A photograph that Bob Farkas sent this week of an Amtrak RTG Turboliner at Joliet, Illinois, brought back a lot of fond memories.
I rode the Turboliner when I lived in Springfield, Illinois, in the mid-1970s, but many of my memories involve watching the French-built train.
Sometimes on a late Friday afternoon I would go to the Amtrak station to see the Turboliner from St. Louis arrive en route to Chicago.
During my first semester at the then-named Sangamon State University, I had a class that met in the early evening.
It got out shortly before the evening Turboliner was to leave Springfield for St. Louis. Parking for the downtown SSU campus was in a lot next to the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio tracks, which were Illinois Central Gulf by then.
If it a searchlight signal next to the tracks was green, the Amtrak train was in the station out of sight a few blocks to the north. I’d sit in my car until the train came past and then go home.
My first ride on a Turboliner came in February 1975 when I made a trip to St. Louis to visit my grandparents.
I liked the Turboliner. It was modern, had nice large windows and lived up to its billing in a an Amtrak radio advertisement of the time with a tagline of “hitch a ride on the future.:
But not everyone did felt the way that I did. Many passengers disliked the narrow seats that barely reclined, the narrow aisles and the sometimes hard to open doors. Another drawback was limited seating in the café car.
The Turboliner had a fixed capacity of 296, so some passengers were left standing during peak travel periods.
Those who regularly rode Amtrak in the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis corridor preferred conventional equipment over the Turboliner.
Some locomotive engineers wouldn’t work on the Turboliner because they didn’t feel they would be protected enough during a grade crossing collision with a large truck.
When they began service on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor on Oct. 1, 1973, Amtrak touted the Turboliner as the greatest advancement in transportation since the 747.
Although much was made of the capability of the Turboliner to run more than 100 mph, the fastest it could sprint between Chicago and St. Louis was 79 p.m.
But the Turboliner schedule was a half-hour faster than trains using conventional equipment and 11 minutes faster than GM&O trains of the late 1940s.
An Amtrak official conceded to Trains magazine editor David P. Morgan that the purpose the flashy-looking Turboliners was to show that Amtrak was doing something to improve passenger service other than making cosmetic improvements to hand-me-down equipment.
Morgan said the Turboliner reminded him of the low center of gravity lightweight trains that railroads tried in the 1950s but which failed to catch on.
The last Turboliner in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor ran on Trains 301/304. It was withdrawn from the route after it struck an asphalt truck at Elwood, Illinois, on Nov. 18, 1975.
About a month later, Nos. 301/304 because the first Midwest corridor trains to receive the new Amfleet equipment.
My last trip aboard a Turboliner came in November 1980 when I rode the Lake Cities from Chicago to Toledo via Detroit.
The next time I remember seeing a Turboliner was in the mid-1990s at the Beech Grove shops near Indianapolis. One of the Turboliner sets was sitting forlornly off to the side.
I’ve seen photographs of a Turboliner sitting in a junk yard near Dugger, Indiana. One of these days I’ve got to get out there to see if it is still there.