By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
There is a rare treat running on Amtrak’s Pere Marquette line starting this weekend – the “Great Dome” car.
The “Great Dome” car, officially known as car 10031 “Ocean View” will be running from Grand Rapids to Chicago over four weekends in July: June 30 – July 4, July 7 – 11, 14 – 18 and 21- 24. The car will head eastbound on Thursday evenings with round-trips through the weekend, returning to Chicago on Monday mornings. There is no extra charge to ride in this car, but it is first-come, first served.
“When the dome car is not assigned to a charter or a special train, we look for opportunities to use it in regular service,” said Marc Magliari, who os with Amtrak Government Affairs and Corporate Communications. “The natural beauty of the Pere Marquette route is a natural match for that railcar.”
Incorporated in 1899 as the Pere Marquette Railroad, today the Pere Marquette route travels the coast of Lake Michigan running from Grand Rapids to Chicago with stops in Holland, Bangor and St. Joseph-Benton Harbor providing scenic views of Lake Michigan during the 176-mile trip.
Dome cars are designed to provide passengers with an opportunity of a “penthouse view” according to a 1945 advertisement. Dome cars, as the name implies, have a glass dome on the top of the car where passengers can ride and see in all directions around the train. The first such car was built in 1882, but the dome cars were not really popular until the 1940s and 1950s.
The 10031 “Ocean View” is the only dome car in the Amtrak fleet. It was built in 1955 and used for the Chicago – Seattle Empire Builder route and then later on the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad by the Great Northern Railway. Amtrak acquired the car in 1971 and it has been featured on several routes including the Amtrak Auto Train to and from Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Flordia.
Today the dome train is used on various Amtrak routes that offer scenic views such as the Pere Marquette line, where passengers will see the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the carousel and beach of St. Joseph, and the massive pickling tanks in Bangor.
The Great Dome car is only available on select departures. To learn more, visit amtrak.com or call 800-872-7245. The Vernon J. Ehlers Station is located at 440 Century Ave. SW, Grand Rapids. There is no ticket office, but there is a Quik-Trak kiosk.