CARBONDALE — Tickets for same-day, round-trip Amtrak service to Carbondale on the day of the eclipse sold out mere hours after the special train was announced earlier this week.
Would-be travelers from Champaign and Chicago pounced on the last-ditch opportunity to experience the total solar eclipse without a need for lodging, as accommodations in the Carbondale area are now more or less booked solid.
The Amtrak Eclipse Express departs at 3 a.m. Aug. 21 from Chicago Union Station; the Champaign departure is 5:05 a.m. It will arrive in Carbondale at 8:30 a.m., giving travelers a chance to catch the eclipse in the afternoon, and will leave the station at 5:15 p.m.
Each customer will receive free ISO-certified eclipse viewing glasses, courtesy of Amtrak and Carbondale Tourism. Tickets were sold for $153 per adult passenger from Chicago and $90 per adult passenger from Champaign.
The special train service, offered as a result of an Amtrak partnership with the Illinois Department of Transportation and the CN railway, was announced at 1 p.m. Sunday and sold out by 11 a.m. Monday, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
“We expected it to sell out quickly, but I don’t know if anyone here would have predicted 22 hours, especially considering the short notice between our announcement Sunday and the event on the 21st and the fact it is departing at 3 a.m.,” Magliari said.
Later, Amtrak officials measured the length of the track where the train will be parked in Carbondale and determined that one more 70-seat car could be added on. The company made those seats available online Wednesday afternoon. Customers snapped up the tickets in five hours.
“We didn’t even announce it,” Magliari said.
Space is still available on the City of New Orleans train coming up from the South, Magliari said. Travelers can arrive in Carbondale at about 3:15 a.m. on Aug. 21 from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi or Louisiana and leave early in the morning on the 22nd.
“I think no matter how big we would have made that Eclipse Express train, it probably still would have sold out. The demand is insatiable. … It’s really a nationwide phenomenon, and the number one place is right where you are,” Magliari said.