Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak SDP40F locomotives’

Waiting for the Texas Chief

March 28, 2020

A crowd waits on the platform in Joliet, Illinois, as Amtrak’s Texas Chief arrives at its first stop en route to Houston after leaving Chicago Union Station on Aug. 17, 1973.

The SDP40F locomotives pulling the train have been in service for just about two months.

The train is on the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and is about to cross the tracks of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

Next spring the Santa Fe’s dissatisfaction with the quality of Amtrak service will result in the Texas Chief being renamed the Lone Star.

Photograph by Robert Farkas


Winding Through the Mountains

February 15, 2020

It is July 31, 1979. I’m riding the westbound San Francisco Zephyr en route to Oakland, California, after having boarded in Denver the day before.

No. 5 is twisting and turning through the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California on the tracks of Southern Pacific.

Up front pulling the train is a pair of SDP40F locomotives.

It’s my first trip on this route and I’m not sure where I made this photograph.

But it was out an open vestibule door window. It was quite a warm day and by the time we got out of the mountains the air conditioning has ceased working in some cars.

Standing by an open vestibule window felt good.

Life After Amtrak

April 24, 2019

Amtrak’s SDF40F locomotive fleet had a troubled life at the passenger carrier in the 1970s, but a handful of the units went on to have second lives.

Such was the case with No. 633, which was sold in 1984 to the Santa Fe which rebuilt it in March 1985 into SDF40-2 No. 5259.

By the time it arrived on the Santa Fe, No. 633 had been repainted into Amtrak’s Phase III livery.

The Santa Fe acquired 18 of the SDP40Fs, perhaps because of their similarity to an SD40-2, although the SDP40F was longer and heavier. That was largely a product of the passenger units having water tanks mounted toward their year for steam boilers.

The steam was used for heating and cooling the trailing passenger cars.

When I caught up with No. 633, it has had been renumbered by BNSF to 6969.

It is shown as a trailing unit pulling an eastbound intermodal train at Joliet, Illinois, on June 16, 1998.

By that time the SDF40-2 fleet had been relegated to trailing duties due to the lack of ditch lights.

BNSF did not figure the SDF40-2 fleet would be working much longer. In February 2000 the units were sidelined, placed in a surge fleet that was occasionally pressed into service over the next two years.

But the end for No. 6969 came on May 2, 2002, when it was retired. Presumably it was subsequently scrapped.

No. 6969 (nee 5259, nee 633) was built by EMD in July 1974 as part of the second order of SDP40F units.

My travel records show I rode behind No. 633 once, on Dec. 11-12 from Washington to Miami aboard the Silver Meteor.

It’s possible that No. 633 pulled Amtrak trains through Joliet on the former Santa Fe during its years of Amtrak service.

More than likely, though, most of its trips through Joliet were made pulling Santa Fe freight trains just as it was doing on this day when I caught up with it.

Somewhere in North Carolina

February 12, 2019

Some memories that some photographs trigger tend to stay with you longer than others.

Such is the case with the image of Amtrak’s northbound Silver Star on Dec. 14, 1979.

I created this image from an open vestibule and have no idea where the train was at the time other than passing through North Carolina.

My sole purpose for riding this train was to ride the train. My mother had died two months earlier and I wanted to get away for a while.

I wasn’t traveling to visit family or friends, to go sightseeing, or to make a business trip. I was traveling just to travel.

I still had vacation time to use at work so I booked a long Amtrak journey that initially took me from east central Illinois aboard the Panama Limited to Chicago.

I then rode to New York on the Lake Shore Limited, my first experience aboard that train and my first experience in a Heritage fleet sleeper. From New York it was south to Washington on the Crescent, my first time riding that train, and a connection to the Silver Meteor to Miami. It was my first time aboard the Meteor.

After an overnight stay in a motel I was back aboard the train, taking the Silver Star to Washington. It was my first time aboard the Silver Star.

I stayed overnight in a motel in suburban Virginia and then took the Colonial to New York and a connection with the Lake Shore Limited back to Chicago.

The last segment was back home aboard the Panama Limited. During this trip I picked up a lot of new miles.

Spending days at a time riding trains just to ride trains was something that I did back during that time of my life. Today, it is something that I rarely do.

There is much to see here that can’t be seen anymore, starting with the two SDP40F units (Nos. 647 and 645) wearing the Phase I livery.

None of the streamliner era passenger cars visible here are still on the Amtrak roster. Note that one of those cars appears to be a former Southern Railway car that Amtrak acquired when it took over the Southern Crescent on Feb. 1, 1979.

I still have a number of memories of this trip. They include milling about the platform in Miami to get photos of the train, a sunset over a lake as the Star cruised through Florida, the process of joining the Miami and St. Petersburg sections at Aurbundale, trying to sleep sprawled across two coach seats and disembarking at Richmond to make more photographs.

I recall at one point during the night feeling the train stop and seeing light from the station platform lights illuminating the inside of my coach. But I didn’t bother to raise up to look out the window to see where we were.

To this day still wonder where that was. Probably it was in South Carolina.

Thus far this has turned out to be the last time that I’ve ridden either the Silver Meteor or Silver Star.

Maybe some day I’ll get back aboard one or both of those trains. If so, it will be a nice ride, but it can’t be the same as it was on this day.

Remembering Amtrak’s SDP40Fs

April 17, 2017

Amtrak first new diesel motive power was the SDP40F locomotive built by EMD and which took to the rails in June 1973 between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The big cowl units also initially pulled trains between Chicago and Houston, and on some segments of the route of the Empire Builder.

Amtrak bought 150 of the locomotives and between 1974 and the late ’70s they were ubiquitous on the point of long-distance trains. They also were assigned to some corridor service during that period of time.

Some railroads thought the SDP40F was derailment prone and didn’t want them on their rails. By the late 1970s, E units had made a comeback on some routes, particularly on Conrail, and the SDP40Fs were traded in for new F40PHs.

One of the last strongholds for the SDP40F was between Washington and Florida where they continued to pull trains through the early 1980s.

In this photograph above, it is Dec. 13, 1979, at the Amtrak station in Miami. I am waiting to board the northbound Silver Star and I took the opportunity to photograph No. 645 from the platform.

It would be the last time that I saw an SDP40F in revenue service still wearing the Phase I paint scheme that is still a favorite of mine.

One Day at High Noon in Springfield, Illinois

December 15, 2016

The technical quality of this image isn’t great but it is one of the few photographs that I have of an SDP40F taken trackside leading a train.


Looking south from the fireman’s side of Amtrak SPD40F No. 613 in Springfield, Illinois.


The control stand of an Amtrak SDP40F.


Engineer Dean Elliot awaits a highball to depart Springfield, Illinois, with Amtrak train No. 21 in June 1977.

It is almost high noon in June 1977 in Springfield, Illinois. I’m standing near the Illinois Central Gulf tracks (former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) tracks awaiting the arrival of Amtrak’s westbound Inter-American from Chicago to Laredo, Texas.

I don’t recall if No. 21 was late or on time, but even if the former, it was not excessively tardy.

Leading No. 21 was SDP40F No. 613. I made a single photograph of it sitting in the station with its train.

The image isn’t that good, a product of harsh light, improper exposure and the fact that I scanned it from a color negative that is almost 40 years old.

I wanted to photograph the Inter-American because it still ran with SDP40F locomotives and those have always been a favorite of mine.

The engineer of the train spotted me and waved. On impulse I asked him if I could come up into the cab.

He said “yes” and up I went and got the other three images  you see with this post.

I would later learn that the engineer was Dean Elliot and that he is now deceased. He was a railroader’s railroader and I can only imagine the stories he would have had to tell about life on the road.

But there was no time for that. I only had enough time to grab a few shots before the conductor gave No. 21 a highball to leave Springfield. I thanked the crew and climbed down.

And off they went to St. Louis where a Missouri Pacific crew would take over to pilot the Inter-American on its continuing journey to Laredo.

Today, Nos. 21 and 22 are named the Texas Eagle and operate between Chicago and San Antonio.

Last Glory for the SDP40F in the West

November 1, 2016


Based on photographs that I’ve seen, my own experience riding Amtrak, and various news reports from the early 1980s, one last blaze of glory for Amtrak’s SDP40F locomotives in the West pulling the Desert Wind between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah.

The six-axle cowl units were part of motive power consists assigned to that train in the early 1980s. In fact, my last trip ever behind an SDP40F and the last time that I saw one in revenue service occurred on Oct. 29, 1981, when I rode the Desert Wind to Los Angeles.

By then the train had Superliner equipment so an F40PH was always the trailing unit to provide head-end power.

Shown is SDP40F No. 526 during a service stop in Las Vegas. No. 526 was part of the original order of SDP40Fs and, hence, received the Phase II livery.

All 150 SDP40F locomotives arrived from EMD in the Phase I livery and many never wore anything else.

No. 526 was built in July 1973, about a month after the first SDP40Fs went into service. It is one of just two of the first order of 40 SDP40Fs that were not traded into EMD for an F40PH locomotive.

No. 526 along with No. 511 were sold to the Santa Fe in 1985 where they became Nos. 5255 and 5251 respectively.

On this day, No. 526 could count itself a survivor and one of the longest-serving SDP40Fs in the Amtrak motive power fleet.

The Inter-American in Springfield

September 23, 2016


It is a cloudy day in March 1977. The long, bitter winter has finally receded and operations at Amtrak have returned to normal after several trains were annulled for a few weeks due to a shortage of workable equipment.

I’m in Springfield, Illinois, where I lived for two years in the middle 1970s. I’ve returned to visit friends and made a mental note to take my new camera to the Amtrak station to photograph the Inter-American, which arrived in late morning southbound.

At the time, the I-A operated between Chicago and Lardeo, Texas, three days a week although it was a daily operation between Chicago and Fort Worth, Texas.

The I-A, which today is known as the Texas Eagle, has an interesting history that included fights with Missouri Pacific over dispatching and train speeds, and a struggle with a Texas congressman over his desire to see the I-A interchange cars with the Mexican Railways.

Eventually Amtrak worked out its differences with MoPac, but the interchange with the Aztec Eagle never came to be. In time, the route was shortened to Chicago-San Antonio.

At the time that I made this photograph of No. 21 in Springfield, the Inter-American was in the midst of the aforementioned disputes and it had only been about a month since it had resumed operating the length of its route after being canceled south of St. Louis during the harsh winter of 1977 that sidelined a third of Amtrak’s long-distance fleet assigned to Chicago-based trains.

And it had been less than five months since the northern terminus of the I-A had been extended to Chicago from St. Louis.

Nos. 21 and 22 were operating with a pair of SDP40F locomotives, although by the time I saw the I-A in June 1977, the motive power assignment has been reduced to one locomotive.

The SDP40F locomotives and steam-heated equipment would not last much longer. On August 8, 1977, the consist was reduced to two Amfleet coaches and a cafe car. Equipment assignments such as this would become a thing of the past.


View From the Cab in Springfield

August 31, 2016

SPI-09 c-x

It was already warm as I waited in late morning on a Sunday in June 1977 for the arrival of the westbound Inter-American in Springfield, Illinois. No. 21 was still being pulled by SDP40F locomotives photographing that was my primary objective.

I don’t recall if the train was late or on time. It arrived behind a single locomotive and stopped. After getting an external photo that didn’t turn out all that well, I asked the engineer if I could come up to photograph inside the cab.

He was an older gentlemen who probably ranked high on the seniority list. At the time, he was an Illinois Central Gulf employee but would have begun his career with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio or maybe even the Chicago & Alton.

This is one of three images that I made inside the cab. The view is looking southward toward St. Louis from the fireman’s side.

That is the East Adams Street crossing directly ahead. Beyond that is East Monroe Street and then the tracks cross over East Capitol Avenue on a bridge.

Much has changed since this image was made 39 years ago. The ex-GM&O tracks are now owned by Union Pacific and there is just one track now through downtown Springfield.

The Inter-American is now the Texas Eagle and no longer operates south of San Antonio to Neuvo Laredo, Texas, as it did in 1977.

The SDP40F motive power was replaced with F40PH locomotives and Amfleet equipment about two months after my visit.

Officials want to remove these tracks and reroute Amtrak to another path that has far fewer grade crossings.

Like so many other photographs made many years ago, this one is full of reminders of how things have changed as well as how they haven’t.

Encounter with an old ‘Friend’

April 19, 2009
Amtrak No. 470 reposed on the dead line at Beech Grove Shops on August 11, 1991. It was rare to see a locomotive at this late date still wearing the Phase 1 livery that Amtrak created in 1972.

Amtrak No. 470 reposes on the dead line at Beech Grove Shops on August 11, 1991. It was rare to see a locomotive at this late date still wearing the Phase 1 livery that Amtrak created in 1972.

While looking through my collection of photographs of Amtrak trains recently I ran across the photo shown above of E unit No. 470. This image was made on August 11, 1991, at the Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

Seeing this photo of No. 470 brought back some memories and reminded me of how my thinking about Amtrak’s early locomotive power has changed. But more about that later.

Look at this image and what do you see? Most would probably see a locomotive that is clearly past its prime. The peeling paint suggests that No. 470 had received little attention from Amtrak maintenance forces for some time.

Indeed it was a wonder that No. 470 was still at Beech Grove. It had been nearly eight years since Amtrak had used E units. That No. 470 is still wearing the Phase I livery suggests that it had not seen service for an even longer period of time.

But No. 470 was no ordinary E unit. Built by EMD in May 1955 for the Baltimore & Ohio, it wore number 1454 when it was conveyed to Amtrak. Its original Amtrak number was 400 and the limited roster information that I have indicates that it spent a good portion of its time assigned to Cumberland, Maryland, working on such trains as the Blue Ridge and James Whitcomb Riley.

In 1978 No. 400 was rebuilt into a prototype fuel tender, its traction motors and engine removed and replaced with fuel tanks. The idea was to place it between two F40PH locomotives on long-distance trains so as to avoid having to refuel en route.

Environmental regulations set to take effect in 1983 would mean that Amtrak would have to refurbish its refueling stations, something that might cost $20 million. Hence, a fuel tender was tried as a way to get around having to do that.

The test ruins using No. 400 as a fuel tender were successful. It was renumbered No. 470, the second E-unit to carry that number. The original No. 470 had been a former Union Pacific E9A.

The fuel tender idea failed to catch on, although I do not know why. Maybe the environmental regulations changed, but I suspect that Amtrak decided that instead of using fuel tenders it would refuel locomotives with trucks or refueling facilities owned by its contract railroads.

At the time that I photographed No. 470 on this humid August Sunday I paid little attention to it. I was at Beech Grove courtesy of a friend who was permitted to come in and look around on weekends when no one was working. My primary objective was to photograph the F40s, particularly to get some cab interior shots.

There were a lot of F40s parked outside the diesel shop and a few retired P30CHs. I only grabbed this snap snot of No. 470 because it has been years since I had seen an Amtrak E unit, let along one painted in the Phase I livery.

I wish I had spent more time examining No. 470. I see that the door on the engineer’s side is open and I wish I would have climbed up there and had a look around. The control stand may have been gone by then, but maybe not. But I didn’t have time for an old, ratty-looking E unit. And that was the way it was when the E units were still working Amtrak trains in the late 1970s.

In those days I was disappointed when I saw that the Amtrak train that I was ticketed to ride was being pulled by an E unit. E units were has-beens. I was enamored with the SDP40Fs, the F40s and the P30s because those locomotives represented progress.

Never mind that E units were classics. Their time had come and gone and I didn’t care for them all that much. They were another generation’s locomotive. They did not belong to my generation.

As I write this in 2009, I’m a lot older and a little wiser. I wish that I had not been so dismissive of the E and F units that I once disdained. There aren’t many of them left now except on tourist railroads, in museums and at the head of the Norfolk Southern executive train. I spent most of a day last year traveling to Bellevue just to see the NS executive train so I could see something that was once commonplace.

The SDP40s and P30s are gone now as are many of Amtrak’s F40s. Some F40s still live in commuter train service, on VIA Rail Canada and in other assignments here and there. A few survive on Amtrak as non-powered “cabbage cars” used in push-pull service.

I still have a lot of fondness for SDP40s, P30s and F40s. They remind me of a formative time in my life. It’s funny how things that impressed you at a young age tend to stick with you. Things just seem to make more of an impression when you are in you early 20s. I like that blue and silver Genesis units that are ubiquitous at the head of Amtrak trains today, but I can’t say that I love them as much as I did the aforementioned three models that came out in the 1970s.

To be sure, there are a lot of guys around my age who have always loved E units. It just took me a long time to understand that I should have respected and appreciated them a lot more when I had the chance to see them and ride behind them.