330, 332, 349, 352, 353, 356, 361, 364 and 606. And, for the first time, Routes 350, 357, 359 and 366 will run on Thanksgiving as well, operating on Sunday schedules. Daly-Skogsbakken also noted that Route 360, which provides service between Harvey Transportation Center and Amazon Express facility in Monee will use regular weekday schedule during Thanksgiving. And Pace is making some other changes this year, though they haven’t quite been finalized by this issue’s deadline.

“There are other routes/services that will operate on a modified schedule on Thanksgiving Day,” Daly-Skogsbakken said. “Also, some routes will operate on a modified schedule the day before and the day after Thanksgiving. Passengers should check our website [at] for additional information.”

In St. Louis and its suburbs, Metro Transit system won’t have any extra service during Thanksgiving week, either. On Thansgiving Day, both MetroLink and buses will run on Sunday schedules. Madison County Transit buses, on the other hand, won’t operate on Thanksgiving at all, and the transit agency is planning to extra service the rest of the Thanksgiving week.

The Greater Peoria Mass Transit District, which serves Peoria, Peoria Heights, West Peoria and Pekin, won’t have any service on Thanksgiving. The day before Thanksgiving, it tends to end service earlier than usual, but that information isn’t publicly available by this issue’s deadline.

The other transit providers within the Chronicle Media’s coverage area follow a similar pattern. Connect Transit, which serves the Bloomington-Normal area, has no service on Thanksgiving, and its service is otherwise unaffected. The same is true for Rockford Mass Transit District, which serves Rockford, Loves Park, Machesney Park and Belvidere.





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