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The Illini, extended in 1973, is a 310-mile (499 km) passenger train operated by Amtrak that runs between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. The train is a part of the Illinois Service rail network and is partially funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation and by local governments along the route. The train service uses the same track as another Amtrak route, the City of New Orleans. As of 2006, an additional train, the Saluki, serves exactly the same route at an alternate time. During 1971/1972, the Illini, later extended to Carbondale, had ended at Champaign-Urbana, one-third the distance.
During fiscal year 2011, both the Illini and Saluki services (combined) carried over 310,000 passengers, an 18% increase from FY2010. During FY2011, the two trains had a total revenue of $8,802,288, an increase of 14.7% over FY2010.
The Illinois Central Railroad's main line between Chicago and New Orleans ran through Champaign-Urbana and Carbondale, along the east side of Illinois. At the formation of Amtrak in 1971, the Illinois Central still operated a number of services from its Central Station in Chicago over this route, including the Illini and Shawnee (Chicago-Carbondale), the City of New Orleans and the Panama Limited (Chicago-New Orleans), plus the City of Miami (Chicago-Birmingham).
Amtrak retained two trains on this route: the City of New Orleans (which it named the Panama Limited) and the Shawnee. Amtrak brought back the Illini name on November 14, 1971, as a Chicago-Champaign train, operating in conjunction with the Campus. Amtrak discontinued the Campus and Illini on March 5, 1972. Both trains used Central Station, which Amtrak was abandoning; Amtrak judged that the additional 35–40 minutes necessary to serve Union Station made the schedule impractical. The 1972 Illini made its last trip on March 3.:100
Amtrak revived the Illini on December 19, 1973, again as a Chicago-Champaign service. The restoration was part of $1.5 million expansion program which included the Black Hawk (Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque), the State House (St. Louis-Chicago) and supplemental funding for the Rock Island's two remaining Rockets (Chicago-Peoria and Chicago-Rock Island). The state desired to extend the Illini to Decatur, but doing so involved a switch from the Illinois Central to the Norfolk & Western at Tolono, south of Champaign. The connection between the lines was in poor condition, and no one would take responsibility for repairing it.:100-101
Amtrak finally extended the Illini to Decatur on July 2, 1981. Decatur had last seen service in 1971 from the Norfolk & Western's City of Decatur (Chicago-Decatur) and the Wabash's Wabash Cannon Ball (Detroit-St. Louis). Neither train had been retained by Amtrak. The new Amtrak service used the old Wabash station, which as of 2010[update] still stands and has become an antique store. Poor ridership prompted Illinois to withdraw its support for the Decatur stop, and Amtrak cut the Illini back to Champaign on July 10, 1983.:101
On January 12, 1986, Amtrak extended the Illini to Carbondale to replace the Shawnee, which had been canceled because of budget cuts. Service began at Gilman on October 26, 1986 and Du Quoin on August 25, 1989.:105
The Illini service was nearly canceled in 1996, but local communities along the route pledged funds to keep it running.
University students make up a significant portion of the Illini's passengers. The train has stops near three major Illinois state universities: Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Eastern Illinois University in Charleston (near Mattoon), and the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The Champaign station may be a source of the train's name: UIUC's sports teams are called the Fighting Illini - in reference to the Native American group.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illini, along with the rest of the Illinois Service trains, posted record ridership levels in the 2005-2006 fiscal year. Ridership has continued to steadily increase every month in 2007.
Today, the Amtrak Illini consists of:
- 1 GE Genesis P40DC or P42DC locomotives
- 3 Cafe cars
- 4 Coach cars
- "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
- Schafer, Mike (1996). Classic American Railroads. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. p. 99. ISBN 9780760302392. OCLC 768619768.
- "Passenger trains operating on the eve of Amtrak". Retrieved 2010-04-11.
- Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. OCLC 61499942.
- Rodda, Richard (August 19, 1973). "Amtrak Business Booms". Modesto Bee. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
- "New Amtrak service". Southeast Missourian. July 1, 1981. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
- "Amtrak plans to cut service". Ludington Daily News. December 24, 1985. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
- Hikki Nagasaki. "Illini / Saluki". USA Rail Guide. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
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