Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s National Limited’

Columbus Named Transportation ‘Pocket of Pain’

August 25, 2017

Columbus has been identified in a study as one of the nation’s most prominent “pockets of pain” when it comes to intercity public ground transportation.

The capital of Ohio made the list because of its lack of Amtrak service and express bus service.

It was joined up there by another state capital, Phoenix, which also lacks Amtrak service. Also on the list was Akron and Dayton.

Amtrak’s New York-Kansas City National Limited halted in Columbus and Dayton for the last time on Oct. 1, 1979. Megabus pulled out of Columbus this past Janauary.

The study was released by Chicago-based DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

It focused on large cities that lack rail and express bus connections to other major cities. Cities outside Ohio that also made the list were Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Fort Myers, Florida.

“Columbus has been cursed in terms of ground transportation, largely because of geography,” said Joseph Schwieterman, co-author of the study and director of the Chaddick Institute. “It’s a little far from cities such as Chicago and Washington to make bus service a good success.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Cleveland-to-Columbus is the fourth-busiest route (ones with the most point-to-point travel) in the country that lacks both intercity express bus service and rail service.
  • Chicago-to-Columbus is the seventh-busiest such route.

“The study validates what we already knew: The central Ohio region does have gaps in ground transportation options for passengers connecting to other regions,” said William Murdock, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. “That is why we are working hard with our community partners across four states, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

“These efforts include a Columbus-to-Chicago passenger rail connection and the Midwest Connect Hyperloop Corridor (Pittsburgh to Chicago via Columbus), as well as (other) regional efforts.”

Last year Columbus won the national Smart City Challenge and was awarded $40 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation and $10 million by Vulcan Inc. Another $90 million has been pledged by a Columbus public-private partnership, bringing the total to $140 million.

That funding was not intended to go toward development of conventional rail or bus intercity service.

However, Schwieterman said the Smart City projects can only help.

“Innovation in urban areas could morph into providing true intercity service,” Schwieterman said. “It’s only a matter of time before services like Uber and Lyft start offering van service between cities, for example.”

He also believes the federal government should track ridership of private express bus services the way it does with airline passengers, to better understand the demand on various routes.

Schwieterman would like to see local governments encourage bus service by helping companies establish convenient curbside stops and providing incentives to renovate bus stations.

“Some people will consider an express bus, but are resistant to taking Greyhound,” Schwieterman said. “It’s a culture change.”

To see the study, go to http://bit.ly/2xd2LEb

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From the Vestibule Aboard the National Limited

May 31, 2017

In the early days of Amtrak, crew members often said little to nothing if you made photographs from the windows of the vestibule doors.

I’m sure there were crew members who would chase you out of the vestibule if they saw you standing there, but I had some good luck in being able to make images while the crew either looked the other way or gave their tacit approval.

The conductor of Amtrak’s westbound National Limited fell into the latter category along with the rear brakeman. In fact the brakeman talked to myself and another passenger at length and even led us to the vestibule window at the rear of the train.

In the photograph above, No. 31 is arriving at Indianapolis Union Station on a Saturday morning in April 1977. Those Amtrak passenger cars on the other tracks might be waiting to go to the Beech Grove shops. At the time Nos. 30 and 31 were the only Amtrak trains serving Indianapolis.

The bottom photograph was made as No. 31 was going around a curve in East St. Louis, Illinois, to cross the Mississippi River over MacArthur Bridge and enter St. Louis.

On the point of No. 31 are a pair of freight diesels, Penn Central SD35 No. 6029 and Conrail SD40 No. 6319, both former Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives. That seemed appropriate given that much of the route of the National Limited across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois was former PRR trackage. The exception was the track between Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Indiana, which was former New York Central.

I do not know where these freight units were put on. They were on  the train when it rolled in Dayton, Ohio, where I boarded. I can only guess that Amtrak E8A No. 477 had mechanical problems en route. By coincidence, No. 477 was also a former PRR diesel, No. 5790.

There were limits to the crew’s tolerance. After we crossed the Mississippi, the conductor came back and shooed us into the coach. I remember him saying, “I let  you ride [in the vestibule] across the river.”

Indeed he had and I was grateful for that. I returned to my seat where I remained for the rest of the journey to Kirkwood, Missouri.

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.

Indianapolis Union Station in April 1979

January 17, 2017

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All major U.S. cities had a union station that was used by multiple railroads. By the time that Amtrak arrived, these monuments to the glory years of passenger trains had become expensive institutions whose high costs was one factor in dooming intercity rail passenger service in the 1960s.

Indianapolis is among a number of cities that have kept its union station during the Amtrak era.

When Amtrak began on May 1, 1971, the venerable depot was served by six trains, including the New York/Washington-Kansas City National Limited.

No. 31 is shown arriving at the train shed at Indianapolis Union Station on April 9, 1977. The cars parked on a station track to the right are bound for the Beech Grove shops.

At the time that this image was made, Indianapolis had just the National Limited. The Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian and the Chicago-Washington James Whitcomb Riley had been routed away from the city due to poor Penn Central track conditions between Indy and Chicago.

The National Limited Takes a Detour

December 19, 2016
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The westbound National Limited arrives in the station at Mattoon, Ilinois, in May 1977 on a detour move. The train is using the former New York Central route to St. Louis due to track work on its regular route over the former Pennsylvania Railroad route via Effingham, Illinois.

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The National Limited handled mail from New York to Los Angeles that was interchanged to the Southwest Limited in Kansas City. Note that the former NYC passenger platform is still in place at right nine years after the last NYC passenger train here was discontinued.

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The Amtrak conductor and two other crew members wait in the vestibule of a coach as the eastbound National Limited arrives in Mattoon, Illinois, in May 1977 on a detour move.

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The eastbound National Limited departs from Mattoon, Illinois, on former New York Central rails. It will regain its regular route in Terre Haute, Indiana. A portion of the former NYC passenger station is visible at right.

It was not unusual for Amtrak’s National Limited to detour between Terre Haute, Indiana, and St. Louis.

The scheduled route was via the former Pennsylvania Railroad via Effingham, Illlinois, but the Penn Central dispatcher had the option of running the train over the ex-New York Central route through Mattoon, Illinois.

After Conrail took over Penn Central in 1976, it began rebuilding the ex-Pennsy route used by Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

In late April 1977, the National Limited was rescheduled to operate during the afternoon hours between St. Louis and Effingham. That also coincided with the track gang hours.

So, for a good part of May 1977, Nos. 30 and 31 detoured via the ex-NYC route, making the Effingham stop at the former NYC passenger platform in Mattoon

The last NYC passenger train through Mattoon had been discontinued in March 1968, but the platform was still in place on the south side of the tracks.

I was a young reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette and I gave myself an assignment one afternoon to cover the detour of the National Limited.

I went down to the tracks, interviewed waiting passengers, and made photographs of both trains using Kodak Tri-X film.

Much has changed since that May 1977 day. The National Limited was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979, and in March 1982, Conrail abandoned the former NYC tracks through Mattoon. The rails were picked up a year later.

The former NYC station has since been razed. The platforms remained in place for several years after the tracks were pulled up, but were eventually taken out in the early 2000s to make way for a parking lot for the YMCA.

Not Just Another Meal in an Amcafe

November 10, 2016

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At first glance this might appear to be just another day in an Amfleet food service car. But there is nothing ordinary about the lunch period on this day.

The image was made aboard the last westbound trip of Amtrak’s National Limited on Sept. 1, 1979. As part of a major route restructuring, the New York-Kansas City train and a number of other trains were discontinued.

I had boarded No. 31 in Indianapolis and would ride as far as Effingham, Illinois. This image was made not long after the train departed from Terre Haute, Indiana.

The discontinuance of Nos. 30 and 31 ended intercity rail passenger service to Terre Haute. The city might have regained Amtrak had a proposed Chicago to Florida train that Amtrak studied in the late 1980s come to fruition.

There has been periodic talk of creating a St. Louis section of the Chicago-New York Cardinal that would serve Terre Haute, but it has yet to materialize, too.

One Saturday Morning in Dayton

September 11, 2016

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This photograph reminds me of a lot of things, most of which are gone. It is an early Saturday morning in Dayton Union Station.

I am waiting for the westbound National Limited, which I will ride to Kirkwood, Missouri. This is my one and only visit to DUS, but it would not be my last trip on Amtrak train No. 31.

The guy in the blue jacket had much in common with me. He worked as a reporter for Dayton radio station whereas I was a newspaper reporter at the time in Mattoon, Illinois.

Like me, he was riding the train just to be riding the train. My journey had begun at Effingham, Illinois, the night before and I had spent the night in the Dayton station.

I don’t remember his name, but he was getting off in St. Louis and would ride No. 30 back to Dayton. Like myself he was young and just starting his career so he didn’t have a lot of money for train travel.

Back in those days I would study Amtrak timetables to see  how far I could travel in one direction before getting off and taking a train back to where I started.

That was why I stepped off trains in the middle of the night in such places as Omaha, Nebraska; and Emporia, Kansas, on “overnight” trips. I could travel overnight without having to stay in a motel and pay that expense.

It has been more than 35 years since you could ride to Dayton on Amtrak. The city’s only Amtrak train, the National Limited, was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979.

Dayton Union Station has since been razed. I don’t know if my friend for the day is still a broadcast journalist or even still in journalism. Likewise, I don’t know if the young Amtrak agent in the red jacket behind the counter is still with the company.

The scene is a snapshot of Amtrak in the late 1970s. There are promotions for services and equipment that didn’t serve Dayton and never did. DUS like so many urban union depots was much larger than what Amtrak needed.

Amfleet equipment made an appearance here in the final year of Nos. 30 and 31, but by then the National Limited was living on short time.

In a way this was a magical time in Amtrak history. It was a transition period between the passenger train era of the past, reminders of which were still around, and the modern era that Amtrak was about to become with Amfleet and Superliners, and small modular stations in cities with just two trains a day.

Maybe some people recognized back in 1977 that that transition was underway, but I didn’t. I was just happy to get out when I could to ride a train, any train.

My appreciation and understanding of the context of those times would come much later.

It’s All Gone Now

September 5, 2016

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Just about everything  you see in this view is gone. That includes Amtrak E units, the National Limited, the tracks the train is using and the former New York Central passenger station on the right.

It is May 1977 and the New York-Kansas City National Limited is detouring through Mattoon, Illinois, due to track work on its regular route via Effingham.

It is early in the Conrail era and the decision has been made to favor the former Pennsylvania Railroad route to St. Louis via Effingham over the former New York Central route via Mattoon.

But it will be a few more years before Conrail can implement that plan. In the meantime, the ex-NYC route continues to host most of the St. Louis-bound manifest freights and, on occasion, Amtrak Nos. 30 and 31.

At the time, the National Limited was pulled by E units because Conrail had let it be known it didn’t want Amtrak’s SDP40F locomotives on its property.

Amtrak did serve Mattoon with its Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains, which used the former Illinois Central, which was Illinois Central Gulf in 1977.

That station was behind me and could be accessed from the former NYC platform via a freight elevator.

Pulling No. 30 is E9A No. 430, a former Union Pacific locomotive that on this day was looking rather tired and shabby. But it got the job done and that was all that counted.

In another hour the eastbound National Limited will pass through Mattoon, but I won’t be around to see it for I will have boarded No. 30 to travel to St. Louis.

The National Limited succumbed to a route restructuring plan that was implemented on Oct. 1, 1979. About a year before that, Nos. 30 and 31 lost their steam-heated equipment in favor of Amfleet and F40PH locomotives.

Conrail abandoned the former NYC through Mattoon in March 1982 and pulled up the tracks in May 1983.

The former NYC station and platform remained in place for more than 20 years after the tracks were removed. The station was razed on April 9, 2004.

Today this scene is a parking lot for a YMCA that was built north of where the NYC tracks used to run.