Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

Amtrak Anniversary Saturday: A Photo Tribute to 50 Years of Amtrak

April 30, 2021

With Amtrak’s 50th anniversary being Saturday I’ve selected a small sample of Amtrak in each decade. Over the years I’ve ridden many trains throughout the country either myself or with family and friends. So many that I rode I also photographed trackside at some point.

For the 1970s, here is the westbound Lake Shore Limited at Madison in July 1977.

For the 1980s, I’ve chosen the Lake Shore Limited again, this time headed eastward in Cleveland on Aug. 29, 1984.

The 1990s tribute is the California Zephyr eastbound in Byers Canyon of Colorado on June 28, 1988. I also included the Vermonter northbound at Hartford, Vermont in fall 1998, and the eastbound Southwest Chief in Albuqerque on May 6, 1991.

For the 2000s I present the Empire Builder eastbound at Red Wing, Minnesota, on June 19, 2002; and the westbound Maple Leaf at St. Johnsville, New York, on Sept. 7, 2002.

For Amtrak’s fifth decade here is the eastbound Empire Builder at East Glacier, Montana, crossing Two Medicine Bridge on July 23, 2016, and the eastbound Pennsylvanian at Summerhill, Pennsylvania, on May 18, 2019.

Now, about that image of No. 49 made in Madison in 1977, yes, it has some flaws.

Here is how Ed explained those: “Believe it or not that is the only Amtrak photo I took in the ‘70s of an Amtrak train.

“Back then I used my Dad’s camera, which was not a 35 mm film camera. The shot was either the first or the last on the negative and when we got it back a giant staple was in it.

“I did not take many photos back then since I shot a lot with the regular 8 mm movie camera.

“I have more movies at that same location. What was always tough with the photos back then was when No. 49 came hrough Madison [I] was looking directly into the early morning sun.

“Amtrak had the early year flaws just like my photo.”

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Dynamic Duos

August 15, 2020

An eaastbound Burlington Northern stack train at Paola, Montana, on Aug. 3, 1991.

In July 19091 Ed Ribinskas and his new bride rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Glacier National Park on their honeymoon.

He said that in putting together highlights of the trip he thought of the phrase “dynamic duos,” as in Batman and Robin.

In this story, though, that meant himself and Ursula, and the Great Northern Railway and Glacier National Park.

“Everything about this trip,” he said.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

An eastbound passes the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana.

A westbound stack train about 8 miles east of West Glacier, Montana.

The eastbound Empire Builder crosses the Midvale trestle. The photograph was made from a balcony at Glacier Park Lodge and is no longer possible because a wind fence has been installed on the bridge.

Nos. 7 and 8 pass in western North Dakota.

Passing through snow sheds 5 and 6.

Taken from the garden of Glacier Park Lodge.

Getting off the train for a few minutes in Minot, North Dakota. The car number shows 2830 but it should be 2730.

The eastbound Empire Builder at Essex, Montana, on Aug. 4, 1991.

 

Most Amtrak Long-Distance Trains Will Arrrive, Depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday, Saturday

August 14, 2020

Most of Amtrak’s long-distance trains will arrive and depart Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, thus enabling same-day connections on those days between Amtrak’s western and eastern long-distance trains once they move to tri-weekly operation in October.

Trains magazine reported on its website on Thursday afternoon the new schedules, which it said were contained in a message to employees that it obtained.

That schedule shows the reduction in frequency of service will be phased in on Oct. 5 on the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, and Crescent.

On Oct. 12 the Coast Starlight, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, and Texas Eagle will move to tri-weekly operation.

The Empire Builder and Palmetto will assume tri-weekly schedules on Oct. 19.

If the schedule information presented by Trains is accurate, there will be no same-day connections from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited to the westbound Texas Eagle.

Nos. 29 and 49/449 are slated to depart their eastern endpoint cities of Boston, New York and Washington on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, thus putting them into Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Texas Eagle, though, is scheduled to depart Chicago on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

Nos. 30 and 48/448 are scheduled to leave Chicago on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The inbound Eagle will offer same-day connections with those trains on Thursday and Saturday.

The Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited will offer same-day connections on Monday and Saturday to the California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Empire Builder and City of New Orleans.

There will be no westbound same-day connections from Nos. 29 and 49/449 to the California Zephyr on Thursday but there will be connections to Nos. 3, 7 and 59.

As for same-day eastbound connections to Nos. 30 and 48/448, the inbound California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and City of New Orleans will make those connections on all three days.

The Cardinal already operates tri-weeky, reaching Chicago on the same days of the week that have been set for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

However, No. 50 departs Chicago on Tuesday and there will be no inbound connections to the Cardinal from any western long distance train on that day. The Cardinal also departs Chicago on Thursday and Saturday.

The schedules, if they are implemented as reported by Trains, will mean that Amtrak will stop in Cleveland and other Northeast Ohio cities on every day except Wednesday.

Nos. 48/448 and 30 will arrive in Cleveland on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Nos. 29 and 49/449 will arrive on Thursday, Saturday and Monday.

The schedule changes will not affect the Auto Train, which will remain daily.

The Sunset Limited already operates tri-weekly and frequency reductions were implemented in early July for the Silver Star and Silver Meteor.

Amtrak’s April Ridership Was Bad, But Bookings for Long-Distance Trains is Looking Promising

May 23, 2020

Amtrak ridership data for April was released this past week and it showed a sharp plunge compared with a year ago.

In April 2020 Amtrak handled 120,000 passengers compared to 2.7 million who rode in April 2019.

The ridership drop is attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Northeast Corridor handled 19,000 passengers, a drop of 97.5 percent from a year earlier. It was the steepest ridership plunge system wide on a percentage basis.

Amtrak lost 87 percent of its passengers on the San Joaquin route in California.

Ridership of state-funded corridors fell 96 percent while the long-distance trains saw ridership fall 86.8 percent.

Year-to-date ridership is down 21 percent and revenues has fallen by 19 percent.

Amtrak expects those figures to grow and they might have been larger than they were but for strong ridership and revenue performances earlier in the year before social distancing measures were imposed.

In a related matter, the Amtrak vice president who oversees long-distance trains said the use of prepackaged meals for sleeper class passengers on Western trains will continue for at least another month.

Larry Chestler told the Rail Passengers Association that Amtrak has begun to see some early signs of recovery on many routes.

However, he cited safety and continued lagging ridership for waiting to restore traditional dining car service to the Western trains.

Chestler said the carrier will evaluate ridership data in late June and determine at that time whether to restore traditional dining car service.

The prepackaged meals have been served to sleeper class passengers on Eastern long-distance trains since June 2019 and were extended to all of those trains last October.

Although the long-distance trains have seen steep ridership drops, Chestler said those declines have been smaller than on other routes.

A recent rise in bookings for long-distance trains have given Amtrak some hope that higher demand is coming, Chestler said.

“Whether that means there’s more demand for summer it’s too soon to say,” he said.

In particular, bookings are trending upward for Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief with some growth also starting to show for the California Zephyr and Empire Builder.

Chestler said bookings are coming back “from the bottom of the bottom,” which Amtrak reached during the period of mid April to early May when it averaged 3,000 passengers a day nationwide.

Since then Amtrak ridership has doubled that, but it’s still well below what it would otherwise be at this time of year.

Some of the ridership of long-distance trains has occurred in regions where corridor trains have been suspended or reduced in frequency.

An example would be the Empire Builder between Chicago and Milwaukee where Hiawatha Service was suspended in favor of a once a day Thruway bus.

Before the pandemic, Amtrak operated seven daily roundtrips between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Chestler said Amtrak management considered continuing into the summer the reduced consists that began operating during the pandemic.

But management elected to move from what he termed “a kind of quasi-minimum” to restoring capacity for the summer.

“Had we reduced to the May levels [for the summer] we would have had a number of trains where we would have been essentially sold out already” in coach, Chestler said.

That doesn’t mean all of the seats would have been occupied because Amtrak for now is selling only half of the capacity of each coach assigned to a train in order to maintain social distancing.

“On the [Southwest] Chief and the [California] Zephyr and the [Empire] Builder there’s more sleepers [and] typically one more coach,” he said.

“We’ve balanced the use of baggage coaches and other kinds of cars to put an appropriate amount of capacity” in place “to capture demand signals from customers,” Chestler said.

Amtrak management is mindful that reducing capacity also could dampen the return of demand because the seats aren’t available.

1983 Highlights: Steam and Amtrak

April 28, 2020

Amtrak took me to visit my sister Janet and her husband, Billy, in Libertyville, Illinois, in July 1983.

I then rode Amtrak to Richmond, Virginia, for the 1983 National Railway Historical Society Convention.

The photo of the eastbound Empire Builder at Rondout, Illinois, was made on Thanksgiving Day 1983 prior to dinner at Janet and Billy’s home. The entire Ribinskas family drove in from Ohio for that holiday.

Also among my favorites from 1983 is a photograph of a Milwaukee Road train that I made waiting for a commuter train at the Libertyville station for the trip to Union Station to catch Amtrak on my way to Richmond on July 19.

Another favorite is an image of myself posing in front of Norfolk & Western No. 611 on our convention excursion from Richmond to Balcony Falls, Virginia, on July 21, 1983.

This was my introduction to the 611 which has become my favorite steam locomotive.

In that photo I am wearing my favorite Chessie Steam Special hat that I unfortunately left in the hotel when we were attending the 1984 NRHS Convention in Cincinnati. I never saw that hat again.

I’m featuring a couple of images from the 1983 NRHS convention, including the N&W 611 photo run by at Balcony Falls.

There is also the Southern F unit on July 22 at the triple crossing in Richmond in a photo op set up in which I was standing next to the late Jim Boyd, a famous railroad photographer who was once editor of Railfan & Railroad magazine.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Amtrak Continues to Pare Service

March 19, 2020

It remains to be seen if Amtrak will suspend or reduce the operations of its long-distance trains, but an online report quoting a union official indicated that onboard service cuts are coming.

The official from the SMART Transportation Division said he has been told to expect sleeping car service to be suspended and dining removed from some trains.

However, the official said he has not been advised by the carrier if it plans to suspend any long-distance trains.

Amtrak has suspended several Midwest corridor trains including three roundtrips in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and one roundtrip between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac).

The Chicago-Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pere Marquette has also been suspended.

Service reductions for corridors in Illinois are expected but as of early Thursday morning had yet to be formally announced by Amtrak.

Amtrak operates three corridors in Illinois linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

The Chicago-Carbondale corridor has two roundtrips plus the Chicago-New Orleans City of Orleans.

The Chicago-Quincy corridor has two roundtrips while the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has four roundtrips plus the Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle.

An online report indicated that effective March 21 Chicago-Carbondale service will be reduced to the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini.

A similar service pattern is expected to be implemented for the Chicago-Quincy corridor with service to Chicago in the morning and returning service in the evening by trains 381 and 381 respectively.

In both corridors, the remaining trains could be covered with one equipment set.

The Empire Builder is also expected to begin carrying local passengers to and from Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Airport station. Neither are regular stops for Nos. 7 and 8.

The New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian also has been suspended along with all Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Service reductions have been made in all other eastern corridors as well.

In a service advisory Amtrak said some stations that have ticket agents may not be staffed for all train arrivals and departure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amtrak said passengers should proceed to the platform for boarding if they encounter an unstaffed station that normally has agents directing the boarding process.

Other online reports indicated that Cascade Service between Portland and Eugene, Oregon, will be reduced to one roundtrip with trains 500 and 505 providing the service.

Another Glimpse Into the World of Richard Anderson

November 22, 2019

A Bloomberg News reporter has given another glimpse into the worldview of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson.

It’s a small examination yet a revealing one.

Anderson is not a sentimental man. For him everything is about business.

OK, so you probably already knew that, right?

Still, consider this comment from Anderson in response to a question about how his father, who worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, used to take the family on train trips to Chicago and Los Angeles.

“I didn’t come away with some huge love for trains, just like I don’t have some huge love for airplanes,” Anderson said. “They’re machines that you build a business around.”

Just machines? If you think about it that’s the response you might expect from a chief executive officer who spends his day looking at financial reports and making financial decisions.

It’s just that his predecessor as Amtrak president, Charles “Wick” Moorman, did have a passion for trains and that’s something that makes railroad enthusiasts feel better.

The Bloomberg portrait of Anderson doesn’t contain much more of his thinking that hasn’t been reported in other articles or he hasn’t said during occasional speeches and congressional testimony.

My key takeaway from the article was a better understanding of how Anderson got to be president and CEO of Amtrak and why.

I’ve long argued Anderson is not a rogue operator or a Trojan Horse who has surprised those who hired him.

Anderson may get most of the criticism but one of the lesser discussed elements of the many changes that have been made at Amtrak in the past two years is that Anderson was hired by a board of directors who would have spent considerable time with him before offering him the job.

They would have asked questions about his vision for Amtrak and his philosophy about transportation generally.

They knew what they were getting: A former airline CEO, yes, but also a former prosecutor.

Leonard described Anderson as having the cerebral demeanor of a senior college professor.

The reporter quoted a former boss, Texas prosecutor Bert Graham, as saying Anderson was one of his office’s best trial lawyers. “He had a way of seeing through bullshit,” Graham said.

Amtrak board members might have thought Anderson’s no nonsense approach was exactly what the passenger carrier needed.

He had the personality to do what previous Amtrak presidents had been unable or unwilling to do.

In that sense, the Amtrak board might have been like the parent of a spoiled child who hopes a teacher will do what the parent failed to do in imposing discipline.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, indirectly touched on that point when he observed that Anderson was hired to operate Amtrak like a profit-making company such as Delta Air Lines, where Anderson served as CEO between 2007 and 2016.

“He looked everybody in the eye and said, ‘OK, are you guys ready for this? We’re going to break some stuff.’ And everyone said, ‘Yes, this is what we want.’ And then he started breaking stuff. And people were like, ‘Wait, hold up. Stop! What?’ ”

And that is the crux of why Anderson is so unpopular with many passenger train advocates. He broke too many of their favorite dishes and was unapolegetic about it. He didn’t even pretend to regret it.

Anderson knows that, telling Leonard, “Most of the critics are the people who yearn for the halcyon days of long-distance transportation.”

Leonard wrote that Anderson started to lose his cool when asked if he was trying to kill Amtrak’s long-distance routes as many of his detractors have contended.

No, he answers, Amtrak will continue to operate those routes as Congress has directed and will spend $75 million next year refurbishing passenger cars assigned to long-distance service and spend another $40 million on new locomotives.

But Anderson also reiterated a point he’s made numerous times. He wants to break up some long-distance routes into shorter corridors and transform other long distance trains – he specifically mentioned the Empire Builder and California Zephyr – into experiential trains.

Anderson said he planned to ask Congress next year to authorize an “experiment” of breaking up some long-distance routes, citing the tri-weekly Sunset Limited as one Amtrak would like to address.

He knows that won’t play well with many. “Part of the problem is that the people that are the big supporters of long distance are all emotional about it,” Anderson said. “This is not an emotionally based decision. They should be reading our financials.”

Anderson can be confrontational and doesn’t mind, as the Bloomberg piece noted, throwing an elbow or two against a critic or competitor.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing because at his level the competition can be cutthroat as companies and organizations look to further their own interests.

The article noted that in an effort to confront the host freight railroads that handle Amtrak trains in most of the country Amtrak instituted quarterly report cards that grade how well they dispatch Amtrak trains on time.

Confrontation may be a useful tactic but it also has a price.

Knox Ross, a member of the Southern Rail Commission, discussed that with reporter Leonard as they rode a two-hour tardy Crescent through Mississippi toward New Orleans.

Ross said he has talked with managers at Amtrak’s host railroads who hate those report cards.

Those host railroads may not be so keen about cooperating with Amtrak to implement Anderson’s vision of corridor service between urban centers that airlines no longer serve.

The SRC has been pushing for the creation of a corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

Federal funding has been approved and the states of Mississippi and Louisiana have agreed to contribute their share of the funding. But Alabama thus far has balked.

And, Ross, said, CSX, which would host the trains, doesn’t want them.

No date has yet been announced for when the New Orleans-Mobile route will begin and Ross sees the obstacles to getting that corridor up and running as a preview of what Anderson and Amtrak will face if the passenger carrier seeks to create the type of corridor services it has talked about creating.

In the meantime, Anderson continues to look for ways to cut costs as he works toward his goal of making Amtrak reach the break-even point on its balance sheet from an operational standpoint as early as next year.

Then Amtrak can take the money it now spends underwriting operating losses and use it to buy new equipment and rebuild infrastructure.

If you want to read Leonard’s piece, you can find it here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-11-20/amtrak-ceo-has-no-love-lost-for-dining-cars-long-haul-routes

But be forewarned that he has bought into the conventional wisdom of how the Northeast Corridor is profitable and the long-distance routes and state-funded corridors are not.

The piece is also heavy on the nostalgia angle, particularly in regards to the recent changes in onboard dining services and the historic role of passenger trains in America.

Yet if you can adopt even a little bit of Anderson’s “just the facts mam” personality, you will see where he’s coming from and have a better understanding as to why he has been doing what he’s done.

50 Years Ago a Memorable Rail Experience

July 20, 2019

A Norfolk & Western geep prepares to hook onto two passengers at the Decatur, Illinois, depot and add them to the Chicago-bound Blue Bird, which would be arriving shortly. The date is July 10, 1969, and I made this and the image below with a Kodak Instamatic camera.

Scouts from the Lincoln Trails Council pose with a banner on the platform of the former Wabash Railroad station in Decatur, Illinois, before boarding a Norfolk & Western passenger train to Chicago en route to the 1969 National Jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America. Note the Pennsylvania Railroad boxcar in the background and the N&W geep.

While the nation has been focused this week on the 50th anniversary today of the landing of two Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon, I’ve been thinking a lot about the anniversary of another event that occurred 50 years ago this month.

As Neil Armstrong was making his giant leap for mankind on the lunar surface, I was among 34,251 Boy Scouts who attended the seventh national jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America, held July 16-22 at Farragut State Park on the shore of Lake Pend D’Oreille in Idaho.

Attending the jamboree was a once in a lifetime experience that included my  first experience in a sleeping car and my first meal in a dining car.

The journey began the morning of July 10 at the former Wabash Railroad station in Decatur, Illinois.

The Lincoln Trails Council sent two troops to the jamboree and we boarded the St. Louis to Chicago Blue Bird, which in 1969 was operated by Norfolk & Western.

That segment of the trip almost didn’t happen. N&W was seeking to discontinue the Blue Bird and had it succeeded our trip might have started on the Illinois Central in my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, or in Champaign, or maybe aboard a bus.

Decatur was the home of the council office so it was our launch point.

The N&W put an extra coach on Train No. 124, which was pulled by a lone geep.

As seen in the grainy photograph above, two cars were added to the Blue Bird in Decatur, including a dining car and the coach in which we rode.

It was my first trip on the former Wabash and as we neared Chicago Dearborn Station I got my first glimpse of passenger equipment of the Erie Lackawanna.

In checking 1969 passenger schedules, I later determined the EL’s inbound Lake Cities would have arrived at Dearborn Station around the time that we did., but I don’t remember seeing it.

We spent the afternoon sightseeing and having dinner before heading to Union Station to board a chartered train that we shared with Scouts from the Chicago and Fort Wayne, Indiana, councils.

That charter train had 20 or more cars, all of them Pullmans featuring the liveries of a myriad of railroads.

We had been told we would be traveling in Pullman berths but most, if not all, of the sleepers were 10-roomette, 6 bedroom cars.

I was the quartermaster for my troop and therefore drew an assignment of a roomette in a Chesapeake & Ohio car named Virginia Hot Springs.

I believe that my council had three cars, the Mad Anthony Wayne Council of Fort Wayne had three cars and the Chicago council had the balance.

There was a lounge car mid train reserved for use by the adult troop leaders.

I knew this only because early in the trip I walked the length of the train.

Later we would be told that we were not allowed to go back into the cars used by the Chicago council, but we could visit the cars used by the Fort Wayne council.

Our train departed on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy at about 9 p.m. and followed the traditional route of the Great Northern Empire Builder.

Most of the trip would be on GN track and our train was pulled by two GN locomotives painted in the Omaha orange that predated GN sky blue.

Behind the locomotives was a steam car painted in the GN sky blue livery.

We arrived at St. Paul Union Depot around 4 a.m. and didn’t detrain until about 6.

Once we disembarked, we walked to the GN headquarters where we had breakfast in the employee cafeteria. We would have dinner there on the return trip.

Generally, we had most meals off the train. On the way out a box lunch was put aboard at Fargo, North Dakota, that we ate in our rooms. I also recall during the return trip a box breakfast being put aboard in Savannah, Illinois.

We departed Chicago on a Thursday and dinner on Friday night was in Minot, North Dakota. I believe we had a meal in Minot on the return trip.

We spent most of Saturday at Glacier National Park having all three meals there.

It was during that layover that I experienced my first disillusionment with Scouting, discovering that not all Scouts were adherents of Scout ethics. Some guys shoplifted from the gift shop at a lodge and others sought to take home as souvenirs anything they could lift.

A similar incident occurred in Idaho when some Scouts from my council tried to pry the state seal of Idaho off a park sign.

We arrived in Spokane, Washington, early on Sunday morning where we had breakfast and boarded buses for the jamboree site.

Farragut State Park was closest to the station in Sandpoint, Idaho, but we passed through there in the middle of the night.

I remember one of our council scoutmasters on Sunday morning walking the aisle of my sleeper and banging on every door as he said, “let me in.”

His purpose, of course, was to get us up and ready to disembark in Spokane.

The Scouts arrived at the jamboree on a rolling schedule so as not to jam the roads leading into the park.

We were among the earliest group of Scouts to arrive and among the first to leave. In fact we arrived a few days before the jamboree officially began.

The moon landing occurred on a Sunday and I never saw any of it on television.

Some Scouts had battery operated TVs that managed to receive grainy images of the event.

Sunday was a free day and I was more interested in roaming the jamboree grounds and meeting Scouts from far and wide, hoping to trade patches with them.

I remember, though, seeing some guys watching the lunar landing and a roar going up from a group of them when the Eagle landed

Neil Armstrong had been an Eagle Scout growing up in Ohio and he sent a greeting to the Scouts at the jamboree as Apollo 11 flew toward the moon.

It was a tradition for the president of the United States to address the Scouts at their national jamboree.

But President Richard Nixon skipped the 1969 jamboree because he wanted to be on the U.S. Navy ship to welcome back the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Instead we were addressed during the closing ceremonies by former astronaut Frank Borman, who had orbited the moon on Apollo 8. The closing ceremony also included a concert by the musical group Up With People.

One of the songs they performed was a tribute to Ed White, the first astronaut to walk in space and a victim of the flash fire that killed the crew of Apollo 1 on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy.

At the time I was disappointed that Nixon was a no show because I’d never seen a president before.

Immediately after the closing ceremonies we boarded buses for the Sandpoint station.

Another charter train arrived in the station before our train did although I don’t know where that train was headed.

The return trip had the same equipment we had used on the outbound trip to Spokane.

We left Idaho on July 22 and stopped the next day at a ski resort in Whitefish, Montana, where we spent time riding the ski lifts among other activities.

Somewhere on the return trip, we were standing on a platform waiting for our train to arrive back into the station.

As we waited, GN’s Western Star arrived and did its station work, which included loading and unloading cans of milk. That must have been a dying business in 1969.

A dominant memory I have from the trip is sitting in my room and watching the Montana and North Dakota countryside roll past.

It was my first time in either state and I thought North Dakota was boring.

We had dinner in St. Paul at the GN cafeteria and had time to kill at St. Paul Union Depot before reboarding our train.

The St. Paul to Chicago segment was the only one in which our special operated combined with a scheduled train, Burlington’s Black Hawk.

After arriving at Chicago Union Station the next morning we did some more sightseeing before boarding the Blue Bird for Decatur at Dearborn Station.

I had sought to find as many railroad timetables as I could during this trip, but hadn’t found too many.

I approached a woman at an information window at Dearborn and asked if I could have some timetables.

She turned to a rack to her right and began pulling copies of each timetable available. I still have every one of those timetables.

In looking at them I was surprised at how few trains still operated. The train bulletin board at SPUD had listed only a handful of trains, including one train for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific to Kansas City known as the Plainsman.

I noticed at Dearborn Station that signs were placed by the boarding gate doors that had the name of the train and a logo of the railroad operating it. I’d never seen that before and thought it was a nice touch.

There were no plans to provide us dinner that evening so a few Scouts and our leaders ventured to the dining car. I decided to go there as well.

As I arrived, one of our troop leaders, who also was the scoutmaster for my home troop in Mattoon, warned me to be careful as the meals were a little pricey.

I ordered the least expensive thing I found, a club sandwich.

I had never eaten in a dining car and didn’t know that you wrote your order on a check with a pencil.

One of the waiters was a grouchy sort, but took my order promptly without comment.

I don’t recall how much that sandwich cost, but thought it was quite good.

My journey ended on the night of July 25 at the Wabash station in Decatur. It was the first time I had seen my parents since early July.

They had taken my sister to Rochester, Minnesota, where she had open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic in late June.

I had flown with an uncle from St. Louis to Rochester on July 3 to see them in what was my first ever airplane trip. So July 1969 was a month of transportation firsts for me.

Epilogue

In the 50 years since that 1969 trip I’ve yet to meet anyone who was on those trains with me with whom I could share memories.

I conducted a Google search while writing this article and found very little online about that special train that I rode.

However, I did learn that the train that had arrived in Sandpoint station ahead of ours on the night of July 22 may have been a chartered train that had originated on the N&W in Virginia.

I ran across the script of a TV story aired by a Roanoke television station on July 11, 1969, as well as a first person account by a Scout who had ridden that train.

The Scout said they had stayed overnight at Yellowstone National Park, leading me to believe they rode Northern Pacific rails for part of their journey.

I also ran across the account of another Scout from Chief Okemos Council in Michigan who described riding a train from Lansing to Chicago, and then boarding a special train in Chicago that was just for Scouts.

That could have been the train I was on. Presumably, the Michigan Scouts would have ridden the Grand Trunk Western, which used Dearborn Station in Chicago.

Yet I don’t recall seeing any other Boy Scouts in Dearborn Station either on the way out or back.

In looking at the handful of photographs that I made on the day we left Decatur seeing the guys wearing those white neckerchiefs brought back a forgotten memory.

Illinois was one of four states in Region 7 of the Scouts and those neckerchiefs had a Region 7 insignia.

They were prized possessions to have because ordinarily you had to spend time at the Region 7 canoe base in Wisconsin to get one.

Somehow I lost or had stolen my Region 7 neckerchief during the return trip to Illinois. At the time I was very upset about it but in time had forgotten about it.

While researching some 35 years later the history of passenger trains in the late 1960s I would learn that on the day we were in St. Paul on our return trip the Rock Island’s Plainsman was on the verge of making its last trips the week we were there.

That Boy Scout special was my only pre-Amtrak era experience with overnight train travel. The trip on the Blue Bird back to Decatur was my last trip on a non-tourist passenger train before Amtrak began in 1971.

Riding in a Pullman on a special created to transport teenagers was not quite the same as doing it on a scheduled train. There were no Pullman porters onboard and we didn’t eat meals in a dining car.

I would later learn the equipment assigned to our train came from a pool maintained by the Pullman Company and that Boy Scout special likely was among the last times that pool was used for a special movement.

By the time the next jamboree was held Amtrak had taken over most of the nation’s passenger trains and it had far less interest in offering special movements for Boy Scouts.

Some Scouts still travel by rail to the national jamboree, but must ride regularly scheduled Amtrak trains. The days of mass movement of Scouts by rail are a thing of the past.

It would be July 1977 before I traveled in a sleeping car again, a roomette on Amtrak’s Silver Meteor from Jacksonville, Florida, to Washington.

I would board a train one more time at the former Wabash station in Decatur. That was on July 18, 1981, when I rode the state-funded Illini to Chicago.

That short-lived service to Decatur used the ex-Wabash between Decatur and Tolono, Illinois, with most of the trip on the ex-IC. Today the Illini operates between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

In late June 1999 during a trip aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago en route home from the National Railway Historical Society Convention in California, I covered much of the route that my Boy Scout special had traveled .

Fifty years ago I didn’t pay attention to the routings of the trains I was able to ride, so I’ll never know if the Scout special took the route via Grand Forks, North Dakota, that Amtrak uses or the Surrey Cutoff that GN’s Empire Builder used.

I suspect it was the latter because there was no need for us to take a round-about route between Minot and Fargo.

In May 2014 I covered the Surrey Cutoff because the Empire Builder was detouring that way.

I had a roomette on No. 7 and spent a lot of time watching the desolate North Dakota countryside slide past. This time I didn’t find it boring at all.

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains for Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 22, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-service dining with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builder.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network; any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options, such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission; but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.

Montana, Steam Focus of April ARRC Program

April 24, 2017

The program at the Akron Railroad Club meeting on April 28 will be a digital presentation by Edward Ribinskas that will feature railroading in Montana and steam locomotives in Pennsylvania.

In July 2016, Ed and his wife, Ursula, celebrated their 25th anniversary by taking Amtrak’s Empire Builder to Glacier National Park, where they stayed at the Izaak Walton Inn.

While there Ed captured BNSF freight operations as well as Amtrak trains against the backdrop of mountains and glaciers.

He and Ursula had made virtually the same trip in 1991 shortly after their wedding.

This segment of the program will also feature a few views made from the train en route.

Rounding out the program will be views of steam locomotives in action on the Everett Railroad and Reading Blue Mountain & Northern. Ed photographed those locomotive during a September 2016 journey to Pennsylvania.

The meeting will begin at 8 p.m. with a half-hour business meeting followed by the program at approximately 8:45 p.m. The club meets at the New Horizons Christian Church, 290 Darrow Road, in Akron.

Following the meeting, some members gather at the Eat ‘n Park restaurant at Howe and Main streets in Cuyahoga Falls for a late dinner, dessert or an early breakfast.

Visitors are always welcome at Akron Railroad Club meetings.