Posts Tagged ‘North Coast Hiawatha’

Another Montana County Joins Rail Effort

June 23, 2020

Another Montana county has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which is seeking to restore Amtrak service to the former route of the defunct North Coast Hiawatha.

Dawson County joined with Missoula County in the agency thus enabling it to meet Montana law that provides that at least two counties must join an organization for it to have agency status.

Dawson County, with its county seat in Glendive, voted on June 16 to join the Big Sky agency.

Officials are seeking to entice other counties to join the effort to restore rail passenger service to Montana’s southern tier.

The North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak restructuring effort that resorted in the discontinuance of several long-distance trains.

Amtrak’s only service to Montana is provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Aboard the North Coast Hiawatha During Its Last Days

January 8, 2020

I made it a point in September 1979 to make a trip from Chicago to Seattle aboard the North Coast Hiawatha.

The train was set to be discontinued on Oct. 1 although a court order kept it running for a few more days before the inevitable occurred.

Shown is the dome car assigned to No. 17. I made this image from an open vestibule door as the train made its way through Montana.

Dome cars on Amtrak’s western trains were becoming an endangered species at the time.

New Superliner equipment was coming and watching the Rocky Mountains from a dome would within another year or two become a thing of the past unless you were traveling in a private car.

No. 17 is on the tracks of the former Northern Pacific, which heavily promoted its use of dome cars on its North Coast Limited.

Resolutions Seeking Expanded Amtrak Service

October 8, 2019

Public officials in states are pushing for an expansion of Amtrak service.

The Commissioners in Bexas County, Texas, approved a resolution asking Amtrak to seek funding to operate its New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited on a daily schedule.

Trains 1 and 2 now operate tri-weekly and Texas passenger train advocates contend that ridership would triple if the Sunset Limited operated daily.

In Montana, the Missoula County Commissions will launch a campaign to talk with other counties about supporting an effort to lobby to reinstate the North Coast Hiawatha from Seattle to at least Helena, Montana.

The campaign will seek to build support to create an entity within the state that can accept federal grants and other help to get the train launched.

“This is something I’ve been interested in and involved with for more than a decade,” said Commission Chairman David Strohmaier.

“There’s been several efforts to get this going through legislation on the state and federal level, but those efforts never made it too far. It became a dead issue. Rather than repeat what’s been tried in the past, I want to examine what the county can do to push this idea forward.”

A 2010 study of reviving the North Coast Hiawatha found that it would require $28 million in capital and $159 million to operate the service.

The North Coast Hiawatha operated between Chicago and Seattle through early October 1979, generally following the former Northern Pacific mainline west of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Not Much Longer to Wait

February 13, 2017

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It is a Monday night at Amtrak’s Midway Station in St. Paul, Minnesota. I waiting for the Chicago-bound North Star to arrive and in the meantime the Seattle-bound North Coast Hiawatha is in the station.

A conductor stands by a vestibule looking for boarding passengers. It is ritual that he won’t be performing much longer for this train. In less than two weeks, Nos. 17 and 18 are slated to be discontinued as part of a massive Amtrak route restructuring.

A court order will keep the North Coast Hiawatha running for a few more days, but it will eventually succumb and intercity rail passenger service on the former Northern Pacific route will end.

The Empire Builder will continue to operate between Chicago and Seattle, but the “North Coast Hi” will be history.

This image was scanned from a slide and made on Sept. 24, 1979.

Last Days of the North Coast Hiawatha

February 8, 2017

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The trip was somewhat bittersweet. It is Sept. 23, 1979. I am aboard the westbound North Coast Hiawatha en route to Seattle.

The North Coast Hi has less than a month to live, soon to become a victim of a massive Amtrak route restructuring that will end it, the Lone Star, the National Limited, the Floridian, the Hilltopper and the Champion.

I bought a ticket aboard No. 9 to ride the train before it ended. I rode in coach from Chicago to St. Paul and then had a roomette to Seattle.

We are somewhere in Montana on the former Northern Pacific, which at the time was controlled by Burlington Northern.

I made a few images from an open vestibule window as the train snaked through the mountains. I have not been back here since.

Only a Few Days Left to Run

October 14, 2016

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To be honest, the quality of this image is not that good. It is quite grainy because I made it with slide film and there wasn’t much light in the concourse area of Chicago Union Station.

Yet the image has historical value because at the time that it was made in September 1979 the Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha was living on borrowed time.

At the end of the month, a massive Amtrak route restructuring would sweep away the North Coast Hiawatha along with several other trains.

I was in Chicago to ride the North Coast Hiawatha to Seattle before the train was discontinued. I had a coach seat aboard No. 17 to St. Paul, Minnesota, and then switched to a sleeper for the duration of the trip.

I remember it being a very pleasant trip and at times quite scenic. It was still the era of steam-heated equipment, but the motive power was a pair of F40PH locomotives.

To provide steam for the heating and cooling, a steam car was placed behind the engines.

This photograph also reminds me of what Chicago Union Station looked like during the era following its first remodeling by Amtrak.

It was before the current coach lounges were created. The concourse area outside the south gates could be quite cold and drafty in the winter. But it appeared to be modern for its time.

Minnesota, Wisconsin Eye New Twin Cities Train

November 2, 2013

Not since 1981 has there been double Amtrak service between Chicago and the Twin Cities in Minnesota, but that may change.

Wisconsin and Minnesota transportation officials are eyeing the prospect of adding a second train to the route that would supplement the current service provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Passenger Rail Office director Dan Krom said there is demand for another train on the route and that it will be a more efficient version of the Empire Builder, not a high-speed one.

The states and Amtrak are studying ridership projections, what time of day the second train should operate, and cost-sharing between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The study is being conducted by Minnesota DOT and is expected to be released in early 2014.

In Amtrak’s first decade, the Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha, which also operated between Chicago and Seattle, ran independently between Chicago and the Twin Cities. In September 1977, Amtrak combined the Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha, and launched a daytime train between Chicago and the Twin Cities named the Twin Cities Hiawatha.

The latter train shifted to overnight operation in April 1978 and was combined with the Minneapolis-Duluth,  Minn., Arrowhead to create a daily Chicago-Duluth train named the North Star.

The North Star was discontinued in October 1981, leaving the Empire Builder as the sole train between Chicago and the Twin Cities. The North Coast Hiawatha had ended in a massive 1979 service curtailment and route restructuring program.

Passenger train advocates say the Empire Builder schedule is not convenient for business travelers or those wanting to make a day trip to Chicago or the Twin Cities.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker returned federal high-speed rail funds in 2010, but Krom said having the second train could be a step toward high-speed rail if it can “prove that the ridership is there, grow the market, [and] allow us to continue to do the work on the faster trains.”

“If the political will changes in Wisconsin and they are interested in looking at true high-speed service of 110 miles per hour again, we’ll have done our work to get us to that point,” Krom said.

John Parkyn, president of the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers said a second train on the route has been discussed for years.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said it is cooperating with its Minnesota counterparts who are estimating the number of riders, revenue, operating costs and the cost for updating infrastructure to make the second train possible.

“So we’re looking into it. We don’t know if it’s feasible or not, but this study will evaluate that,” said Arun Rao, passenger rail manager for WisDOT.

Hundreds of residents along the route have also showed their support for the project by signing petitions asking for another roundtrip train that stops in their city.

Parkyn knows their concerns. “People, like myself, who have to go to the Twin Cities a lot and back, we drive,” said Parkyn. “Sometimes we take the train instead. Right now that’s not an option. Out east it allows you a lot more connections.”