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Galesburg, Chicago tourism on track despite gas prices

Think your summer travel plans are derailed by inflation and record-high gas prices? The solution could be train travel.

Train travel is an affordable option for trips in and out of Galesburg, according to Randy Newcomb, executive director of the Galesburg Tourism and Visitors Bureau.

Newcomb points to the affordability and accessibility of Amtrak in Galesburg as a way to beat, or at least soften the blow of soaring travel costs this summer. For instance, by planning in advance, a person can travel between Galesburg and Chicago for as low as $39 round trip. And Amtrak offers half-price fares everyday for kids between 2 and 12.

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“If you drive, not only are you paying higher gas prices, you’re paying for parking,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “For couples or small families, the cost of visiting Chicago by Amtrak is a whole lot better than visiting by car or truck or minivan. Not to mention, paying tolls.”

Newcomb said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever drive my car to Chicago again. I pay almost as much in tolls as I do for a round-trip Amtrak ticket. That’s not to mention the gas.”

Galesburg ranks as one of Amtrak’s busiest stations

Amtrak has long been a popular mode of transportation locally, with the Galesburg station regularly seeing nearly 100,000 ticketed passengers either arriving or departing the South Seminary Street depot annually.

Magliari reports in 2019, 90,796 passengers arrived in or departed Galesburg via passenger rail, ranking 102nd among over 500 Amtrak stations.

“Of course the number of trains in and out of Galesburg is a big factor,” said Magliari, adding Galesburg is among the top 20% nationally for Amtrak ridership.

While Amtrak curtailed some service during the pandemic, Magliari said all four lines of service passing through Galesburg have been restored as of May 23.

“I’ve quickly learned to understand the benefit of Amtrak, and I think a lot of our locals need to understand how important it is to us,” Newcomb said. “We need more of our people to take advantage of it, and we also need more people from Chicago to take advantage of it, too.”

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Newcomb said other tourism directors in communities without rail service are envious of Galesburg’s Amtrak service.

“The communities that don’t have rail service like we do wish they did,” he said. And the communities that do have it just sit back and smile because we have something they don’t have, and may never have.”

Promoting Galesburg to the Chicago area

Travelers depart the Carl Sandburg train at the Galesburg Amtrak Depot on Saturday, June 18, 2022/

Starting in 2023, the Galesburg Tourism and Visitors Bureau will start promoting Galesburg directly in the Chicago market. Newcomb said his organization will specifically market and target Galesburg and Amtrak through the Chicago Union Station and the Chicago Transit Authority.

“We’ll be advertising Galesburg as a destination specifically to frequent Amtrak users in Chicago,” Newcomb said. “Just to get it on their minds about Galesburg and we have to offer.

“It’s a market we need to take advantage of, and having Amtrak is going to help us do that.”

And Magliari says Galesburg has plenty to offer.

“Downtown Galesburg is so vibrant,” he said. “You have interesting dining opportunities downtown, along with shops and museums.

“So you can leave Chicago on Amtrak in the morning, spend the day and go back the same day. It certainly makes it easier for day trips.”

What does Galesburg have to offer?

“People come to Galesburg from Chicago for a variety of reasons,” Newcomb said. “They like our unique, quiet downtown. It’s a chance to get away from the city. Galesburg has quite a few amenities that larger cities have, such as art, live music, great restaurants, shopping, history and museums.

“They can get away from the madhouse up there if they want to, and enjoy a lot of the things they love, and relax at the same time.”

Visitors flock to Discovery Depot Children’s Museum via Amtrak

The Galesburg Amtrak depot is located at 225 S. Seminary Street.

Both Newcomb and Magliari point to Galesburg’s Discovery Depot Children’s Museum, 128 S. Chambers St., as a common destination for Amtrak passengers.

Magliari said Galesburg is one of only two downstate locations with a children’s museum that you can actually see from an Amtrak station.

“We definitely market to the Chicago suburbs,” said Denise Bradburn, executive director of Discovery Depot Children’s Museum. “There are a lot of children’s museums up there, but they have a lot higher ticket prices than we do.

“And we hear a lot of comments from people who come on the train on how nice our museum is. We’re really more bang for the buck.”

In addition to Chicago visitors, Bradburn said Discover Depot attracts many school field trips from schools close to an Amtrak station.

Discovery Depot offers a 20% discount on admission if customers show an Amtrak ticket.

‘It’s unreal the product we have in Galesburg’

Despite challenges presented by the pandemic, Newcomb says tourism is thriving in Galesburg. In fact, some locals may not even consider Galesburg a tourist destination.

In 2020, Newcomb said tourism produced $74 million in direct spending by visitors to Knox County.

“Remember, that $74 million was in 2020, during the pandemic,” he said. “I fully expect the 2021 numbers to be more than that.”

Tourism produced $92.3 million in direct spending by visitors in Knox County in 2019.

“It’s unreal the product we have in Galesburg, that other communities would absolutely love to have,” Newcomb said. “We see visitors come in all the time and they love Galesburg. They see the positives and all the attractions and amenities we have.

“When you live in a certain place, you tend to have blinders on and you take your community for granted,” he said. “When locals think about tourism, they think about where they will go, not what’s in their backyard.”

Golf an untapped tourism attraction for Galesburg

Bradburn, who also serves as chair for the Galesburg Tourism and Visitors Bureau board of directors, said promoting Galesburg’s local golf courses remains a target for the Chicago-area population. Especially since Amtrak allows passengers to bring their clubs on the trains.

“Our golf is so much more inexpensive in Galesburg than it is in Chicago,” she said. “It’s cheaper to buy a train ticket and come down and golf than it is to just play a round of golf in Chicagoland.

“The only disadvantage is we don’t have Uber or Lyft, so it’s problematic getting to the course. But it’s something we’re working on.”

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