Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Super Chief/El Capitan’

What Was in a Name?

October 22, 2020

Many Amtrak trains have names with roots that extend to the days when freight railroads operated passenger trains.

In several instances these names had been around for several decades by the time Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.

Amtrak’s initial timetable merely used verbatim whatever train names were still in use at the time those trains were conveyed to it.

Thus the Chicago-Los Angeles train continued to be named the Super Chief/El Capitan as it had been under the operation of the Santa Fe Railway.

That name was a combination of two separate names for two separate trains, the all-Pullman and extra fare Super Chief and the all-coach El Capitan.

Santa Fe consolidated the two trains, hence the combo name, in January 1958 although it continued to advertise them as though they were separate trains.

The combined Super Chief/El Capitan also maintained separate dining and lounge cars with passengers not allowed to use them interchangeably.

During the summer and holiday periods the Super Chief and El Capitan operated as independent trains, a practice that continued through 1969.

Amtrak kept the combo name until April 29, 1973 when Nos. 3 and 4 became merely the Super Chief.

Santa Fe President John S. Reed became disenchanted with how Amtrak treated what has been his railroad’s premier passenger train, particularly the removal of certain Santa Fe practices and services.

In March 1974 he informed Amtrak via letter that he was revoking permission for the passenger carrier to use the “Chief” names. Amtrak also operated the former Santa Fe Texas Chief between Chicago and Houston.

So on May 19, 1974, Nos. 3 and 4 became the Southwest Limited and the Houston train became the Lone Star.

The Lone Star was discontinued in early October 1979 but the ancestor of the Super Chief continued to operate.

By 1984 the name riff between Amtrak and Santa Fe had healed sufficiently that the Chief name could return.

But Nos. 3 and 4 would not be the Super Chief but rather the Southwest Chief.

In the photo above, No. 3 is in Joliet, Illinois, on Aug. 6, 1972, and still looks much like a Santa Fe passenger train, including former AT&SF locomotives 314C, 312B, 302, 320A, 314A and 315A.

Photograph by Robert Farkas