Amtrak’s ‘Other’ Bi-level Cars

amtrak-blog-1

Anyone who knows anything about Amtrak rolling stock is familiar with the bi-level Superliner equipment that has been the mainstay of Western long-distance trains since the early 1980s.

The Superliners were inspired by the bi-level coaches, diners and lounge cars ordered by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in the 1950s for its El Capitan train between Chicago and Los Angeles, and also assigned to the San Francisco Chief between Chicago and Richmond, California.

The former Santa bi-levels served Amtrak for many years and a handful remain in service on the Coast Starlight as the Pacific Parlour Car. Amtrak also operate bi-level cars in its California service trains.

Yet Amtrak had a third class of bi-level cars that primarily were assigned to Midwest corridor runs. These cars came from the Chicago & North Western, a railroad that joined Amtrak in 1971, but never hosted a scheduled train over its system. Note that I said scheduled because the C&NW did host many times the San Francisco Zephyr, later the California Zephyr, on detour moves.

Amtrak picked up the C&NW bi-levels in 1973, initially leasing 12 of them. Because the cars arrived at Amtrak still wearing their C&NW colors, some erroneously have assumed that they were taken from the North Western’s Chicago commuter train equipment pool.

They were not. The cars were built in 1958 for North Western’s 400 trains. The C&NW bi-levels used head-end power so Amtrak also leased three C&NW F units until Amtrak E units could be rebuilt to provide head-end power.

The cars saw duty on the Illinois Zephyr, Illini, The LoopShawnee, Hiawatha Service and Hoosier State. Perhaps other corridor trains had the equipment, too.

In the photograph above, it is very cold day in early February 1977 in Chicago as Amtrak train No. 58, the Panama Limited, is backing into Chicago Union Station.

A string of the former C&NW bi-levels are sitting in the coach yard awaiting their next assignment. By now they’ve traded their C&NW green and gold for Amtrak red, blue and silver.

I would later ride in these cars on the Illini out of Decatur, Illinois, and the Hoosier State out of Indianapolis.

They were nice cars, yet did not have an overly long life working for Amtrak.

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