Taking the Farkas Challenge: Amtrak Comes to Akron in 1990 Amid Vestiges of the Old and New

Farkas Ribinskas

Amtrak didn’t want to serve Akron when it began service on May 1, 1971. For that matter, it didn’t want to serve Cleveland, either, so the only intercity passenger train in Northeast Ohio on Amtrak inauguration day was the Chicago-New York Broadway Limited, which stopped in Canton.

Some Akron Railroad Club members remember driving to Canton to catch Amtrak.

On occasion an Amtrak train detoured through Akron during the 1970s. Amtrak even showed up in Akron a couple of times when an inspection train came through.

Conrail was created with a mandate to abandon or sell surplus rail routes and it accomplished this, in part, by consolidating traffic on fewer lines.

This process affected two routes in Akron proper, including the former Erie Lackawanna and Penn Central routes, and would also lead to Amtrak coming to Akron.

That came about because Conrail downgraded the Fort Wayne Line of the former Pennsylvania Railroad in western Ohio and across Indiana.

An Indiana congressman brokered a deal that kept the Broadway Limited operating on the Fort Wayne Line during the 1980s, but by the end of that decade it was apparent that Amtrak would have to pay the route’s maintenance costs or move elsewhere.

Amtrak decided to use CSX between Chicago and Pittsburgh for Nos. 40 and 41.

It has long been Amtrak’s practice to operate a public relations special to introduce service on a new route.

On Nov. 7, 1990, a PR special came to Akron to promote the reroute of the Broadway Limited to Akron.

This publicity special ran to Pittsburgh and then operated back to Chicago via Cleveland to promote the new route of the Capitol Limited on Conrail from Pittsburgh to Cleveland via Cleveland and thence over the route used by the Lake Shore Limited.

This image of the publicity train arriving at Quaker Square in Akron on the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline is my nomination on behalf of Edward Ribinskas for the Farkas challenge.

Like so many railroad scenes in Akron, there are vestiges of the old and the new.

In this scene, the old is Akron Union Depot, a portion of which can be seen above the train toward the right edge of the image.

The concourse that over the tracks that connected with the Greyhound bus station can be seen, although it has been remodeled from the appearance it had during the station’s passenger train days.

The depot itself had by 1990 been taken over by the University of Akron and converted into a continuing education center.

Another vestige of the past is the signal bridge spanning the Amtrak station platform and CSX Track No. 2, which once held signals controlling movements through Union Depot that were controlled by operators in JO Tower.

The Amtrak station is out of view to the left and was a modular structure. But the platform is new as evidenced by the bright white concrete. In reality, the Amtrak platform was installed on the footprint of Akron Union Depot.

The PR special is pulled by two F40PH locomotives, which was the standard motive power used on Amtrak trains at the time.

The train is a mixture of Amfleet and Heritage Fleet equipment, which mirrored that assigned to the Broadway Limited.

A good-sized crowd has turned out to view the special and hear a few speeches. Considering that it was a Wednesday, this is a good turnout.

They must have felt a sense of enthusiasm, hope and optimism. It had been more than 19 years since you could board an intercity passenger train in Akron.

Of course, to ride Amtrak to or from Akron meant staying up late or getting up early because Nos. 40 and 41 were scheduled to pass through during darkness hours.

As it turned out, the Broadway Limited served Akron for not quite five years. It was discontinued on Sept. 10, 1995, during a budget shortfall that led to a route restructuring.

Amtrak came back to Akron a year later when the New York-Pittsburgh Three Rivers was extended to Chicago. But the train didn’t begin accepting passengers until August 1998.

The Three Rivers lasted until March 7, 2005, when it was annulled due to low patronage and Amtrak’s decision to exit the mail and express business.

Reportedly, the Akron Metro bus transfer station built on the site of the former Erie Railroad freight yard could be used as a train station if Amtrak were to reinstate service over the adjacent CSX line.

But given the current state of affairs with passenger rail in the United States, that seems unlikely to occur anytime soon if at all. The optimism felt by many on this November day more than 25 years ago has flamed out.

Article by Craig Sanders, Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

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