Aug. 9—EFFINGHAM — It was a day of celebration on Tuesday at the Effingham Amtrak station as city and Amtrak officials cut the ribbon on the completion of a $2.5 million improvement project.
Mayor Mike Schutzbach kicked off the ceremony for a project that started with ADA improvements to the station in 2019 and completed with the new 700-foot ADA compliant platform next to the track in July.
"I am pleased to see all of you here in support of the station and our community," Schutzbach said to the small crowd that gathered. "I welcome Amtrak's representative team and we thank you for supporting our Amtrak station."
Schutzbach said Amtrak is a valuable asset to the Effingham community.
"We understand the value Amtrak brings to our community and its travelers," he said. "With railroad lines, Amtrak delivers to Effingham invaluable links to higher education, business and industry, recreation and our family and loved ones. We appreciate Amtrak and thank you for continuing to invest in us."
Lucinda Hart, Effingham County Chamber president and CEO, congratulated Amtrak on the completion of the project.
"On behalf of the chamber and all of our member businesses, we truly appreciate this and congratulations," Hart said.
Derrick James, director of Government Affairs for Amtrak's Midwest region, said the completion of the improvements to the Effingham train station reinforces its commitment to Effingham.
"We're so proud to present to the City of Effingham and Effingham County this project that we have completed," James said. "I think this shows the commitment that we have to provide quality rail service to your community."
James briefly outlined the history of the Effingham passenger train station that was opened in 1924 by Illinois Central (north — south) and Pennsylvania Railroad (east — west).
"We took over operations of the passenger train service back in 1971 and have provided service ever since," he said.
New locomotives and passenger cars are a few of the improvements Amtrak plans to make in the future, along with other improvements they have made over the past 10 years, according to James.
"We hope that we can bring folks to Effingham to see what all you guys have to offer because that is the role we should play," said James. "It's not just about taking people from Effingham to the next place, but it's about bringing people to Effingham and we are very proud to be able to do that."
The new track platform is 700 feet long by 12 feet wide and features LED lighting, ADA-compliant pathways and restrooms in the train station.
"Right now we are only providing four trains a day to Effingham," James said in an interview after the ceremony.
He said due to COVID-19, Amtrak decided to reduce train service. However, they plan to increase the volume to six trains.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the City of New Orleans train that was making daily stops through Effingham is down to five days a week due to the pandemic. The train normally makes a daily round trip run from New Orleans to Chicago.
"Effective the week of Oct. 3, we're going to go back to running the City of New Orleans daily," Magliari said. "We haven't been able to restore the second Carbondale round trip (to Chicago) for the Illini and the Saluki. The reason we are unable to do that is because of a combination of short staffing post-pandemic like so many others and having enough usable cars and locomotives. In order to have enough usable cars and locomotives, you have to have enough staff, so we are still actively hiring."
"We hope we will be able to restore that service this fall," he said.
Magliari said anyone wanting to apply for an Amtrak job should go to their website at careers.amtrak.com
Charles Mills can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 618-510-9226 or 217-347-7151 ext. 300126.