Railroads & Locomotives Tourist Railroad Profiles Amtrak’s Midwest day-trip services

Amtrak’s Midwest day-trip services

By Lucas Iverson | June 22, 2023

| Last updated on June 23, 2023

Which regional trains should you take for a same-day adventure either to or from the Windy City?

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Amtrak passenger train arriving at station
As one of Amtrak’s Midwest day-trip services, the Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha makes a station stop in Sturtevant, Wis. David Popp

In the Midwest, Chicago stands tall as the railroading capital. In the heart of the city is Union Station, serving as a major passenger terminus for the Amtrak system. While eight long-distance trains stretch out to all parts of the country, the remaining services out of the Windy City operate as short-distance regionals. Most are short enough to serve as same-day adventures for the communities they serve.

Please be aware of schedule changes and service disruptions by visiting Amtrak’s website for the latest updates.

Hiawatha Service

Train with four matching Siemens Venture passenger cars
Northbound Hiawatha No. 337 features a matched set of four Siemens Venture coaches at CP Morgan in downtown Chicago on April 7, 2023. David Lassen

Milwaukee – Chicago: With a 90-minute sprint one way, Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service has the shortest route which plays exceptionally well to its advantage. The Milwaukee departure usually sees seven daily trains on Weekdays and Saturdays with six on Sundays. Out of Chicago, the weekdays offer eight departures [plus an additional Friday-night run], while Saturdays and Sundays see six daily trains. This extremely flexible schedule, along with the quick commute, makes a day trip to either downtown destination a guarantee. David Popp said it best that the Hiawatha “provides easy access for those living in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.”

Read more from Popp and J. Delbatis about traveling aboard Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service.

Quick Notes: Milwaukee is also a station stop for the Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder.

Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg

Diesel locomotive and three-car passenger train, with two new Siemens Venture cars immediately behind locomotive
Illinois Zephyr No. 380 from Quincy, Ill., glides past Metra’s BNSF Chicago coach yard on April 7, 2023. Bob Johnston

Chicago – Quincy: With a connection to the Illinois communities along the Mississippi River, the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg each provide one, daily round trip between Chicago and Quincy, Ill., with the railroad town of Galesburg as one of the station stops. A typical day begins with the Illinois Zephyr departing Quincy, while the Carl Sandburg weaves through rush hour on the “Racetrack” out of Chicago. The morning departures and evening return trips at both ends give passengers plenty of time to explore their destination along the route.

Quick Notes: Additional service between Chicago and Galesburg is provided by the long-distance Chicago-Emeryville, Calif. California Zephyr and Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Lincoln Service and Missouri River Runner

blue and grey passenger train passing a grove of trees
Missouri River Runner No. 316 is en route from Kansas City, Mo., to St. Louis. J. Delbatis

Chicago – St. Louis – Kansas City, MO: Multiple daily services are offered to connect Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., while adding two capital cities into the mix – Springfield, Ill., and Jefferson City, Mo. The Chicago-St. Louis Lincoln Service departs three times a day from either end with sections of the route reaching 110 mph. The Missouri River Runner provides one daily train between St. Louis and Kansas City in each direction. The combined Lincoln Service Missouri River Runner departs Chicago mid-morning as train No. 319 all the way to Kansas City, while train No. 318 traces the same route in reverse at the same time. Unless a long weekend getaway is on the agenda, be aware that covering the full service as a day trip is a bit of a stretch.

Read more from Delbatis about traveling aboard Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner to Springfield.

Quick Notes: St. Louis is a station stop for the Chicago-San Antonio (Los Angeles) Texas Eagle. Kansas City serves the Southwest Chief, though operates the route of the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg.

Illini and Saluki

Passenger train with bilevel equipment passes electrified commuter train
Amtrak’s Saluki passes a Metra Electric train at Matteson, Ill. The train has been operating with Superliners rather than single-level equipment. David Lassen

Chicago – Carbondale: Serving the southern-Illinois regions, two daily trains operate each way between Chicago and Carbondale, while connecting with Champaign and the University of Illinois along the route. The Saluki handles the morning runs while the Illini takes over in the afternoon. Climbing aboard the first train of the day gives day-trip passengers plenty of time at their destination to sightsee no matter which direction they’re heading.

Quick Notes: The Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans makes the same station stops as its regional counterparts with the exceptions of Gilman, Rantoul, and Du Quoin, Ill.


Passenger train along track lined by weeds
Westbound Wolverine No. 353 on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, as it passes downtown Porter, Ind., before tiptoeing onto Norfolk Southern’s main for the trip to Chicago. Bob Johnston

Chicago – Detroit – Pontiac: For Michiganders or those looking to visit the Great Lakes State, the Wolverine offers multiple day-trip opportunities between the Windy City and Motor City with 110-mph sections along the way. Major station stops are also made in Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, and Kalamazoo, Mich. Three daily trains are scheduled to depart out of each endpoint in Chicago and the Metro-Detroit area of Pontiac. According to J. Delbatis, “Riding the earliest Wolverine assures a same-day return later in the day.”

Read more from Delbatis about traveling aboard Amtrak’s Wolverine to either Chicago or Detroit.

Quick Notes: While operating one, daily round trip from Port Huron, Mich. to Chicago, the Blue Water makes the Wolverine‘s station stops in New Buffalo, Niles, Dowagiac, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek. The Pere Marquette provides one, daily round-trip service from Grand Rapids to Chicago.

One thought on “Amtrak’s Midwest day-trip services

  1. Left out was the ‘Pere Marquette,’ travelling from Grand Rapids/Holland to Chicago once a day, round trip. Arriving mid-morning and returning in the evening.

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