Riding the Wolverine Service
January 27-29, 2006
An opportunity to attend a regional slide show and visit my arose simultaneously. Instead of concerning myself about potential bad weather, I made the decision to use available rail service.
The desired routing was to take #350 out of Union Station to Birmingham, Michigan on Friday the 27th of January, returning on #353 Sunday the 29th. A call on the 800 number got me the desired reservations and an early purchase at the Milwaukee Depot got me a 10% AAA discount making the fare roughly $50.00 for the Chicago-Birmingham round trip.
Unfortunately the first Amtrak out of Milwaukee gets to Chicago ten minutes after #350 has already departed, so I used Plan-B, which was the Metra 5:13AM departure from Fox Lake. This was quite convenient and a significant cost savings over departing from Milwaukee. Parking at Fox Lake for Friday was only one dollar- Saturday and Sunday are Free. The fare to Union Station from Fox Lake is $5.60 one way, and I purchased a $5.00 Weekend Pass at the same time for the return journey, which ultimately turned out to be a wise decision.
The 5:13 train got me to Union Station in sufficient time to catch breakfast at the second level food court. Then it was downstairs to gate C for a 7:25AM boarding of #350.
Departure was on time, and despite a stop at Englewood for a Rock Island District Metra Train, we were pretty much on time as far as Niles, Michigan. The schedule began to suffer when we had to meet #351 in the vicinity of Lawton, Michigan. The siding we were put into was blocked on the east end so we had back out following the passage of #351. The time lost was around 15 minutes. Beyond Kalamazoo, the Wolverine Service runs on Norfolk Southern. Though we did not have any meets with freight traffic, there was a subsequent meet with Amtrak #353 east of Albion, Michigan, and again we were directed into a blocked siding, forcing #350 to use the reverse procedure once again, putting us down around 28 minutes.
Despite a padded schedule into Detroit and beyond to Pontiac, any time gained beyond Dearborn was lost exiting trackage of Conrail Shared Assets onto the CN. Once given authority to enter the CN, access the Detroit Station and clear Milwaukee Junction onto the former GTW Holly Subdivision to Pontiac, speeds were not much over 10 MPH until Milwaukee Junction was cleared. Arrival at Birmingham was approximately 16 minutes late.
The return trip was much the same as the eastbound journey with the exception that we were not put into the sidings for meets for Numbers 350 and 352. We were down approximately twenty minutes out of Kalamazoo. Between Kalamazoo and Niles there has been significant upgrading of the trackage and right-of-way with the ultimate goal of 110 MPH operation by mid-May. The current speed limit on this portion is 95 MPH, and I timed several miles at 37 seconds. Where the upgraded track passed through towns, the right of way is fenced off except at grade crossings. Upon reaching Michigan City, Indiana, we were down by ten minutes or so, however once on the former New York Central, we were obligated to wait for Amtrak 364 to pass so we could enter the eastbound main and pass a stopped empty hopper train.
On leaving the Hammond/Whiting station stop, #353 was again down by approximately 16 minutes; however, an hour or so is allowed for the last 16 miles into Union Station. There were no delays into Union Station and I sensed the possibility of making the 4:35PM train back to Fox Lake. I was at the exit door as #353 came to a stop and made a dash to the north concourse and arrived with 90 seconds to spare. Fortunately I already had my return Metra ticket in hand. Arrival at Fox Lake was around 6:10PM and I was home in Waukesha by 7:25.