Amtrak began operating on 1 May, 1971. The title of this post refers to their original slogan. Here's coverage of the first day in Milwaukee, where we no longer had train service to Green Bay, but we regained a train to Seattle. Today, we'll look at some evidence of what has changed (sometimes for the better) and what has stagnated.
Let's start with the Empire Builder, my canonical example of an overpurposed train. By Thanksgiving of 1971, it had become what looked very much like a Burlington Northern train, despite Milwaukee Road, and on occasion Union Pacific or Gulf Mobile and Ohio diesels in charge.
Come the summer of 1972, the Burlington Northern look was still there. Well, perhaps a more eclectic Burlington Northern look, with cars off the Denver Zephyr, which had been discontinued, and the California Zephyr, which we knew in those days as the City of San Francisco account it running between Denver and Oakland on Union Pacific and Southern Pacific metals.
Milwaukee, June 1972: Burlington and Great Northern power, looks like Northern Pacific cars on the head end. Check the maintenance speeder on track 1. Neither the train shed nor the expressway interchange are as they were any more.
Amtrak invested in new diesels, which some skeptics suggested were deliberately designed as freight diesels with steam generators, the better to get something more than salvage value when the carrier liquidated. (Richard Nixon: skeptic. Jimmy Carter: did something no Republican has yet done. Ronald Reagan: skeptic. Bill Clinton: also pruned the national network. Donald Trump: hold my beer.)
The view from the St. Adelbert Cemetery overpass, June 1974. The diesels are new, a few of the cars are in Amtrak colors, but there are relatively few completely refurbished cars with the disco interiors and carpeting halfway up the walls. The diesels proved to be too rough on track (perhaps track rendered less trainworthy by thirty years of neglect and regulatory indifference) and they were relatively quickly traded in on the F40s with head-end power that pulled almost all trains well into the 1990s.
The Builder was one of the first trains to be equipped with the new Superliners, and pictures from the 1980s show consists similar to those today, although the diesels have changed.
Powerton, 26 December 1981. No White Christmas that year, although I did get some skiing in at Devil's Head during that winter break.
Drexel Avenue, 7 May 1983. By then, the former Santa Fe high level cars that inspired the Superliners had been converted to head-end power, with the step-down cars serving as crew space.
Although the Builder has been pretty much the same train for nearly forty years (!), the Milwaukee corridor has seen improvements in frequency, station stops, timings, and ridership. (But I will not stop calling for more frequency and faster timings.)
At its inception, the Milwaukee service comprised the Builder plus three trains left over from Milwaukee Road days. Coaches-only Nine was the remnants of the Copper Country Limited (once upon a time overnight for Green Bay, Iron Mountain, and Houghton-Hancock) and 46 was the afternoon reverse-commuter train, once an 80 Minute flyer, as was the case for the Chicago-centered business schedules 24 and 23; whilst Twelve and 27 were Milwaukee services of long standing. The latter two pairs had food service (using the Tip Top Tap lunch-lounge cars built for the 1947 Hiawatha.) In addition, Twelve and 23 were the numbers of a Milwaukee to Watertown commuter train that operated independently of Amtrak into 1972.
Amtrak changed the numbers, and experimented with different rolling stock until the Horizon Fleet arrived. By 1981, there were four Milwaukee Turbotrains, covered by French rolling stock, as well as the tri-weekly Builder and the overnight Chicago - Duluth North Star, itself not long for the world.
Puetz Road, 17 August 1981. This Turbotrain is running as The Marquette Turbo. The cafeteria sections were in operation. Not too long after, the Turbos (which weren't suited to Midwestern winters) had been retired, and that was the end of food and beverage service on the Milwaukee trains, later attempts to provide a trolley service of light snacks and beverages notwithstanding.
Drexel Avenue, 7 May 1983. This is the last departure of the day for Chicago, The Marquette, running in 46's old slot. It's back to three Milwaukee turns plus the Builder, and the few frequencies and lack of amenities don't encourage riding. There was still track suitable for turning locomotives in Milwaukee. The best a Chicagoan could do for a Milwaukee getaway was a 10.45 departure, with time for a late lunch or perhaps a quick trip to a museum, and onto this train or prepare to stay overnight.
By 1986, the schedules were tweaked some to allow for differences in weekday and weekend travel to Chicago, but still with all of three Milwaukee turns, and not much chance of a Chicagoan making a day trip to Milwaukee. (Life is much better now) There were improvements in ridership elsewhere on Amtrak, and the Amcoaches went to the coasts and the Michigan service. Until the Horizon cars arrived, it was Throwback 400 time in Milwaukee.
That's The Radisson, the weekday commuter schedule for Chicago. The lead car is a former snack bar car, still with tables in the upper gallery (bring your own coffee, though) trailed by two of the long-distance gallery coaches (equipped with reclining seats, unlike the commuter counterparts.) The 400 cars came with head-end power heating, thus they could run with the F40 diesels as is.
Shortly after that, the Horizon cars arrived, and we've been documenting the addition of frequencies and seats since.
Although the French turbotrains didn't take well to Great Lakes conditions, they inspired construction of similar trains by Rohr Industries, for use in the Empire Corridor (what, nobody mentioned lake effect snows?) where they served for some years. A few of the French trains received cosmetic modifications to look more like the newer version.
Exchange Street Station, Buffalo, 15 August 1985. In the summer, the Rohr units look pretty good. Here's The Mohawk, which originated at Niagara Falls. Above you, evidence of the subsidies extracted by the motor lobby. All over the industrialized parts of the United States, you see the railroads hidden under the expressways, hemmed in by parking craters.
Never mind that, here are passengers boarding the train. The Empire Corridor has been holding its own, and there are stretches of track good for 110 mph running, plus a Plasticville throwback station for Schenectady.
We now ask the residents of the Acela corridor to check their privilege.
Here's what the Springfield connection at New Haven used to look like.
The cab cars from New Haven's experimental Roger Williams train are accepting connecting passengers this 24th of March, 1978. These survive at the Danbury railroad museum. Mechanically, they're Budd Rail Diesel Cars, and they'd sometimes run with those. The Connecticut Department of Transportation cars at right have long since been replaced.
The engine change at New Haven was still a ritual. At Providence, the old New Haven station located on a curve with grades at each end, still served passengers. I thought I had taken a picture of the funky backlit glass train indicator board with information crayoned onto the surface, but no luck.
This train, in from Boston on 26 March 1978 (Wisconsin didn't win the hockey tournament, but they won the parties) has E units with the standard windshield protection of the era up front, followed by a power car and a long rake of Amfleet cars. These days, there's a new Providence station closer to the capitol, and lines electrically operated.
It's still possible to ride the Commuter Rail service for and from Boston, but no longer in a rake of Pennsylvania P70 arks and New Haven American Flyer cars pulled by Pennsylvania Railroad Geeps operated by Boston and Maine. There will be a quiz on this later. 24 March 1978.
The racetrack of the Northeast Corridor is the sections of the New Haven south and north of Providence. The Canton Viaduct south of Boston has been strengthened to handle electrified Acela Expresses. Long before the electrification, the trains were already good for some fast running.
That's The Yankee Clipper for New York, passing Canton Junction, 30 June 1985. The Acelas go through here almost twice as fast.
Here's the rebuilt Attleboro station, with today's version of the Providence local. That roof line is in its own way more intriguing than the Penn Central consist of 1978.
At far left, construction of some transit-oriented development, 5 August 2014. New York bound Acelas and Northeast Regional trains are accelerating as they come off that rise in the background. Stand well back.