At the Throttle of the Last WB National Limited

March 14, 2017

Conrail engineer Russell Smith awaits a highball in Indianapolis aboard Amtrak’s last westbound National Limited.

Smith has his left hand on the throttle of of F40PH No. 310 as it barrels along toward Terre Haute.

Looking over the engineer’s shoulder as Amtrak No. 31 rolls over the former New York Central mainline west of Indianapolis for the final time as a scheduled train.

It is Oct. 1, 1979, and Amtrak train No. 31 has arrived early into Indianapolis. This is a crew change point and for the final time the engineer and fireman will board the head end of the National Limited to take it west, working as far as St. Louis. Both are Conrail employees.

Tomorrow, the National Limited will be no more. It’s last trips departed from their endpoint cities on Sept. 30 and were allowed to continue to their destinations.

I got permission from the engineer to ride in the cab of F40PH No. 310 as far as Terre Haute, Indiana.

All of these photographs were made using Kodak Tri-X film. The images were scanned from the negatives.

UP Derailment Led to Ski Train Cancellation

March 14, 2017

A Union Pacific derailment resulted in cancellation of the Winter Park Express between Denver and Winter Park, Colorado, last Saturday.

Passengers who had tickets for the March 11 ski train were offered the opportunity to rebook on another ski train, which has two more weekends to operate.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told Trains magazine that about 500 seats had been sold for the trip that was canceled.

The westbound California Zephyr was held for more than four hours at Denver before it was permitted to proceed. It lost another two hours waiting for the tracks to be cleared at the derailment site.

The derailment did not materially affect the eastbound California Zephyr on Saturday. The ski train operated as scheduled on Sunday.

News reports indicate that 10 empty freight cars on a UP train derailed on a curve on the Moffat Subdivision.

Winter Storm Leads Amtrak to Shorten Route of Capitol Limited, Cancel Boston LSL Section

March 13, 2017

A severe winter storm that has prompted Amtrak to cancel and reduce service along the Northeast Corridor will also affect some trains operating to the Atlantic Seaboard from outside the region.

The Capitol Limited will not operate on Tuesday (March 14) between Pittsburgh and Washington.

The Lake Shore Limited will not operate between Boston and Albany/Rensselaer, New York.

Amtrak said there will be no Acela Express service between New York and Boston, and there will be modified Acela Express service between New York and Washington.

Northeast Regional service will operate on a modified schedule between Boston and Washington with the routes of some trains shortened and other trains being canceled. This will affect some trains that operate beyond Washington to points in Virginia.

Also operating on modified schedules will be Empire Service, Downeaster Service and Keystone Service trains.

That Seventies Look

March 13, 2017

If you rode Amtrak in its early years this is what you would have seen. The interiors of its passenger cars received blue carpet that extended up the sides to window level.

The seats were blue with head rest covers in paisley print. From an appearance standpoint, it was a scheme of cool colors and I don’t mean cool as in hip or popular.

By the late 1970s Amtrak had switched to an earth colors look emphasizing browns rather than blues.

The early Amtrak appearance continues to live at railroad museums and on tourist trains that use former Amtrak passenger cars.

Such is the case with this coach, which at the time this image was made on Oct. 16, 2005, was owned by the Bluewater Michigan chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and used on its excursions.

This high-capacity coach was built in 1947 by the Budd Company for the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac where it had roster number 856. It became Amtrak No. 5220 and later No. 6031 before being retired by Amtrak in October 1981.

Lake Forest Delays Action on Lessening its Opposition to Hiawatha Service Expansion Project

March 11, 2017

The Lake Forest (Illinois) City Council will continue to seek to prod the Federal Railroad Administration to study the proposed expansion of Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service, but some council members have also expressed doubt that the lobbying efforts are going to be effective.

Many Lake Forest residents, like those in other communities in the north Chicago suburbs along the Chicago-Milwaukee route, have raised concerns about a passing siding that is part of the expansion.

The siding would give Canadian Pacific freight trains a place to sit while waiting for permission to enter Union Pacific tracks and allow passengers trains of Amtrak and Metra to pass them.

At the same time that they are seeking to push the FRA to conduct an environmental impact statement, Lake Forest is also seeking to become a stop for Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service. The city is already served by a select number of Metra commuter trains.

The council did not act at a recent meeting on a resolution that would reduce the city’s official opposition to the expansion.

Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider has urged the city to take a longer view, citing the advantages that Amtrak and expanded Metra service would have.

“This is a very complicated, impactful and important issue,” Schoenheider said. “It’s important to look not only how this will affect us five or 10 years from now but 50 [years from now].”

The mayor said that every employer he has spoken with at the Conway (business) Park wants to see Amtrak stop in Lake Forest.

City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said the lack of southbound Metra service from the west station during the late afternoon hours means that employers must transport their employees by bus to Deerfield to catch a Metra train back to Chicago.

City officials are also discussing what they termed the best ways to influence the FRA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation to minimize the impact of the passing siding on local residents.

Few of those who packed the city council chambers objected to additional Amtrak or Metra trains. Most of the opposition to the project has focused on a perceived increase in freight traffic and its effect on the environment.

CSX Track Work to Affect Palmetto, Silver Star

March 11, 2017

CSX track work will affect operations of Amtrak’s Silver Star and Palmetto on Monday, March 13.

The Palmetto will not operate between Washington and Savannah, Georgia. An Amtrak service advisory did not indicate if alternative transportation will be provided.

The northbound Silver Star will depart Miami on March 12 four hours earlier at 7:50 a.m.

The times at all scheduled intermediate stations to New York will be four hours earlier on March 12-13. No. 92 will operate as No. 1092 during the trip.

What Made the Coast Starlight Unique

March 10, 2017

In the Superliner era of Amtrak, the western long distant trains have all looked alike and offered pretty much the same service.

Over the years there have been a few tweaks, such as varying menu fare in the dining car by route, but otherwise there are no significant differences among the trains.

One exception has been the Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight. During the 1990s a product line manager for Amtrak had former Santa Fe cars remodeled into the Pacific Parlour Cars that became the train’s signature service for sleeper class passengers.

In June 1999 I was at the Amtrak station in Sacramento, California, waiting for a excursion train to arrive that was being operated for members of the National Railway Historical Society. NRHS was holding its annual convention in Sacramento.

But the first order of business was the arrival of the southbound Coast Starlight. A few of us were standing near a doorway to the Pacific Parloir Car and we asked an Amtrak employee if we could go inside and take a look.

Sacramento is a service stop for Nos. 11 and 14 so we knew we had time. “Sure, come on up,” was the response.

So I got a glimpse inside something that made the Coast Starlight unique.

Amtrak Pausing The Empire Builder

March 10, 2017

After seeing its Empire Builder stuck in a snow bank for nearly 13 hours this week, Amtrak has said it will not operate two trips of Nos. 7 and 8 this week.

Buses will be substitute for the Empire Builder through Saturday between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

East No. 8 became stuck in 25-foot snow bank about five miles west of Rugby, North Dakota, on Tuesday night.

It arrived in Chicago on Thursday 21 hours late. The westbound No. 7 that left Chicago on Tuesday was stuck east of Rugby at Leeds, North Dakota.

Amtrak trains also have been delayed this week by mudslides north of Seattle and freight train congestion.

No alternative transportation is being provided west of St. Paul on Friday or Saturday.

In the meantime, Amtrak needs time to get equipment and operating crews into position before it resumes full operation of Nos. 7 and 8.

13 Hours Later No. 8 Freed from Snow Bank

March 9, 2017

It took four tries, but an eastbound Empire Builder finally managed to work its way out of a snow drift that had marooned the train and its 111 passengers for nearly 13 hours in North Dakota.

The 25-foot high snow bank stopped No. 8 dead in its tracks five miles west of Rugby at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

Westbound No. 7 was delayed 35 miles to the east with 96 passengers aboard.

No. 8 was finally on the move again after BNSF personnel inspected it and determined that it had not suffered any damage.

Railroad personnel used snowplows, skid-steer loaders and freight train engines trying to pull out the Amtrak train from behind. But none of those methods worked.

Thirty workers then dug the train out by hand, removing snow from beneath and between the Superliner cars.

A passenger aboard the stranded train, Miranda Fenner, said the train had power and the cafe and lounge were open so food was available. But many passengers spent the time sleeping.

No. 8 was already running seven hours late due to the weather had left Minot, North Dakota at 6 a.m. Wednesday rather than the scheduled 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

NB CONO Operating 4 Hours Later untill April 1

March 9, 2017

The northbound City of New Orleans is being rescheduled to operate four hours later between March 6 and April 1 due to Canadian National track work.

No. 58 will during that time frame depart from New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 5:45 p.m., and operate four hours later at all stations from New Orleans to Carbondale, Illinois.

North of Cardonable, No. 58 will operate on the schedule of No. 390, the northbound Saluki, and make all station stops served by No. 390.

That means that No. 58 will be stopping in Illinois at DuQuoin, Rantoul and Gillman, stations that it normally does not serve.

In order to provide three daily trains from Carbondale to Chicago, Amtrak will operate an extra train, No. 1158.

Passengers who hold tickets for travel on No. 58 between March 6 and April 1 will instead travel on No. 1158.

That train will operate on the schedule of No. 58 and serve all of its stations. It will use the equipment normally assigned to No. 390.

The northbound schedule for Train 392 (Illini) and the southbound schedules for Trains 59 (City of New Orleans), 391 (Saluki) and 393 (Illini) are unchanged for this period.