Forty years ago today Cleveland, Toledo and Elyria returned to the Amtrak map with the inauguration of the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York/Boston.
All three cities had been left out of the Amtrak network when the rail passenger carrier began service on May 1, 1971.
The only city in Northeast Ohio at which Amtrak stopped was Canton on the route of the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited.
A short-lived Chicago-New York train named the Lake Shore served Toledo and Cleveland slightly less than seven months.
That service, which began in mid May 1971, was premised on the promises of the states served by the train to underwrite its losses. But none of them put up any money and Amtrak canceled the train in early January.
The Amtrak Improvement Act of 1973 required Amtrak to launch one experimental route a year.
Ohio officials lobbied Amtrak hard for service to be reinstated to Cleveland and Toledo via the former Water Level Route of the New York Central, which by the time Amtrak arrived had become Penn Central.
At the time that Amtrak began in 1971, Cleveland was the largest city in the county not served by Amtrak.
Secretary of Transportation Claude S. Brinegar announced on June 27, 1974, that Chicago-Boston would be Amtrak’s experimental route for 1974. A week later, Amtrak said the train would have a New York section.
Service was expected to begin within six months but was delayed for more than a year due to an equipment shortage, particularly of sleeping cars.
A public relations special operated eastbound over the route on Oct. 28-29, 1975.
Amtrak President Paul Reistrup was aboard the special and he spoke at the Cleveland stop along with Ohio Senator Robert Taft Jr., who had pushed Amtrak hard for restoration of service via Cleveland.
Taft noted that it had been a long and hard fight to get intercity passenger service restored via the former New York Central route through northern Ohio.
Reistrup had favored the route all along, saying he was amazed that it had not been part of the Amtrak network.
“This was an unwanted child, no secret about it,” Resitrup said in Cleveland. “They (Amtrak) didn’t want to run this train.”
The publicity special arrived in Cleveland at 5:30 p.m. to a crowd of about 500. The train was pulled by a pair of SDP40F locomotives, the newest equipment in the consist.
The Cleveland station was a pair of trailers, the current station having not yet been built.
“This probably will be the most important inaugural I take part in,” Reistrup told the crowd. “It’s up to you out there in this crowd to keep this train running.”
When Nos. 48/448 and 49/449 began service on Friday, Oct. 31, 1975, the Chicago-New York running time was 21 hours, which was two-and-a-half hours slower than the Lake Shore of 1971.
The Chicago-Boston running time was 25 hours, which included a backup move the train had to make at Castleton Junction, New York, because the connection that Boston-bound New York Central trains had made for decades east of Rensselaer had been removed by Penn Central.
Amtrak officials emphasized at every stop of the publicity trip that the Lake Shore Limited was experimental and if ridership was poor it would be discontinued after a two-year trial.
On the day that scheduled service began, a crowd of 300 showed up at the Cleveland Amtrak station. Most of them were bus company employees who protested federal funding of the train. They said that made rail cheaper than the bus, which threatened their jobs.
But the public embraced the train and two years after it began the Lake Shore Limited was averaging 272 passengers per trip, a figure that eclipsed the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited.
The U.S. Department of Transportation lifted the experimental status for the Lake Shore Limited on May 9, 1978.
The Lake Shore Limited was the first direct Chicago-Boston train since the Dec. 3, 1967, discontinuance by the New York Central of the New England States.
However, the NYC and later Penn Central ran through cars between the two cities that were interchanged at Buffalo, New York.
News accounts published in October 1975, noted the longer travel time for Amtrak compared to what the New York Central once offered.
Amtrak officials blamed that on poor track conditions. Conrail would not take over the route until the following spring and it would take years to rebuild the track.
When it began, the Lake Shore Limited was scheduled to arrive and depart Chicago in mid afternoon.
The westbound train was scheduled out of Cleveland at 7:30 a.m. The eastbound train was scheduled at 11:20 p.m.
At that time, not all of the western long-distance trains departed Chicago as they do today by mid afternoon.