Endpoints: Chicago-Valparaiso, Indiana
Numbers: 322, 323
Intermediate Stations: Hammond, Whiting, Indiana Harbor, Gary (two stations) Hobart, and Wheeling, Indiana.
Host Railroad: Conrail (Pennsylvania Railroad)
Amtrak Operated: October 29, 1979 to May 3, 1991.
Named for: The Calumet River flows through northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois. The area surrounding the river is often called the Calumet Region.
Pre-Amtrak History: The Pennsylvania Railroad began operating Chicago-Valparaiso commuter service in the 1890s. The law that created Amtrak did not allow railroads to discontinue trains that were primarily commuter in nature, so Penn Central and later Conrail continued to operate these trains, Nos. 453/454 and 455/456.
Conrail repeatedly sought to end the service, and fought with supporters of the trains before the Interstate Commerce Commission and in federal court. At times, the State of Indiana provided funding to keep the service going. The Regional Transportation Authority in Illinois declined to provide funding because the trains did not serve any intermediate Illinois stations.
Amtrak History: The prohibition that kept Amtrak from operating commuter trains was removed in 1978 and the following year Indiana Congressman Adam Benjamin Jr. was instrumental in getting a clause inserted into the Amtrak Improvement Act of 1979 allowing Conrail to convey the Valparaiso commuter trains to Amtrak.
Amtrak named the trains Indiana Connection and Calumet on August 3, 1980. The trains departed Valparaiso at 6 a.m. and 6:35 a.m., and Chicago at 5:05 p.m. and 5:35 p.m. The trains began stopping at Amtrak’s new station in Hammond in September 1982. Neither train operated on Saturday or Sunday.
For years the trains had been equipped with 14 ancient former PRR P70F heavyweight coaches. Built between 1926 and 1929, these cars were last overhauled in the 1960s and had become a maintenance nightmare. Water tanks in some cars were broken or rusted out, depriving passengers of water for drinking, lavatories or air conditioning.
More modern former Erie Lackawanna coaches were assigned in 1977 after Conrail discontinued a Cleveland commuter train. In July 1979, single-level coaches displaced by the assignment of bi-level galley cars to Chicago-Orland Park, Illinois, commuter trains were placed on the Valparaiso route.
Initially the Calumet and Indiana Connection operated with former Chicago & North Western bi-level coaches that had seen duty on other Midwest Corridor trains in the 1970s. Because of the lack of turning facilities at Valparaiso, the trains operated with a locomotive at each end. For a while this included a P30CH and an E series locomotive.
The last E units based in Chicago (Nos. 414 and 434) were assigned to Valparaiso service in the early 1980. These were the last E units assigned to regularly scheduled Amtrak trains west of New Haven, Connecticut. The last SDP40F locomotives based in Chicago worked the route in 1981.
Amtrak contracted with Illinois Central Gulf in 1980 to rebuild some of the ex-C&NW bi-levels into cab cars and to make them compatible with Amfleet equipment. This work, done at the Woodcrest shops in Chicago, was completed in 1981 and the Calumet and Indiana Connection began operating as push-pull trains with an F40 providing the motive power.
In its later years, the Calumet operated with Horizon coaches and a former Metroliner cab car. An F40PH provided the motive power. This equipment was shared with the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawathas.
An Amtrak budget shortfall led to the discontinuance of the Indiana Connection in January 1986. The Calumet schedule was adjusted slightly to depart Valparaiso at 6:10 a.m. and Chicago at 5:10 p.m. with a running time of 1 hour, 20 minutes.
The discontinuance of the Indiana Connection sent patronage plunging. Conrail had carried 230,080 passengers in 1978 and during Amtrak operation of the service, ridership had built to a peak of 250,248 in fiscal year 1982. The Calumet and Indiana Connection averaged 1,788 passengers per day in 1985, but after the discontinuance of the Indiana Connection this fell to 534.
By 1990 the Calumet averaged 11,622 passengers per month. By contrast, the nearly parallel South Shore averaged 11,895 passengers per day.
The November 1990 reroute of the Broadway Limited and Capitol Limited off the former Pennsylvania mainline via Valparaiso left the Calumet as the last train regularly using the route between Gary and Valparaiso. Conrail years earlier had shifted most of its freight traffic away from this route and demanded that Amtrak pay the route’s maintenance costs. Amtrak didn’t want to do that.
So the route received minimal maintenance and signal failures became commonplace, particularly during wet weather. The Calumet was frequently late and this further drove away riders. Patronage now averaged 216 per trip, down from 296 in 1988.
In fiscal year 1989, the Calumet was projected to lose 15.8 cents per passenger mile. Federal law at the time forbade Amtrak from operating a train losing more than 16.3 cents per passenger mile. Indiana officials suggested that the Calumet be handed over to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which oversaw operations of the South Shore.
Meetings were held and various proposals discussed to save the service. One idea was to reroute the Calumet to a nearby Grand Trunk Western line, which had been without passenger service since Amtrak began on May 1, 1971. The GTW tracks were in much better condition than the Conrail tracks used by the Calumet.
Amtrak wanted to be rid of the Calumet by the end of 1990. By now the train’s losses had risen to 17.5 cents per passenger mile with a deficit of $1 million expected in FY 1991. Indiana Congressman Peter Visclosky and Senator Dan Coats won Congressional approval in December of a provision directing Amtrak to continue operating the Calumet until May 6, 1991.
In the meantime, NICTD was preparing a report that it submitted to the Indiana General Assembly in February 1991, about taking over the service. The report estimated the cost of operating the Calumet to be $1.96 million annually. It would cost another $3.38 million to purchase 19 miles of track used by the Calumet that Conrail no longer wanted.
The prospect of a NICTD takeover of the Calumet died when the state legislature declined to approve a one cent sales tax that would have been used to fund various mass transit projects in northwest Indiana.
The Calumet made its final trips on May 3, 1991. The consist included F40PH No. 223, two Horizon coaches and a former Metroliner cab car. On the last eastbound run, some passengers decorated a coach with black crepe paper and balloons, and marked the occasion with champagne and hors d’oeuvres.