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Watch now: New Mattoon Amtrak passenger platform opens

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MATTOON — The northbound Saluki pulled up Thursday morning at the Mattoon depot alongside a new passenger platform that stretches well beyond the length of this or any other Amtrak train.

More than two dozen passengers waiting on this concrete platform then climbed onboard without the help of step stools, an aid that had been needed in the past because the old platform was lower than the train doors. The north section of this longer, taller platform opened for use that morning as part of an ongoing construction project that Amtrak is undertaking at the downtown depot.

"The purpose of this project is to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities so they can board at train level," said Dean Barber, Mattoon public works director. He said Amtrak has reported that work is now 50-60 percent complete on this project, which also has included redoing the brick and concrete walkways at the depot's street level entrances and upgrading the push button open mechanisms for the building's doors.

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Amtrak's new platform runs north from the depot's north track level doors nearly all the way to the Richmond Avenue bridge. This platform is designed to enable longer Amtrak trains to stop and let all of their passengers off at once, an action that was not always possible with the old shorter platform.

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Barber said now that general contractor George Allen Construction Co. of Mokena has completed the new platform's north section, they will focus on constructing the shorter south section and having it ready for use by next spring. This section will run south from the depot's south track level doors to the Broadway Avenue bridge.

Tall outdoor lights line the new platform from end to end to serve passengers on the Amtrak trains that make daily stops in Mattoon before dawn or after nightfall. The tracks in this part of Mattoon run below Broadway and Richmond avenues and the street lights there.

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"It's a fairly dark place and this will light it up nicely," Barber said. "It will be very bright, which is a nice improvement."

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Eastern Illinois University students Jessie Moran and Kyla Moton, both of Chicago, were among the passengers who used the new platform for the first time Thursday morning, while masked to comply with COVID-19 precautions. The two students each said they regularly ride Amtrak trains home to see their families and friends, particularly during holidays.

Moton said her parents have busy work schedules and are not always available to pick her up, so she appreciates that Mattoon's depot is a short cab ride away from Charleston. 

"It's very convenient. Amtrak is the best mode of transportation for me," Moton said.

Moran said she has been watching the progress of the passenger platform construction project, noting that contractors were busy working there around Labor Day weekend. Moton said this project has been improving the look of the depot. Both students said they are glad that stools will no longer be needed to board or disembark now that the platform is level with the train doors.

"I think that is a really good idea," Moton said. 'I think it will be more convenient."

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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