Lake Shore Limited
Endpoints: Chicago-New York/Boston
Numbers: 48/48 (Chicago-New York)
Host Railroads: CSX (east of Cleveland); Norfolk Southern (west of Cleveland) [former New York Central]
Amtrak Operated: October 31, 1975, to present
Named For: The route serves the southern Great Lakes region, near or hugging the shores of Lake Michigan in Indiana, Lake Erie in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Lake Ontario in New York. The New York Central once operated a Chicago-New York train of the same name on this route used by Amtrak.
Pre-Amtrak History: New York Central aggressively sought to rationalize passenger service west of Buffalo, New York, during the 1960s. The NYC discontinued its most famous passenger train, the Twentieth Century Limited, on December 3, 1967, as part of a sweeping restructuring that also saw the end of nearly all train names. Chicago-New York service shrank to one daily roundtrip with some Chicago-New York/Boston through cars being conveyed by a New York-Buffalo train. On the eve of Amtrak, Penn Central operated three daily roundtrips between Chicago and Buffalo via Cleveland.
Amtrak History: Amtrak operated a Chicago-New York train named the Lake Shore between May 10, 1971, and January 5, 1972. The train was expected to be funded by the states served, but they reneged on their funding pledges.
The Amtrak Improvement Act of 1973 required the inauguration of one new experimental Amtrak route a year. Ohio officials lobbied Amtrak for an experimental route via Cleveland between Chicago and New York. Amtrak President Paul Resitrup said he was amazed that the route was not already being operated.
Secretary of Transportation Claude S. Brinegar said in June 1974 that Amtrak would begin an experimental Chicago-Boston route. A week later Amtrak said the train would have a New York section.
Although the route was expected to begin within six months, an equipment shortage delayed the startup until October 31, 1975.
One issue with the Boston section was that Penn Central had removed with the permission of Amtrak’s first president, Roger Lewis, 12 miles of tracks formerly used by the New York Central for its Boston trains.
Nos. 448 and 449 had to run 16.5 miles south of Albany-Rensselaer to Castleton Junction and make a backup move to reach the line to Boston.
Within two years of its inauguration, the Lake Shore Limited was averaging more passenger per month than the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited, which followed the Pennsylvania Railroad’s ancestral route via Pittsburgh.
The U.S. DOT lifted the experimental status of the Lake Shore Limited on May 9, 1978.
Through the middle 1980s, the Lake Shore Limited had a longer Chicago-New York running time than the Broadway Limited. Conrail track improvements enabled Amtrak to reduce the running time. By late April 1983, the Lake Shore Limited running time had been cut to 18 hours eastbound and just under 18.5 hours westbound.
Amtrak acquired in 1976 the right of way that Penn Central had abandoned in 1973 and launched a $4.1 million project to restore the track between Rensselaer and Post Road. The line reopened on October 28, 1979.
The Lake Shore Limited has had a stable route since its inception, primarily because it used Conrail’s primary freight artery between Chicago and New England and the Middle Atlantic.
The only significant route change for the New York section was the April 7, 1991, diversion of the train from New York’s Grand Central Terminal to Penn Station.
Nos. 48/448 and 49/449 were the first Amtrak trains to be permanently assigned Heritage fleet equipment on October 15, 1979. This streamliner era equipment was rebuilt for head-end power, which replaced the steam heating and cooling used for decades on these cars. Amfleet lounge cars filled in for a time until Heritage fleet lounges could finish going through the rebuilding process.
In early 1983, Amfleet II coaches began showing up in Lake Shore Limited consists. New Viewliner sleepers began replacing the Heritage fleet cars on November 8, 1995. For a time, demand for sleeping car space meant that Viewliners and Heritage sleepers ran simultaneously on the Lake Shore Limited.
The September 1995 discontinuance of the Broadway Limited in tandem with the shortening of the operation of the Cardinal to Chicago-Washington, D.C., made Nos. 48 and 49 Amtrak’s only Chicago-New York train. The New York section carried three sleepers and a slumbercoach.
The slumbercoaches were removed from Nos. 48 and 49 in early January 1996. Heritage sleepers continue to run on the Boston section for another year.
The Lake Shore Limited is Amtrak’s longest single-level eastern long-distance train. The consist typically is two P42 locomotives, six Amfleet II coaches (two for the Boston section), an Amfleet lounge car for the Boston section, a Heritage fleet or Viewliner diner that operates on the New York section, three Viewliners sleepers (one for the Boston section) and a baggage car for each section.
In 2015, the Lake Shore Limited was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 9:45 a.m., operating about an hour behind the Capitol Limited from Washington west of Cleveland.
The eastbound Lake Shore Limited is Amtrak’s “clean-up” train from Chicago, being the last departure of the day at 9:30 p.m. The schedule has been maximized to provide connections with Amtrak’s western long-distance trains and Midwest corridor service.