Spirit of St. Louis

Meet the new train, same as the old train. In Amtrak's early weeks, its trains were mere extensions of what has operated on the route previously. The first eastbound Spirit of St. Louis under Amtrak auspices leaves Indianapolis Union Station on May 1, 1971, with all Penn Central equipment in the consist. (Photograph by John Fuller)
Meet the new train, same as the old train. In Amtrak’s early weeks, its trains were mere extensions of what has operated on the route previously. The first eastbound Spirit of St. Louis under Amtrak auspices leaves Indianapolis Union Station on May 1, 1971, with all Penn Central equipment in the consist. (Photograph by John Fuller)

Spirit of St. Louis

Endpoints: New York/Washington-Kansas City

Numbers: 548/549 [Washington-Harrisburg], 48/49 [New York-Harrisburg], 4/31 [Harrisburg-St. Louis], 15/16 [St. Louis-Kansas City]

Intermediate Stations: Newark and Trenton, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; North Philadelpia, Paoli, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Lewistown, Altoona, Johnstown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Richmond, Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Indiana; Effingham, Illinois; St. Louis, Kirkwood, Jefferson City, Sedalia and Warrenton, Missouri.

Host Railroads: Penn Central (former Pennsylvania) [New York/Washington-St. Louis]; Missouri Pacific [St. Louis-Kansas City]

Amtrak Operated: May 1-November 13, 1971

Named for: Spirit of St. Louis was the name of the airplane used by one-time St. Louis resident Charles A. Lindbergh to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, 1927.

 Pre-Amtrak History: The Pennsylvania Railroad had the fastest New York-St. Louis route and the Spirit of St. Louis was the route’s premier train. Formerly known as the New Yorker/St. Louisan, it was renamed Spirit of St. Louis on June 15, 1927.

The Spirit was an all-Pullman train through 1932 and by the late 1930s flew between its endpoints in 20 hours. In the early 1940s the Spirit again operated as all-Pullman and began operating in two sections, one originating/terminating in New York and the other in Washington. The separate New York and Washington sections ended in March 1947 and the Spirit began carrying coaches in April 1953 when the New York-St. Louis Jeffersonian ended.

 During the 1960s, the Pennsylvania twice tried to discontinue the Spirit of St. Louis, but was blocked both times by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which found the train still made a slight profit and had strong patronage.

 Penn Central continued the fight to end the Spirit of St. Louis. The ICC on July 11, 1969, concluded an investigation by saying that patronage has diminished to the point where it was questionable if there was enough business to support both the Spirit of St. Louis and the New York-St. Louis Penn Texas. The ICC did not object to Penn Central ending the eastbound Spirit of St. Louis and westbound Penn Texas. However, a court challenge kept both trains operating until June 1970. Shortly thereafter, Penn Central renamed No. 4, the eastbound Penn Texas the Spirit of St. Louis.

On paper, the Spirit of St. Louis appeared to be a fine train with a sleeper, one to three coaches, and a lounge operating between St. Louis and New York. Another sleeper and a diner operated between Indianapolis and New York. However, the ICC had found that the Spirit was often late and described it as dilapidated and dirty. It was not unusual for some of the train’s lights, air conditioning and lavatories to be out of order. But the Commission decided that this was not because Penn Central was deliberately trying to discourage patronage in hopes of ending the train but was a result of the railroad’s poor financial condition.Amtrak History:

 Amtrak History: Secretary of Transportation John Volpe in November 1970 designated Washington-St. Louis as a basic Amtrak route. At the time, it was the only proposed route that did not serve New York or Chicago. After a storm of public protests, Volpe added a New York-Kansas City route to the basic system.

 The Amtrak incorporators saw the New York-Kansas City route as an opportunity to do two things. (1) Establish an alternative east-west route bypassing Chicago. (2) Breach the invisible wall at St. Louis that divided eastern and western railroads. Only once had a passenger train operated through St. Louis. That had been the New York-Dallas Sunshine Special, which debuted July 7, 1946. Through patronage was low and the train lasted just over two years. But through sleepers continued between New York/Washington and various points in Texas through the early 1960s.

Amtrak’s incorporators combined the Spirit of St. Louis with Missouri Pacific’s unnamed westbound No. 15 and its eastbound Missouri River Eagle (No. 16) to create the New York-Kansas City train. The incorporators also saw an opportunity to cut costs by consolidating the Spirit of St. Louis with the Broadway Limited east of Pittsburgh.

Therefore, when Amtrak began on May 1, 1971, the Spirit of St. Louis operated independently only between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. It was combined with the Broadway Limited between Pittsburgh and New York.

The Amtrak incorporators decided not to field an independent Washington-St. Louis train. Instead, coaches and sleepers would operate between those endpoints and be carried by the Washington section of the Broadway Limited between Washington and Harrisburg and on the Spirit of St. Louis between Harrisburg and St. Louis.

It is doubtful that the Spirit of St. Louis name received widespread use. In Amtrak’s first timetable, dated May 1, 1971, and in its second timetable, dated July 12, 1971, the Spirit name did not appear with the New York-Kansas City listing, although it did appear with the Washington-St. Louis listing.

Penn Central issued timetables of the trains that it operated for Amtrak show the Spirit name applied to the New York-Kansas City train. For the most part, the contract railroads simply maintained the status quo during Amtrak’s first few months, using existing names and numbers for the trains that Amtrak kept. Given this, it is unlikely that Missouri Pacific agents or operating personnel made much, if any, use of the Spirit of St. Louis name during Amtrak’s first six months of operation. Spirit of St. Louis was the property of another railroad.

The early equipment assignment included a sleeper, coaches and a diner-lounge operating between New York and Kansas City. The Washington coaches and sleeper did not operate west of St. Louis. All equipment except locomotives was Penn Central equipment.

In June 1971, the Spirit of St. Louis received Union Pacific coaches and sleepers, and MoPac coaches and a diner-coach. Amtrak’s Spirit of St. Louis may have breached the invisible wall at St. Louis, but the train continued to change locomotives and operating and on-board crews at St. Louis Union Station. For the first few months of operation, MoPac motive power pulled the train west of St. Louis and Penn Central power pulled the train east of St. Louis.

The timetable change of July 12, 1971, brought a few changes to the operation of the train. The Spirit began operating independent of the Broadway Limited between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Service ended at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but began at Lewistown, Pennsylvania. The Washington sleepers and coaches began operating through to Kansas City.

The Missouri Pacific diner-coach disappeared in August, replaced for three trips by a New Haven grill car and then Seaboard Coast Line diners. When it could, Amtrak replaced Penn Central cars with UP equipment.

The Amtrak timetable of November 14, 1971, brought many changes, including the permanent retirement of the Spirit of St. Louis name. Amtrak renamed the New York/Washington-Kansas City train National Limited and renumbered it 30 and 31.

National Limited had been the name of a Baltimore & Ohio Washington-St. Louis train and seemed less provincial than Spirit of St. Louis. Besides, the Spirit name had become associated with poor service. But many of the adverse conditions that had plagued the Spirit of St. Louis would hinder the performance of Amtrak’s National Limited.
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One Response to “Spirit of St. Louis”

  1. Jeff Pletcher Says:

    Craig,

    I just discovered your blog, and appreciate your diligent efforts to document the history of Amtrak. I was interested to read of the use of MoPac coaches and diner-coach on the “Spirit” and “National Ltd.” during 1971. I lived in southern Illinois during this period and observed the train a number of times, but I don’t recall seeing any MoPac equipment in use. The MoP is my favorite railroad, and likely I would have taken note of any of its equipment in use by Amtrak — very rare to the best of my knowledge.

    Anyway, I’ve been busy getting my photos from that era scanned so they can be utilized digitally. Let me know if you are looking for anything specific.

    Jeff Pletcher

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