Endpoints: Chicago-New York
Numbers: 60, 61
Intermediate Stations: South Bend and Elkhart, Indiana; Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Colonie-Schectady, Albany-Renssaler, Poughkeepsie and Croton-Harmon, New York.
Host Railroad: Penn Central (former New York Central)
Amtrak Operated: May 10, 1971-January 4-5, 1972
Named for: The route passed through the southern rim of the Great Lakes region, hugging the shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana and Lake Erie in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Pre-Amtrak History: Following a sweeping reorganization of passenger service on December 3, 1967, that saw the discontinuance of the fabled Twentieth Century Limited, the New York Central’s Water Level Route was left with just one Chicago-New York train, although a Chicago-Buffalo train carried through coaches and sleepers between Chicago and New York/Boston. Train names were removed.
Amtrak’s incorporators raised more than a few eyebrows in March 1971 when they announced that there would be just one Chicago-New York train when Amtrak began on May 1, 1971. That would be the Broadway Limited of the former Pennsylvania. Service was preserved on the former NYC between New York and Buffalo, but discontinued west of there, raising howls of protest from Cleveland and Toledo, both of which would be left out of the Amtrak system.
The ex-NYC route had a higher population base than the ex-Pennsy route used by the Broadway Limited, but the incorporators argued that the latter was faster and had higher patronage. That claim prompted passenger train advocate Anthony Haswell, one of the founders of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, to counter that the NYC had done everything it could to discourage patronage short of hiring thugs to board its passenger trains and throw the passengers off.
Amtrak also cited extraordinarily high terminal costs –$4 million in 1969 – at Cleveland for bypassing what at the time was the nation’s 12th largest city. The incorporators suggested that Cleveland, the largest city left out of Amtrak, could have trains if state and local governments agreed to pay two-thirds of the deficit of the service.
Amtrak History: The Amtrak incorporators were expected to approve a Chicago-New York train via Cleveland at their April 27, 1971, meeting. But not all state financial commitment had come in and the board was dissolved two days later.
At its first meeting, held May 4, the new Amtrak board of directors approved the Chicago-New York route, which began on May 10 for a six-month trial period. The train operated nameless and carried numbers 68 and 69. Those had been the Penn Central operating numbers of the last Chicago-New York through train on the Water Level Route.
The train made few intermediate stops, but that soon changed. Service began at South Bend and Elkhart, Indiana; and Erie, Pennsylvania, on August 20. Rochester and Utica, New York were added to the schedule on November 14.
Nos. 68/69 were renumbered 60/61 on November 14, 1971, and named the Lake Shore. The train took nearly 19 hours to travel between Chicago and New York, which was 10 minutes slower than Penn Central’s best schedule on the route and nearly three hours
slower than the Century of 1966.
Amtrak had talked about creating a Boston-Albany connecting train, but the State of Massachusetts was not interested in helping fund it. The State of Michigan did agree to fund a connecting train between Detroit and Toledo that was to have begun on May 27, but Amtrak refused to run it because of poor track conditions that would have
necessitated a nearly two-hour running time over a 35-mile route.
The Lake Shore typically carried a baggage car, sleeper, two coaches, a sleeper-bar lounge and a grill diner, all of Penn Central heritage. A third coach was added on weekends. Union Pacific coaches arrived in the fall of 1971, but the train lost its lounge car and shrank to five cars.
Amtrak had launched the Lake Shore in the expectation that all of the states served by the train would contribute to its funding. But when none of them had paid as much as a dime by December, Amtrak President Roger Lewis wrote to the governors and said if the funding did not arrive soon the Lake Shore would end in early January. Lewis said the train had lost $3 million and ridership had been disappointing, about 45 passengers a day. Few rode the Lake Shore all the way between Chicago and New York, favoring the Broadway Limited instead.
Only the State of Ohio ever formally agreed to help fund the Lake Shore. The Ohio legislature agreed to allocate $1.9 million for two years from a recently enacted income tax. New York State has planned to fund its share of $1.8 million from a transportation bond issue that voters rejected. The New York legislature refused to approve the funds from another source. The Pennsylvania legislature also refused to provide its state’s $148,000 share and the legislatures of Indiana and Illinois had yet to act.
Amtrak officials conceded during a December 31, 1971, meeting with Ohio officials that it was unlikely that all states served by the Lake Shore would agree to fund it. The future of the Lake Shore was grim.
That same day, the Lake Shore stopped at Cleveland Union Terminal for the final time. If Amtrak used CUT for one day in 1972, it wouldbe on the hook for a full year of rent, an estimated $250,000. With the train facing discontinuance in a few days, Amtrak instead decided to serve Cleveland at a grade crossing in the Flats, an industrial area along the Cuyahoga River. Passengers were bused to and from CUT.
On January 3, 1972, Lewis rejected a request of 22 congressman to grant the Lake Shore a 90-day reprieve. Ohio passenger train advocates threatened to seek a court order keeping the train operating and state officials protested, once again, that Toledo and
Cleveland would be without intercity rail service.
The Lake Shore began its final trips on January 4, 1972. One factor hurting the service was that it departed Chicago one hour ahead of the Broadway Limited, and arrived in New York City 35 minutes later than did the Broadway. The westbound Lake Shore had departed New York at 8 p.m. three hours after the Broadway’s depature, but reached Chicago at 1:30 p.m., 4.5 hours after the Broadway Limited was scheduled to arrive.
Further hurting the Lake Shore was lack of marketing and the fact the route had few passengers in the years before Amtrak began operations.
The Lake Shore had been Amtrak’s first train to be launched under section 403(b) of the Rail Passenger Service Act, the 1970s law that created Amtrak. The section permitted additions to the basic route system if state or local governments agreed to make up two-thirds of any deficits the added service incurred.
The Lake Shore experience illustrates the difficulties of state funding of routes that serve two or more states. In retrospect, the question arises of whether any of the states involved with funding the Lake Shore other than Ohio and possibly New York were serious about
When Amtrak declined to commit to the train in late April 1971, it said it still was waiting for legislative commitments from the states involved. Those commitment had not yet arrived less than two weeks later when the new board of directors authorized the Lake Shore. This suggests the Lake Shore began because of political pressure and that Amtrak had accepted IOUs that when issued had no legal force and would in fact never be paid.
If political pressure had resulted in the creation of the Lake Shore, it also probably played a hand in its demise, if indirectly. The states served by the Lake Shore had seen how powerful politicians in West Virginia and Montana had bullied Amtrak into launching new service in those states without the need for state financial support. The states along the Lake Shore route may have thought they, too, should have service paid for in total by the federal government. Indeed in rejecting paying for the Lake Shore, the Pennsylvania legislature suggested that Congress pay that state’s share. The same thinking may have occurred in New York State.
Just over two months after the Lake Shore ended, Congress spurned a move to fund restoration of service. Amtrak also rejected requests to reroute the Broadway Limited to the Water Level route via Cleveland and Toledo.
But in 1975, the saga of the Lake Shore would have a happy ending with the inauguration of the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York, with a section for Boston. Political maneuvering would play a role in the creation of that train, too.