Understanding the Pere Marquette

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

jiml

OBS Chief
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
902
This is a curiosity question directed to my friends and fellow members in Michigan. We like Grand Rapids and usually get there at least twice a year for concerts, shows and other events. We have a good relationship with a downtown hotel and even have a favorite restaurant that we dine in every time. However it's a very long one-day drive from home, so we started kicking around the idea of going by Amtrak. (Okay, my wife thought it was a dumb idea, but this is the only Amtrak route-miles we haven't done previously in MI.) We have frequent flyer miles to burn, so getting to Chicago is easy and cheap. What I don't understand is the strange scheduling of the Pere Marquette. Why so late leaving Chicago and so early leaving GR? Is it equipment utilization or are some of the intermediate stops considered "commuter" distance for people who work days in Chicago? Just curious...
 

SarahZ

Conductor
Joined
May 8, 2011
Messages
8,046
Why so late leaving Chicago and so early leaving GR? Is it equipment utilization or are some of the intermediate stops considered "commuter" distance for people who work days in Chicago? Just curious...
I don't know the answer, but I'm tracking this because I have the same question.

I've never been able to figure out why the second-largest city in Michigan** doesn't have at least one more daily train connecting it to Chicago.

(**As of 2010, the GR metropolitan area had just over 1,000,000 people.)
 

brianpmcdonnell17

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2016
Messages
1,290
The schedule is designed for people in Michigan going to Chicago, especially for day trips. Still, it seems to have rather poor calling times for Grand Rapids, the biggest city on the route besides Chicago. This route definitely could use another frequency and probably even more than that.
 

tim49424

Conductor
Joined
Dec 20, 2010
Messages
2,087
The schedule is designed for people in Michigan going to Chicago, especially for day trips. Still, it seems to have rather poor calling times for Grand Rapids, the biggest city on the route besides Chicago. This route definitely could use another frequency and probably even more than that.
The reasoning would be correct for the early departures from GRR and late ones from CHI. Now regarding a second (or more) running of the train, that's not likely on the horizon. At one time there was a rumor that after the new GRR station opened there would be an added train, that never came to fruition. During that time, there was an extra Thanksgiving train the day before and Sunday after and the rumored second train would run on the same schedule as that extra train. That extra train went only as far as Holland. Amtrak discontinued that extra PM this past Thanksgiving. Also, for a couple of years there was an extra run for the Saturday of the Tulip Festival in Holland. That ended in 2018. In addition, there was a special extra running going as far as St. Joseph for a golf tournament in '18....that train was an absolute flop, as only about six people booked reservations for the round trip. The pattern of discontinuations is not a good omen regarding the demand for more service.
 

milest303

Train Attendant
Joined
Dec 15, 2017
Messages
15
Hello, Holland Michigan native here!

Prior to 2015 the Pere Marquette had more daylight hours, and had quite a bit better schedule even before that (http://www.cwrr.com/Amtrak/mw_grand.html).

However, I recall the Pere Marquette was having trouble with freight train interference on both CSX and NS. I recall a trip I took in August 2012 from Holland to Chicago that had the train arriving into Holland 2 hours late because of CSX interference. That was a bit of overkill for a train ride of 3.5 hours...
While freights still cause issues on NS, CSX trackage is pretty much smooth sailing these days.

Additionally, the current schedule, originating in 2015, was made for the switch between crews being based out of GR, instead of Chicago (https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/MDOT_Pere-Marquette-Schedule-Change_487439_7.pdf).

As a Chicagoan currently, the 6:30 pm departure time is convenient for a weekend trip to Michigan. However, I do find the Holland to Chicago return trip to be a bit early, and not my favorite ride. Though it was not done in 2019, I made use of the Thanksgiving specials in 2018. Leaving Holland at 3:10pm, and arriving in Chicago at 5:27pm, it made it very convenient to get back to Chicago at a reasonable time and not be tired the next day. I wish that train was a regular occurrence! (https://juckins.net/amtrak_timetables/archive/special/timetables_Thanksgiving_Midwest_2018.pdf)
 

tim49424

Conductor
Joined
Dec 20, 2010
Messages
2,087
Hello, Holland Michigan native here!

Prior to 2015 the Pere Marquette had more daylight hours, and had quite a bit better schedule even before that (http://www.cwrr.com/Amtrak/mw_grand.html).

However, I recall the Pere Marquette was having trouble with freight train interference on both CSX and NS. I recall a trip I took in August 2012 from Holland to Chicago that had the train arriving into Holland 2 hours late because of CSX interference. That was a bit of overkill for a train ride of 3.5 hours...
While freights still cause issues on NS, CSX trackage is pretty much smooth sailing these days.

Additionally, the current schedule, originating in 2015, was made for the switch between crews being based out of GR, instead of Chicago (https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/MDOT_Pere-Marquette-Schedule-Change_487439_7.pdf).

As a Chicagoan currently, the 6:30 pm departure time is convenient for a weekend trip to Michigan. However, I do find the Holland to Chicago return trip to be a bit early, and not my favorite ride. Though it was not done in 2019, I made use of the Thanksgiving specials in 2018. Leaving Holland at 3:10pm, and arriving in Chicago at 5:27pm, it made it very convenient to get back to Chicago at a reasonable time and not be tired the next day. I wish that train was a regular occurrence! (https://juckins.net/amtrak_timetables/archive/special/timetables_Thanksgiving_Midwest_2018.pdf)
I do miss the pre-2015 schedule but am used to the new one. I've gotten used to the early departure (6:54) from Holland. It's really not that big of a deal to me since I live about 3 miles NE of the station.

You're pretty spot on about the interference being mostly in northern Indiana as it is pretty smooth sailing north of Porter. However, there are still some pretty late arrivals here in Holland, but no where near as bad as they used to be. I have to correct you to a point about the reasoning for the change of schedule, however. If I've heard correctly, the Chicago departure change was due to missed connections as the old time of 4:55 didn't allow for late Empire Builder arrivals. I used to live in Wisconsin back during the old schedule and I'd missed or barely made quite a few and had to be bused quite a bit, even once put up in Chicago, sadly on December 23 one year. Although there are still missed connections from the EB to the PM, the late departure of #370 has lessened them a bit....recently though, there was an uptick of missed connections, leading to a temporary suspension of a guaranteed connection on all Michigan trains....the PM guarantee has been reinstated recently.

As I said in an earlier post, a second (or more) daily run of the PM is not likely. I've been wishing for one for some time now.....however, I'd rather see a continuation of the line past GRR and all the way to the other side of the state. There have been studies for that, but about a year ago, I talked to a MDOT representative that told me that that proposal has been put on hold indefinitely.
 

Michigan Mom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 28, 2012
Messages
597
The PM isn't your only option.
If you take the early morning Wolverine from Chicago (or for that matter, Detroit) to Battle Creek, looks like there is a bus connection that gets you into Grand Rapids by noon-ish.
Also, after having explored GR a few times, might I suggest visiting Ann Arbor for a college town adventure and Detroit for the more urban vibe. The Wolverine also has a stop in Dearborn which is near the Henry Ford museum and Greenfield Village.
 

wwchi

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 14, 2009
Messages
264
Apparently the suspension of the Pere Marquette is being extended! Was supposed to be back June 1 but now I see on line you can't book new trips until OCTOBER 1! WOW! (a regular rider here but not since March now...)
 

tim49424

Conductor
Joined
Dec 20, 2010
Messages
2,087
Apparently the suspension of the Pere Marquette is being extended! Was supposed to be back June 1 but now I see on line you can't book new trips until OCTOBER 1! WOW! (a regular rider here but not since March now...)
This is definitely bad news.....not for me, necessarily, but for those who need the PM. As was stated above, there is an alternative with the Wolverine (and with the Blue Water as well). I had to do that in February because of a PM mechanical failure in Grand Rapids. I was very lucky that Amtrak was able to accommodate me on the Blue Water at the very last minute, as I found out about the cancellation beyond the last minute and was informed that there was no alternate transportation out of Holland. I'd love the PM to come off suspension but also I'd love to have people be able to travel without threat of Covid-19. Hopefully, this doesn't get extended again.
 

tim49424

Conductor
Joined
Dec 20, 2010
Messages
2,087
Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Messages
864
Cancelled.

Didn't really answer my question: there is no date on your link hence the October 1st doesn't mean much. My suspicion they are not taking bookings that far in advance but it's only officially cancelled until some sooner date (unless it's going to be cut due to budget cuts- I suspect a lot of state & municipal services will be).
 

rrdude

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Messages
3,691
Just blows me away with the amount of money that Michigan DOT spends on rail service overall, that someone in the Rail Division doesn't have the political capital to do what NC, and a few other sates, have done, and buy their own GD equipment, and increase frequencies on all three routes. It's not a "theory" that increased frequencies exponentially increase ridership, there are even numerous examples of Amtrak / States doing it. If someone at DOT had the balls to tell CSX, "This is what we are going to do...." Alas, those who spend the most with the lobbyist get their way...
 

tim49424

Conductor
Joined
Dec 20, 2010
Messages
2,087
Didn't really answer my question: there is no date on your link hence the October 1st doesn't mean much. My suspicion they are not taking bookings that far in advance but it's only officially cancelled until some sooner date (unless it's going to be cut due to budget cuts- I suspect a lot of state & municipal services will be).
It answered the question you put forth ("Is it actually cancelled or just not allowing bookings?"). It's cancelled.
 

wwchi

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Apr 14, 2009
Messages
264
I had June reservations - on my app it said SERVICE CANCELED on each reservation...so I went to try to book July 1, not available/not running that train number or something like that, tried Aug 1, Sep 1 and finally Oct 1 showed ability to book
 

Palmland

OBS Chief
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
791
At least there is some positive impact from train curtailments. This from Trains magazine newswire a few days ago:

“Track surfacing gangs on the Amtrak Michigan Line improved 11,088 feet of rail in one night, while the rail gang laid 4,615 feet of rail. Service reductions have allowed the surfacing gangs to increase their nightly track outages, which allows them to surface greater sections of track at a time.

— Additional Sperry inspections have also been carried out on Amtrak-maintained routes in Michigan and Indiana.”

Similar work on the NEC
 
Top