50 Years Ago Lake Cities, Diplomat Made Final Trips

The westbound Erie Lackawanna Lake Cities cruises through Wadsworth in December 1966. By now it was the last passenger train on the former Erie through Akron.

The westbound EL Lake Cities and westbound Baltimore & Ohio Diplomat sit side by side as they board and discharge passengers at their respective stations in downtown Akron. Running on similar schedules through Akron, both made their last trips in the same month although a remnant of the Diplomat continued to operate between Akron and Washington. (Photograph by Robert Farkas)

On a wintry Saturday morning the westbound Lake Cities departs Akron. It is Jan. 3, 1970, and in three days Nos. 5 and 6 will be history. (Photograph by John Beach)

Two milestones in Akron passenger train history passed quietly this month.

It was 50 years ago that Erie Lackawanna’s Lake Cities made its final trips and the Interstate Commerce Commission allowed the Baltimore & Ohio to discontinue the Diplomat and Gateway between Akron and Chicago.

In the space of about a week, rail service between Akron and Chicago fell from six trains to two.

The discontinuance of the Lake Cities ended the last EL intercity long-distance passenger trains.

EL’s Cleveland-Youngstown Nos. 28 and 29 continued to operate until making their last trips on Jan. 14, 1977. But those were considered commuter trains.

The Lake Cities was a fine train to the end with a dining car that operated between Hoboken, New Jersey, and Huntington, Indiana; and a sleeping car that ran between Hoboken and Youngstown.

Coaches were carried between Hoboken and Chicago Dearborn Station.

Westbound No. 5 was scheduled to depart Youngstown at 7:35 a.m., Warren at 8 a.m., Kent at 8:45 a.m. and Akron at 9:10 a.m.

Eastbound No. 6 was scheduled to leave Akron at 7:15 p.m., Kent at 7:35 p.m., Warren at 8:11 p.m. and Youngstown at 8:45 p.m.

The Lake Cities had a long history on the former Erie Railroad dating to the June 3, 1939, inauguration of Nos. 15 and 16, the Chicago-New York (Jersey City, New Jersey) Midlander.

The Midlander had sections for Cleveland (Nos. 5 and 6) and Buffalo that operated as the Lake Cities. The Cleveland Lake Cities combined and separated with the Midlander in Youngstown.

The Midlander was renamed Lake Cities in November 1947 and began operating as Nos. 5 and 6 to and from Chicago.

After the Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western in 1960, the Lake Cities operated between May 1961 and April 29, 1962, as the Chicago Lake Cities with the Buffalo section known as the Buffalo Lake Cities.

The train was rerouted over the former Lackawanna between Hoboken and Binghamton, New York.

Between April 26 and Oct. 25, 1965, Nos. 5 and 6 operated as the World’s Fair as the EL upgraded its passenger service to try to draw travelers visiting the New York World’s Fair that summer.

The EL netted little financial gain from travel to the Fair and once it ended the carrier began whittling away in earnest at its passenger service between Chicago and Hoboken.

The EL ceased carrying passengers on its head-end heavy Atlantic Express and Pacific Express in July 1965 and discontinued the Phoebe Snow on Nov. 28, 1966.

That day the Lake Cities began carrying sleeping and dining cars that operated between Chicago and Hoboken.

Famed railroad photograph Philip R. Hastings once described the Lake Cities as “old school passenger railroading in the best sense of the phrase.”

Hastings said Nos. 5 and 6 operated in 1968 as through it was still 1948 including carrying a heavyweight diner and making long station stops in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But it wasn’t the 1940s. The Lake Cities was losing patronage, losing mail revenue and losing money.

EL posted discontinuance notices for Nos. 5 and 6 in mid June 1969, effective July 18 but the ICC on July 7 stayed the discontinuance while it conducted an investigation that included public hearings in 10 cities, including Youngstown, Kent and Marion.

Those hearings drew 128 people who protested the removal of the train, but 16 of them admitted to never having ridden it.

“The public liked the trains, but they didn’t use them, and this cost us a bundle after we lost the mail business,” said EL attorney Wallace Steffen.

Evidence presented during the ICC investigation showed EL still had fresh flowers on the table in the dining cars where patrons still enjoyed clean linens and cloth napkins.

The ICC said there was no evidence that EL had done anything to try to drive away passengers. The passenger cars were clean and well maintained, the crews were described as courteous and meals as good.

The menu had krusty korn kobs, a longtime Lackawanna novelty item of muffins baked in the shape of an ear of corn.

Dinner entrees included baked halibut Creole, Virginia ham southern style, and young fried chicken. There were also a few sandwich selections including sliced turkey.

By the ICC’s calculations, the Lake Cities was costing the EL $18 per passenger to operate and losing $2,700 a day.

The Commission decided not to order EL to continue the train but did urge the railroad to use its managerial acumen to make an all-out effort to save Nos. 5 and 6.

That advice meant nothing because the EL had no intention of doing that.

By law the Lake Cities could have ended on Dec. 30, 1969, but the EL agreed to continue operating it through Jan. 5 to accommodate holiday travel.

The last trips of Nos. 5 and 6 would depart on Sunday, Jan. 4 from Hoboken and Chicago.

An eleventh hour effort by the public service commissions of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York to block the discontinuance by asking a federal district court in Columbus to issue a restraining order was brushed aside by the court.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on Jan. 2 dismissed an emergency appeal to stay the lower court’s decision.

Art House, who said he rode the last runs of the Lake Cities between Binghamton and Elmira, New York, posted on Trainorders.com on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the last trips of Nos. 5 and 6 the final consists.

He said the normal consist was two coaches but the last weekend of service  followed New Year’s Day, which fell on a Thursday in 1970, had additional cars to handle the holiday weekend loads.

The last No. 5 was pulled by E8A Nos. 826 and 828 and had a consist of primarily ex-Lackawanna equipment.

That included baggage express car 251, lightweight coaches 1301, 1325, 1321, 1314 and 1305, diner-lounge 747 and 10-6 sleeper Pequest. Only the diner lounge was former Erie. Coach 1305 did not operate all the way to Chicago.

The last No. 6 had E8A Nos. 825 pulling baggage express car 2013 (ex-Erie), lightweight coaches 1311, 1308 and 1318 (all ex-Lackawanna), diner-lounge 746 (ex-Erie) and 10-6 sleeper Tunkhannock (ex-Lackawanna).

Mr. House said that several railfans were aboard when No. 5 departed Hoboken during its final weekend of operation and the engraved silverware in the dining car had been replaced by plastic to discourage souvenir hunting.

An uniformed EL special agent also rode in the diner to prevent theft.

The crew on the last No. 5 to depart Binghamton included former Lackawanna employees wearing Lackawanna uniforms. The last No. 6 into Binghamton had former Erie employees wearing Erie uniforms

The sleeper and diner on the last No. 5 ran all the way to Chicago rather than being dropped at Youngstown and Huntington respectively due to there being no eastbound train to pick them up later that night.

When the last No. 5 arrived in Dearborn Station in Chicago 48 minutes late it  brought an end to 83 years of passenger service between the Windy City and the New York City region.

In the meantime, the ICC also was investigating the B&O’s plan to discontinue the eastbound Gateway and westbound Diplomat between Akron and Chicago.

B&O had posted discontinuance notices on Aug. 11, 1969, effective a month later but the ICC stayed that while it conducted an investigation.

Nos. 7 and 10 were said by the B&O to be losing $195,000 a year and averaged fewer than eight passengers a day west of Akron.

During public hearings, B&O said it could not compete with faster service between Chicago and Pittsburgh on a parallel Penn Central (former Pennsylvania) route via Canton.

Because of its daylight schedule through Akron No. 7 was the B&O’s most photographed passenger train in Northeast Ohio.

Originating in Washington, the Diplomat left the nation’s capitol at 11:45 p.m. and was scheduled to depart Youngstown at 9:12 a.m., Ravenna at 9:47 a.m., Kent at 9:54 a.m. and arrive in Akron at 10:40 a.m.

This was about an hour later than EL’s westbound Lake Cities, which stopped in the same cities except Ravenna.

The Diplomat had for decades been a name applied to a Washington-St. Louis train but it was given to Nos. 7 and 8 in 1964 when B&O dropped the Shenandoah name from those trains.

Starting in 1966, the B&O began strategically removing passenger trains and curtaining the services of those that survived.

No. 7 saw its dining car replaced in September 1966 by a food bar coach and lost it sleeping cars in May 1968

No. 10 operated as the Washington Express on a daylight schedule that ran at about the same time as EL’s Lake Cities between Chicago and Youngstown.

That changed in July 1968 when No. 10 was discontinued between Washington and Pittsburgh and the remaining Chicago to Pittsburgh segment of the train was renamed the Gateway.

Like No. 7, No. 10 was a shell of its former self, having lost its dining car in September 1966 in favor of a food bar coach and having lost its sleeping cars in May 1968

In January 1969, the Gateway was scheduled to arrive in Akron at 6:50 p.m. and leave Kent at 7:23 p.m., Ravenna at 7:31 p.m., and Youngstown at 8:20 p.m. The Gateway was the only B&O passenger train to stop in Barberton.

B&O said it would add additional station stops for the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and the ICC concluded that those who had ridden Nos. 7 and 10 west of Akron could be accommodated by the Capitol. However, Barberton was not one of those additional stops.

The State of Indiana and City of Chicago asked the ICC to reconsider its decision not to order the B&O to continue operation of Nos. 7 and 10, saying the Commission had overstated the financial losses of the trains by about $20,000.

But the Commission rejected that appeal and Nos. 7 and 10 were discontinued west of Akron soon after the Jan. 6 ICC decision.

East of Akron those trains became the Akron-Washington Shenandoah, which on some days operated with a dome car.

Intercity passenger service in Akron after the events of January 1970 remained unchanged for more than a year.

Nos. 7 and 10, also underwent a schedule change.

It departed Akron at 6:45 a.m. and returned at 6:45 p.m. It made stops in Kent, Ravenna and Youngstown of which only Youngstown was also a stop for the Capitol Limited.

Minor schedule changes were subsequently made to the Shenandoah schedule and by October 1970 the Akron departure time has changed to 6:55 p.m. with arrival back in Akron at 6:40 p.m. The consist was still coaches, a food bar coach and a dome car on select dates.

The coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, would lead to the discontinuance of the Shenandoah and Capitol Limited and Akron would not have intercity rail passenger service until Amtrak’s Broadway Limited was rerouted in late 1990 to serve the city.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: