Posts Tagged ‘Metroliner cab cars’

Metroliner Debuted 50 Years Ago

January 17, 2019

A former Metroliner turned cab car is ready to lead the Twilight Limited out of Pontiac, Michigan, on March 23, 1996.

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Metroliner between New York and Washington, which has been described as the first high-speed rail service in the United States.

The equipment, which was built by the Budd Company, made a publicity run on Jan. 15, 1969, and started scheduled service the next day.

Operated by Penn Central, the Metroliner was in part the U.S. answer to Japan’s Shinkansen trains that had been introduced in 1964.

During the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Congress in September 1965 adopted the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965.

The Metroliner was an outgrowth of that law, which set an ambitious goal of achieving 110 mph service by October 1967.

Eventually, the Metroliner was supposed to operate at a top speed of 150 mph.

The first of the 50 electric multiple unit cars were delivered by Budd until September 1967 but mechanical problems discovered during testing delayed the inauguration of service until early 1969.

Originally designed for the Pennsylvania Railroad, by the time the Metroliner debuted the PRR had merged with arch-rival New York Central to become Penn Central.

The initial schedule had just one roundtrip a day between New York and Washington.

The top speed of 120 mph was cut to 110 due to the condition of the track and overhead catenary.

Another roundtrip was added in February and as the Metroliner gained popularity. By October, there were six round trips per day.

On the day that Metroliner service began, a first class seat cost $19.90. The inaugural run arrived in Washington seven minutes late.

A New York Times account of that first trip reported that passengers enjoyed the fast running and the novelty of the train.

However, one passenger quoted by the Times said, “You still know you’re on a train,” in reference to “abrupt swaying motions.”

Another passenger interviewed by the reporter said, “The luxury is terrific. There’s no worry about stacking up on the airlines. The phones are terrific. I called my wife and made two business calls for appointments. I couldn’t believe it when they announced 110 mph. It didn’t feel like it.”

In theory, the Metroliner was a two-year demonstration project.

The Metroliner train sets cost $21.5 million. Penn Central spent $35 million to upgrade its Northeast Corridor for 110 mph operation and the federal government contributed $11.3 million toward the demonstration project’s cost.

The PRR and later PC may have thought that cooperating with this project would pay off in winning governmental approval to discontinue passenger trains elsewhere.

The Metroliner was not without its problems. On any given day a third of the fleet was often out of service.

The top speed had to be lowered to 100 mph due to deteriorating infrastructure.

Despite those things, the demonstration project never really ended. Amtrak continued to use the Metroliner equipment and brand name for several years after its 1971 startup.

Today the high-speed trains in the Northeast Corridor have been branded Acela Express, but even the rank and file NEC trains hit more than 100 miles per hour during their journey.

The Metroliner cars were the model for Amtrak’s Amfleet equipment, which was also built by Budd.

Amfleet had its roots in a 1973 order for 57 non-powered Metroliner coaches. Those eventually morphed into the Amfleet I fleet.

Most of the original Metroliner cars were retired and scrapped, but more than 25 were transformed into cab cars used on corridors outside the Northeast Corridor, including between Chicago and Detroit, Milwaukee and Springfield, Illinois.

On occasion the former Metroliner cab cars were used a standard coaches in the consist of Amfleet-equipped trains.

Although the Metroliner cab cars no longer operate in the Midwest, a few still see service in the Keystone Corridor and on trains going to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Chicago Union Station, May 1997

May 5, 2018

It is May 1997 and this is the state of the art of Amtrak rolling stock and equipment as seen at Chicago Union Station.

Partly visible at far left is a Superliner train, perhaps the inbound Southwest Chief from Los Angeles.

In the middle is a Midwest corridor train, perhaps a train to or from Detroit. In this era, trains on that route operated with former Metroliner cab cars facing west.

To the right is another Midwest corridor train with a P32-8 wearing the one-of-a-kind livery in which those units were delivered.

Many wags described them as “Pepsi cans” because the scheme resembled a brand look of the beverage that was used at the time.

This livery proved to be fairly short lived and the P32s would later be repainted in the Phase IV livery that Amtrak adopted in 1997.