Illini and Saluki

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Illini and Saluki
Amtrak over the Kankakee river.jpg
The Illini crosses the Kankakee River in Kankakee, Illinois in 2011
Service typeInter-city rail
First service
  • December 19, 1973 (1973-12-19) (Illini)
  • October 30, 2006 (2006-10-30) (Saluki)
Current operator(s)Amtrak
Ridership266,972 (FY19)
StartChicago Union Station
EndCarbondale station
Distance travelled310 miles (499 km)
Average journey time5 hours 30 minutes
Service frequencyTwice daily
Train number(s)390–393
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)
Track owner(s)Canadian National Railway

The Illini and Saluki are a pair of passenger trains operated by Amtrak along a 310-mile (500 km) route between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. They are part of Amtrak's Illinois Service and are primarily funded by the state of Illinois. The route is coextensive with the far northern leg of the long-distance City of New Orleans. The Illini has operated since 1973; a previous version operated in 1971–1972 between Chicago and Champaign. The Saluki debuted in 2006.


The Wabash station in Decatur, once served by the Illini.
The Illini in Gilman in 1989

The Illinois Central Railroad's main line between Chicago and New Orleans ran through Champaign–Urbana and Carbondale, along the east side of Illinois.[1] 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 (both, Chicago–New Orleans), plus the City of Miami (Chicago–Birmingham).[2]

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. It was named for the Illini, from which the state of Illinois and the Fighting Illini mascot of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign get their names.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5][6]

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 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.[7][8]

On January 12, 1986, Amtrak extended the Illini to Carbondale to replace the Shawnee, which had been canceled because of budget cuts.[9] Service began at Gilman on October 26, 1986 and Du Quoin on August 25, 1989.[10] The Illini service was nearly canceled in 1996, but local communities along the route pledged funds to keep it running.[11]

A second train, the Saluki, was added on October 30, 2006, in response to increased demand on the Illini and other Illinois Service trains in the 2005–2006 fiscal year.[12] The Saluki was named for the mascot of Southern Illinois University, which is located in the train's southern terminus of Carbondale.[13] Its daytime schedule complements the afternoon schedule of the Illini.

Amtrak ran an extra over the route, the Eclipse Express, for the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.[14]

The trains have stops near three major Illinois state universities: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University, and Eastern Illinois University in Charleston (near Mattoon). As a result, university students account for a significant portion of passengers.[15]


Route of the Illini and Saluki (interactive map)

The Illini and Saluki operates over the Canadian National Railway, successor to the Illinois Central. The route is 309 miles (497 km) long.[16]

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) is in the preliminary design phase for the Grand Crossing Project. This project will reroute the Illini, Saluki, and City of New Orleans trains from Canadian National Railway's tracks to Norfolk Southern's Chicago Line in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago. This will eliminate a time-consuming switchback on the St. Charles Air Line into Chicago Union Station.[17]


Traffic by Fiscal Year (October-September)
Ridership Change over previous year Ticket Revenue Change over previous year
2007[18] 228,695 - $6,187,835 -
2008[18] 271,082 Increase018.53% $7,732,413 Increase024.96%
2009[18] 259,630 Decrease04.22% $7,126,732 Decrease07.83%
2010[19] 264,934 Increase02.04% $7,674,434 Increase07.68%
2011[19] 313,027 Increase018.15% $8,802,288 Increase014.69%
2012[20] 325,255 Increase03.9% $9,258,647 Increase05.18%
2013[20] 340,741 Increase04.76% $9,562,149 Increase03.27%
2014[21] 315,963 Decrease07.27% $9,272,724 Decrease03.02%
2015[21] 292,187 Decrease07.52% $8,387,264 Decrease09.54%
2016[22] 262,325 Decrease010.22% $7,629,351 Decrease09.03%
2017[23] 251,000 Decrease04.31% - -
2018[24] 245,876 Decrease02.04% - -
2019[24] 266,972 Increase08.57% - -
2020[25] 159,981 Decrease038.0% - -


In 2010 a typical Illini or Saluki consists of:[26]


  1. ^ Schafer 1996, p. 99
  2. ^ "Passenger trains operating on the eve of Amtrak" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2009. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  3. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 100
  4. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 100
  5. ^ Sanders 2006, pp. 100–101
  6. ^ "Amtrak to Expand Illinois Routes". Terre Haute Tribune. July 26, 1973. p. 16. Retrieved February 4, 2015 – via open access
  7. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 101
  8. ^ "New Amtrak service". Southeast Missourian. July 1, 1981. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  9. ^ "Amtrak plans to cut service". Ludington Daily News. December 24, 1985. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  10. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 105
  11. ^ Binder, Steve (June 20, 1996). "City helps passenger train keep rolling". The Southern Illinoisan. p. 3A. Retrieved November 27, 2018 – via
  12. ^ Erickson, Kurt (October 28, 2006). "Deal clears way for Amtrak service". Journal Gazette. p. A3. Retrieved November 30, 2018 – via
  13. ^ Hale, Caleb (October 18, 2006). "It's official: Saluki Train hits the tracks". The Southern Illinoisan.
  14. ^ Johnston, Bob (August 7, 2017). "Amtrak announces 'Eclipse Express' special to southern Illinois". (subscription required)
  15. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 93
  16. ^ "Amtrak service in ILLINOIS and MISSOURI" (PDF). Amtrak. January 12, 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 15, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "P4 Grand Crossing" (PDF). CREATE. November 2015. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  18. ^ a b c "Amtrak Fiscal Year 2009, Oct. 2008-Sept. 2009" (PDF). Trains Magazine.
  19. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 8, 2012. Retrieved July 30, 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ a b "AMTRAK SETS RIDERSHIP RECORD AND MOVES THE NATION'S ECONOMY FORWARD" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 24, 2020.
  21. ^ a b "Amtrak FY15 Ridership & Revenue" (PDF).
  22. ^ "Amtrak FY16 Ridership & Revenue" (PDF). Amtrak. April 17, 2017.
  23. ^ "Amtrak FY17 Ridership" (PDF).
  24. ^ a b "Amtrak FY19 Ridership" (PDF).
  25. ^ Luczak, Marybeth (November 23, 2020). "Amtrak Releases FY 2020 Data". Railway Age. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Inc. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  26. ^ Hikki Nagasaki. "Illini / Saluki". USA Rail Guide. Retrieved September 4, 2010.


External links[edit]

Route map:

KML is from Wikidata