En Route to Middle America

CHICAGO — It’s 7:35 a.m. and Amtrak train # 381 is leaving Union Station spot on time, clattering through a maze of switches out through the yards and onto the main line headed south. This is an Amtrak train, but it’s subsidized by the State of Illinois.

There are three coaches and a cafe car in the consist. The cost of this three-hour ride to Galesburg in coach class is just $19, but I chose to upgrade my ticket this morning before I boarded and am comfortably seated in business class, which is located in the forward third of the cafe car. Just to the rear of us is the service area where an attendant is popping packaged breakfast sandwiches in and out of the microwave and pouring cups of hot coffee for sleepy passengers.

The Chicago skyline, dominated by the imposing Sears Tower, gradually disappears into the morning mist. City turns to suburbs and not long after the Napirville stop we’re rolling along through farmlands at 80 miles and hour.

It’s harvest time here in the midwest — at least that’s the case here in this part of Illinois — and there are tractors and combines busily scouring the fields of brown corn stalks and soybeans. Every 10 to 15 minutes, we flash through small towns, modest houses and small commercial buildings clustered around the inevitable water towers.

The other half of this car is a seating area for patrons of the little cafe. The half-dozen booths with formica-topped tables are now occupied by several passengers chatting among themselves. That’s one of the big differences between trains and air travel. Rail passengers talk to each other … get to know each other … and it’s a big part of what I like about train travel.

At 10:20 by my watch, just about on time, we arrive in Galesburg where my brother and nephew are waiting. This is an interesting little town, with a lot of rail traffic passing through, both passenger and freight. In fact, I’m told that a train goes through Galesburg on the average of every eight minutes for the better part of the day.

So … two nights here, then back on the train for the very enjoyable ride to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief. As always, more to come …