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Illini and Saluki

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Illini and Saluki
Illini crosses the Kankakee River, 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
Annual ridership270,017 (FY23) Increase 20.4%[a][1]
Distance travelled310 miles (500 km)
Average journey time5 hours, 30 minutes[2]
Service frequency2 daily round trips
Train number(s)390–393
On-board services
Class(es)Coach Class
Business Class
Disabled accessTrain lower level, most stations
Catering facilitiesCafé
Observation facilitiesSightseer lounge car
Baggage facilitiesOverhead racks
Rolling stockSuperliner
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operating speed56 mph (90 km/h) (avg.)
79 mph (127 km/h) (top)
Track owner(s)CN
Route map
0 mi
0 km
Chicago AmtrakBus interchange
Central Station
other Amtrak services
25 mi
40 km
Homewood Bus interchange
57 mi
92 km
Kankakee Bus interchange
82 mi
132 km
115 mi
185 km
129 mi
208 km
Champaign–Urbana Bus interchange
176 mi
283 km
174 mi
280 km
201 mi
323 km
254 mi
409 km
289 mi
465 km
Du Quoin
310 mi
499 km
Carbondale Bus interchange

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 service provides two daily roundtrips; Saluki being the morning trains and Illini the afternoon trains. 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. In fiscal year 2023, the Illini and Saluki carried a combined 270,017 passengers, a 20.4% increase from FY2022.[3]


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.[4] 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).[5]

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 Urbana–Champaign get their names.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8][9]

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.[10][11]

On January 12, 1986, Amtrak extended the Illini to Carbondale to replace the Shawnee, which had been canceled because of budget cuts.[12] Service began at Gilman on October 26, 1986, and Du Quoin on August 25, 1989.[13] The Illini service was nearly canceled in 1996, but local communities along the route pledged funds to keep it running.[14]

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.[15] The Saluki was named for the mascot of Southern Illinois University, which is located in the train's southern terminus of Carbondale.[16] Its morning 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.[17]

The trains have stops near three major Illinois state universities: University of Illinois 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.[18]


Route of the Illini and Saluki

The Illini and Saluki operates over the Canadian National Railway, successor to the Illinois Central. The route is 309 miles (497 km) long.[19]

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.[20]

Station Stops


The entire route is in Illinois.

City Station Connections
Chicago Chicago Union Station
Homewood Homewood
Kankakee Kankakee Amtrak Amtrak: City of New Orleans
Gilman Gilman
Rantoul Rantoul
Champaign-Urbana Illinois Terminal
Mattoon Mattoon
Effingham Effingham Amtrak Amtrak: City of New Orleans
Centralia Centralia Amtrak Amtrak: City of New Orleans
Du Quoin Du Quoin
Carbondale Carbondale


Fiscal Year Ridership Ridership (in hundreds of thousands)
2012 325,255
2013 340,741 +4.8%
2014 316,600 −7.1%
2015 292,187 −7.7%
2016 262,325 −10.2%
2017 251,384 −4.2%
2018 245,876 −2.2%
2019 257,890 +4.9%
2020 159,981 −38.0%
2021 150,148 −6.1%
2022 224,271 +49.4%
2023 270,017 +20.4%
Source: Amtrak[21]



In 2021 a typical Illini or Saluki consists of:[22]


  1. ^ "Amtrak Fiscal Year 2023 Ridership" (PDF). Amtrak. November 27, 2023. Retrieved November 30, 2023.
  2. ^ "Amtrak Timetable Results". www.amtrak.com. Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  3. ^ "Amtrak FY23 Ridership" (PDF). Retrieved January 14, 2024.
  4. ^ Schafer 1996, p. 99
  5. ^ "Passenger trains operating on the eve of Amtrak" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2009. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  6. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 100
  7. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 100
  8. ^ Sanders 2006, pp. 100–101
  9. ^ "Amtrak to Expand Illinois Routes". Terre Haute Tribune. July 26, 1973. p. 16. Retrieved February 4, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  10. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 101
  11. ^ "New Amtrak service". Southeast Missourian. July 1, 1981. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  12. ^ "Amtrak plans to cut service". Ludington Daily News. December 24, 1985. Retrieved April 11, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 105
  14. ^ Binder, Steve (June 20, 1996). "City helps passenger train keep rolling". The Southern Illinoisan. p. 3A. Retrieved November 27, 2018 – via newspapers.com/.
  15. ^ Erickson, Kurt (October 28, 2006). "Deal clears way for Amtrak service". Journal Gazette. p. A3. Retrieved November 30, 2018 – via newspapers.com/.
  16. ^ Hale, Caleb (October 18, 2006). "It's official: Saluki Train hits the tracks". The Southern Illinoisan.
  17. ^ Johnston, Bob (August 7, 2017). "Amtrak announces 'Eclipse Express' special to southern Illinois". Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2017.(subscription required)
  18. ^ Sanders 2006, p. 93
  19. ^ "Amtrak service in ILLINOIS and MISSOURI" (PDF). Amtrak. January 12, 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 15, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  20. ^ "P4 Grand Crossing" (PDF). CREATE. November 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 29, 2020. Retrieved January 9, 2018.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Hikki Nagasaki. "Illini / Saluki". USA Rail Guide. Retrieved September 4, 2010.


  1. ^ Amtrak's Fiscal Year (FY) runs from October 1 of the prior year to September 30 of the named year.
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