When I first learned about UP rebuilding some E9's, I wasn't too impressed. The rebuilding would replace the original twin 12 cylinder engines with single 16 cylinder engines. As far as I was concerned, real E-units had twin 12 cylinder engines and emitted a sound unmatched by any other diesel locomotives. An E-unit that sounded different was almost as bad as in the movie "Airplane", where they give a jet the sound of a propellor plane. Something just wasn't right.
Nevertheless, upon receiving a mailing for this excursion trip, I jumped at the opportunity to ride over trackage I hadn't previously ridden. I hadn't before made it beyond Geneva, the end of commuter territory. I showed up early Sunday morning for the 8:30 departure from the Northwestern Station. The train looked great, with well kept UP coaches, dome coaches, dome diners, and a dome lounge observation. I didn't get a good look at the locomotives until later, but without regard to how they sounded, they did look nice. Actually they didn't sound too bad during a photo run-by on the return trip.
The car interiors were like those of classic old streamliners. Head end power for the cars came from a generator car behind the locomotives. Most cars were named after famous UP trains, such as the City of San Francisco, the Portland Rose, and the Challenger. There were also cars named for trains of roads later acquired, such as the Katy Flyer and MP's Texas Eagle (the car I rode). Would they eventually name a car the Twin Cities 400?
This route has the shortest commuter territory of the 3 C&NW/Metra routes. Only 35 miles to Geneva, compared with 52 miles to Kenosha and 63 miles to Harvard. On nearly all Metra routes, the area becomes rustic approximately 25 miles from downtown Chicago. This route is no exception, with rustic areas beginning near Winfield. Beyond Geneva, the typical Illinois cornfields begin. Although there are proposals to extend commuter service 9 miles beyond Geneva to Elburn. But any Metra extensions would end within Kane County. Beyond Kane Co. is DeKalb Co., outside the RTA/Metra service area. It's a shame that no rail passenger service exists to the city of DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois University. C&NW probably could operate weekend trains for college students rather inexpensively, using Metra equipment and C&NW crews normally based at West Chicago. But it would take the cooperation of several agencies in order for such a service to become a reality. DeKalb is 58 miles from Chicago, 5 miles less than Harvard, the most distant point on Metra.
The train operated over well maintained main line track, good for 70 MPH. The head end power demands were pushed to the limit, due to the latest heat wave to hit the Chicago area. We were directed not to have the window shades unnecessarily high, in order to conserve power.
Major points along the route included Rochelle (BN crossing), Dixon, and Nelson (Junction with St. Louis line). Dixon was once the home of Ronald Reagan. And I recalled a feature in Passenger Train Journal a number of years ago about UP's Streamliners. Included in the feature was a reprint of a UP ad in a National Geographic in the 1950's. In the ad, the UP trains were endorsed by the Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan. Would he always remain a friend of the passenger train?
We were ahead of schedule crossing the Mississippi River into Clinton. So things weren't adversely affected when our actual arrival at the station was delayed by freight congestion. In Clinton, I walked around a bit a couple of other railfans on TrainNet. Meanwhile, the train made a trip east to Nelson and back, with a freight locomotive pulling the train backwards. The train was wyed there, so the passengers making that short trip rode backwards both ways. The train was delayed enough on that trip, so we were about a half hour late on the return trip to Chicago.
The one photo run-by was just east of DeKalb, on the return trip. With the train running east on the north track, we would detrain on the north side. But the sun was low in the west/southwest, resulting in not the most favorable photographing conditions. I'll have to wait and see how my photos turn out.
We came into Chicago using a routing which I didn't fully understand the reason for. At Kedzie Ave. we diverged into the California Ave. coach yard, where they added a GP locomotive. Then we continued east, through the Western Ave. interlocking, and on to the tracks used by former Milwaukee Road trains into Union Station. Then we backed through the interlocking, onto the C&NW line west, and around the wye track south to Rockwell Jct. Then forward on the west leg of the wye to Kedzie Ave., from where we backed in to Northwestern Station over the C&NW main line.
So Union Pacific is off to a good start in adding the C&NW to its available routes for excursion trains. It will be interesting to see what additional excursions are offered in the future. One thing which struck me is that we may be entering a new generation of nostalgia for excursion trains. In the past, the only kind of nostalgic train had to be steam powered, preferably with coaches with openable windows and the thrill of going home with cinders in your hair. But now, one can get nostalgic about a diesel powered air conditioned streamliner from the 1950's. Although it might nice to have a few UP steam excursions in the future over what had been the C&NW.