The Wolverine Chicago-Birmingham, MI, Round Trip
April 20-22, 2007
Here is a summary with comments interjected regarding my use of the Chicago - Detroit - Pontiac Wolverine Services. My most recent trip was this past weekend, with departure on Friday the 20th and the return trip on Sunday the 22nd.
There were notable schedule changes with the latest timetables dated April 2, 2007. Of greatest interest is the later departure of #350 (Wolverine) out of Union Station from 7:50AM to 8:30AM. This change enables travelers from Milwaukee to use the first train out of Milwaukee to connect with #350, whereas in the past, #350 pulled out of Union Station ten minutes before arrival of the Milwaukee train.
This aside, I elected to use Metra out of Fox Lake, taking a limited express #2108 which departs at 6:08AM with an arrival at 7:32AM. The #2108 train arrived early at Union Station, enabling me to pick up my tickets and report in sufficient time to the boarding area.
Number 350 consist was Control Cab 90222, business/cafe, three coaches and P42 for power. We were on time for the first mile up to the Chicago River, then we stopped for 15-20 minutes for reasons unknown or explained. Congestion with freight on the NS (ex-NYC) from 21st Street (MP B521) to Porter, Ind. (MP B482) is a continuing issue with time keeping. Speeds ranged between zero and 60 or so until reaching Clark Road (MP B499), then we got up to 79mph and held it. Radio transmissions are on channel 160.80.
At Porter, the Wolverine Service uses Amtrak owned trackage from there (MP D242) to Kalamazoo, MI (MP D142). Radio Transmissions are on channel 161.05. A portion of this trackage from Niles, MI (MP D192) to Kalamazoo has an authorized speed of 95MPH. At some time down the road, the speed limit is to be raised to 110MPH. The computerized system is called ITC and apparently involves satellites and whatever to control the train operation on this section of track. Unfortunately on Friday the 20th, our equipment could not activate the system and they had to proceed in accordance with rules 596 and 595B which puts them back to 79MPH. This coupled with track maintenance projects put us down 35 to 40 minutes upon reaching Kalamazoo.
East of Kalamazoo to near Detroit, the tracks belong to NS once again. Radio channels are 160.80 until Dearborn, then 161.07 is used. The majority of traffic however is the six Wolverine trains. We had meets with Wolverines #351, #353 and Blue Water #365. Another 20 to 30 minutes were lost in that we were put into the passing sidings for all three of these trains.
Some time was made up between Jackson (MP D76) and Dearborn (MP D8). To get through Detroit and onto the CN up to Pontiac, the route goes from NS to Conrail Shared Assets, to CN. If one railroad can screw things up think what three can come up with! Chances of something getting messed up increase exponentially. On Friday, upon detraining the Detroit passengers, we proceeded about 500 yards from the depot and sat for another 45 minutes while the switch on to the Holly Subdivision was monkeyed with. They contemplated backing up, going ahead, wyeing the train and perhaps selling it off to the highest bidder before someone figured out how to manually align the switch. Additional problems on the mighty CN resulted in manually flagging five grade crossings in Royal Oak.
I reached my destination, Birmingham, MI about 1 hour and 50 minutes late.
The return trip on Sunday the 22nd had its moments also. The train was basically sold out, so most passengers were doubled up and all personal belongings were placed in the overhead racks. An additional chair car was added to this consist. Progress was once again affected by poorly planned meets and one mandatory stop (15 minutes to walk the train) on account of a malfunctioning hotbox detector. Upon reaching the 95MPH zone we promptly crept along at 30MPH for four miles of work zone. Wow, we finally got up to 95 when suddenly through the first town we ground to a halt when the ITC system quit. This time it was not the fault of the locomotive. After running six or seven miles at 30 mph, the crew stopped the train, deactivated the ITC and we went along at 79 the rest of the way to Porter under rule 595B.
Upon accessing the ex-NYC main at Porter it was clear sailing to Hammond. No freight train interference. Running time to Union Station was sufficient to get us into the depot on track ten only 50 minutes late at 5:30PM. Train #353 turns around with a departure of 6:00PM. Amtrak suspected the worst and congregated the #354 passengers in the Great Hall, and their Conga Line was snaking its way towards departure gate D as I exited the wash room.
In eight trips using Wolverine Service we were early once, late by an hour or more three times and less than an hour late the other four times. For persons seeking to go through to the CN destination cities of Pontiac, Birmingham and Royal Oak, it might be a smarter move to use the Dearborn Station and save the time and frustration experienced getting through Detroit proper. The Dearborn Station is just to the east of highway M39, an interstate type highway with connections to the north and west suburbs.
Smoke breaks are usually allowed at Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Ann Arbor.