U.S., Canada: A collection of superb passenger train photography of Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada and before by one of America’s best railroad photographers

February 1971 and Union Pacific’s streamliners and their dome cars only have 90 days left to live before they go away on Amtrak Day, May 1, 1971.

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; January 23, 2023

What a gift good photography is for those who live in a world of trains. Even so-so photography can be great if just the right moment is captured in an image.

There are multiple dozens of unsung heroes of railroad photography merrily clicking away either on traditional film, digitally and even with a handy cell phone when a camera isn’t nearby.

This space has previously, happily made use of the outstanding online resource for photography, Wikimedia Commons. It is a general repository for all types of photography on all types of subjects, well beyond passenger and freight trains. Photographs placed on Wikimedia Commons are available in the public domain for use without copyright royalties.

The late Roger Puta was a railroader and prolific photographer; he passed away at a too-young age in 1990. He worked for the Santa Fe Railway as well as the Western Pacific. He traveled all over North America photographing trains of all sorts as well as transit. Included in his photos are train stations and other railroad facilities and infrastructure and a smattering of people, both railroad employees and passengers.

Mr. Puta’s photographs run the spectrum from “chance, spur of the moment shots” to some which were purposely taken. No matter what his camera’s subject matter, Mr. Puta’s photo composition was superb, and his ability to capture everyday events for posterity are his legacy for generations to come. His photography began in the waning days of a pre-Amtrak and pre-VIA Rail Canada world and continued through the first two decades of Amtrak and VIA. The transitions he captured are stunning.

Many would agree Mr. Puta’s work rivals that of railroad photography legend O. Winston Link.

In this space, we celebrate Roger Puta with just a tiny sample of his over 5,200 photographs available on Wikimedia Commons thanks to the thoughtfulness of his literary heirs and lifelong friends. The world is indebted to Mr. Puta and those still alive who have made his magnificent photograph collection available for all to enjoy.

This is the brief biography of Roger Puta on WikiAlpha:

“Roger Puta (pronounced “PEU tah” – it’s Czech) was a prolific photographer who specialized in taking photos of trains, mass transit, railroad infrastructure (especially signal systems) and general architecture. Puta was born in 1944 in Berwyn, Illinois, and moved to Naperville, Illinois when he was five. He attended St. Procopius Academy, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Northwestern University, where he earned a master’s degree in transportation.

“Roger was commissioned as an Unrestricted Navy Line Officer on October 24, 1968. After serving in the US Navy during the Viet Nam war, Roger returned to Chicago and worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, a job that provided him the opportunity to travel, and to continue his avid hobby of taking train and transit photos. In 1971, Roger went to work for the Western Pacific Railroad in San Francisco, and was later a partner, with Richard Twining, in ‘Scenic Hyway Tours,’ a tour bus company.

“After his untimely death in 1990, Roger left his vast collection of color slides to his childhood friend and literary heir Mel Finzer, who made the decision to place Roger’s photos in the public domain, and they have subsequently been very widely reproduced. Another childhood friend, Marty Bernard, has scanned and digitized close to ten thousand color slides, and put them online on the flickr photosharing website. Finzer and Bernard’s only request to re-users of Puta’s photos is that they credit him when they re-use them.”

Most photos have a date when they were taken; some do not. A few do not have a location identified. For those photos lacking “data,” just enjoy the gift of the photography.

Roger Puta sits in the fireman’s seat on a Montreal Locomotive Works engine for a cab ride in October 1981. The information accompanying the photo says he gave the locomotive engineer the camera to take this shot.
Roger Puta leaned out of the fireman’s window on his Canadian locomotive cab ride in Stratford, Ontario for this shot in October 1981. VIA Rail Canada had been formed in 1977; by 1981 it was just four years old.
Amtrak corridor train in California, August 1982.
An original Pennsylvania Railroad Metroliner consist on the Northeast Corridor, but when this photo was taken in December 1980 near Seabrook, Maryland is was all-Amtrak. Notice the dimples on the front of the cab car; those were NOT made by kids throwing rocks at the equipment.
Same general location as above on the Northeast Corridor, near Seabrook, Maryland, but in 1987 with an Amfleet consist for a Metroliner train.
Standing on the platform of Chicago’s Halsted Street station stop in June of 1978; an unidentified transcontinental Amtrak train.
ABOVE and BELOW: Both VIA Rail Canada Turbo Train trainsets, but two different views, coming and going around 1980.
Unknown eastbound VIA Rail Canada train in Windsor, Ontario, October 1985. The VIA Rail cars with full exterior paint were most likely former Canadian National Railway cars.
The breathlessly magnificent Windsor Station in Montreal, the former headquarters of Canadian Pacific Railway before the company decamped to Calgary, Alberta in 1996. Windsor Station did double duty as the railroad’s headquarters building and downtown Montreal passenger train station. This photo was taken in 1971, before the formation of VIA Rail Canada, so it was still an active passenger train station for CP’s Canadian, Atlantic Limited and other named trains. In the late 1980s in a meeting with CP’s head of passenger services in the VIA Rail era, he said all of the former conductor and onboard services crews’ CP uniforms were stored in the basement of the building. The building survives today as an office building also housing restaurants and cafes. It has been completely severed from the Canadian railroad network and the numerous terminal tracks and platforms have been removed with the space used for public events.
Canadian National Railway served many passenger train stations in Manitoba, including The Pas, with both mixed trains and full passenger trains, often on less than daily schedules. Here is a CN train pausing at the station in October 1971. The Pas is still served today by VIA Rail Canada as part of mandatory remote passenger train service from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Churchill, Manitoba, a warm-weather-only seaport on Hudson’s Bay. VIA Rail operates several mandatory remote service routes in Northern Canada where there are no highways to various towns; passenger trains and small airfields provided the only intercity transportation. Pro tip: The name of the town is THE Pas, not La Pas. If you talk with a VIA Rail reservations agent and use the real name instead of pretending you know better by using La Pas, the agent will appreciate you are a serious traveler and know where you are going.
A delightfully dramatic night shot of a Canadian National Railway F unit locomotive, Senneterre, Quebec in March of 1980. Senneterre is one of VIA Rail Canada’s mandatory remote passenger service destinations in the far north of Quebec.
Budd Rail Diesel Cars have been popular in Canada for decades. A two-car RDC consist is captured in 1980 at an unknown location. VIA Rail Canada still operates RDCs on its Sudbury-White River remote service route in Ontario.
Dauphin, Manitoba, October 1971, a Canadian National Railway station. Dauphin is about 175 miles from Winnipeg.
Canadian National Railway passenger station at Prince Rupert, British Columbia in 1979. A seaport city, Prince Rupert was considered the Halibut Capital of the World from the opening of the Canadian Fish & Cold Storage plant in 1912 until the early 1980s. The prevailing aroma in the city provided credence to the claim. Today, Prince Rupert is the land, air, and water transportation hub of British Columbia’s North Coast, and has a population of 12,220 people as of 2016 according to Wikipedia. VIA Rail Canada continues to operate its Skeena service from Jasper, Alberta to Prince Rupert, and is considered more of a tourist service than a basic transportation service.
The imposing nose of an Ontario Northland Railway locomotive in 1978 at an unknown station location. Ontario Northland, which is owned by the Province of Ontario, operates the Polar Bear Express five days a week, adding a sixth day in the summer months, from Cochrane to Moosonee. Recently, ONR has announced plans to resurrect its former Northlander passenger train service from Toronto to North Bay and contracted to purchase new passenger train equipment from Siemens Canada, piggybacking on VIA Rail Canada’s equipment order.
Only information available is this was taken in 1982. Just enjoy the photograph for the wonderful composition and use of available sunlight.
ABOVE and BELOW: The Mighty Pennsylvania Railroad’s Art Deco Newark, New Jersey Pennsylvania Station in 1976. Originally opened by the PRR during the height of the Great Depression in 1935, the station facility is now owned by New Jersey Transit and has recently been beautifully restored. It is the busiest passenger train station in New Jersey serving both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains as well as other transit systems.
The original Empire Builder himself, James J. Hill looks down upon employees and passengers in Great Northern Railway’s Minneapolis, Minnesota passenger train station in April 1971, just days before Amtrak Day on May 1, 1971. Amtrak’s Empire Builder service from Chicago to Seattle/Portland is the only remaining Great Northern train to operate today. Hill was nicknamed the Empire Builder because of his prolific railroad career, building and expanding railroads among other ventures. Today’s Amtrak Empire Builder calls at St. Paul Union Depot in the Twin Cities instead of the former Great Northern Minneapolis station. The GN station was opened in 1914 and closed in 1978. At its peak, the station served 125 daily passenger trains during World War II; the station has been demolished and is now the site of a Federal Reserve Bank. In 1951, Great Northern owned 844 locomotives, including 568 steam, 261 diesel-electric and 15 all-electric, as well 822 passenger train cars and 43.897 freight train cars according to Wikipedia.
Unknown date, but definitely a winter day, prior to 1968 when the Copper Country Limited was operated by The Milwaukee Road between Chicago and Calumet, Michigan. The train was first operated in 1907, but was discontinued three years before Amtrak debuted in 1971.
A short, mixed streamliner and heavyweight consist on a Penn Central train in Chatham Yard, Chatham, Massachusetts. Even though the heavyweight commuter coach in the background on the left has received new Penn Central markings, this locomotive still features its original New York Central System paint scheme and logo.
A proud logo of a proud railroad on the exterior of the railroad’s Dayton, Ohio passenger train station in 1967.
The original Winter Park Express Ski Train at Denver Union Station in January 1985, owned and operated by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. By 1985 the D&RGW’s passenger trains had become part of the Amtrak system and the newer passenger equipment had been sold for use in Canada on the Algoma Central Railway. This remaining very early heavyweight era equipment was retained for use on the annual ski train.
A former Wabash Railroad, now merged into the Norfolk and Western Railway, modified heavyweight food service car at Decatur, Illinois in May of 1966, two years after the Wabash merged with the N&W. The Wabash had an operating history from 1837 to 1964.
The Georgia Railroad in Atlanta in October 1968. This minimalist passenger train represented a history back to 1833 under the original chartered name Georgia Railroad and Banking Company. The combined railroad and bank weathered the Civil War and came out strong on the back end after cessation of hostilities. In the end, the Georgia Railroad was merged into what today ultimately is CSX Transportation and the highly prosperous banking side of the company still exists today with branches first as part of First Union and then First Union’s successor, Wells Fargo & Company.
Southern Pacific Railroad’s all-coach Coast Daylight was still going strong in February 1971 running between Los Angeles and downtown San Francisco. The Coast Daylight, once dubbed The Most Beautiful Train in the World with its original exterior color scheme in 1937 survived into Amtrak in May 1971, but eventually was consolidated into the current Coast Starlight which runs from Seattle to Los Angeles. In California south of San Jose (the Coast Starlight bypasses San Francisco and runs to the east through San Jose), the Coast Starlight mimics much of the original Coast Daylight general schedule.
El Paso, Texas, just before the start of Amtrak in May 1971. The Southern Pacific’s Sunset Limited continued on into Amtrak and survives today on much of the same route but excludes Phoenix, Arizona. The joint Southern Pacific/Rock Island Lines Golden State did not survive the inauguration of Amtrak.
An undated and unknown location of a Southern Pacific Railroad commuter train in California.
If you love exceptional signature color schemes adorning beautifully designed diesel locomotives, this is your scene at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Roger Puta worked for two of the railroads featured, Santa Fe and Western Pacific. By the time of large railroad consolidation was over, the Santa Fe would be a principal railroad in the formation of today’s BNSF Railroad and Southern Pacific and Western Pacific would become part of main BNSF rival Union Pacific Railroad.
A Southern Pacific lounge car on the Del Monte, which ran for 125 miles between San Francisco and Monterey, California. The photo was taken in February 1971. The train was inaugurated in 1889 and operated until April 30, 1971, the day before Amtrak Day.
A winter’s day on the Union Pacific Railroad in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1970. Today, in the age of Amtrak, Wyoming has no passenger train service.
They are all yellow diesel locomotives, pulling yellow trains in 1963, but they are locomotives from two separate railroads, The Milwaukee Road and Union Pacific. In 1955, The Milwaukee Road partnered with the Union Pacific to handle UP steamliners such as the City of Los Angeles and others, east from Omaha, Nebraska into Chicago. Until 1955 the Chicago & North Western Railway had partnered with Union Pacific to handle streamliners on the east end of the route. Both The Milwaukee Road and Chicago and North Western had painted the exteriors of their motive power and pool-service passenger cars on the trains to match Union Pacific Armor Yellow with red accents, which was a more-established and famous passenger train livery scheme. Location of the photo is unknown.
The Chicago and North Western Railway was an early operator of bi-level passenger equipment on intercity trains beyond “normal commuter train” distances. A C&NW passenger train in 1964 is passing through Genoa City, Wisconsin on the Wisconsin/Illinois border. Genoa City was named after Genoa, New York, which was named after Genoa in Italy. Genoa City is approximately 43 miles south/southwest of Milwaukee.
A photographer’s eye is the same as the eye of any other type of artist; the good use of shapes and angles is appealing. Here is an etched door widow of a Denver & Rio Grande Western dining car in 1980. The D&RGW did not join Amtrak in 1971 and continued operation of some of its passengers trains for several years. The D&RGW would join Amtrak in 1983.
A B&O train at the platform of Chicago’s Grand Central Station in 1967.
Main waiting room of Chicago’s Grand Central Station in 1969. The station opened in 1890 and closed in November 1969.It was demolished in 1971. Railroads using Chicago Grand Central included the B&O, C&O, Chicago Great Western, Soo Line and Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad. Today’s Amtrak Capitol Limited uses Chicago Union Station.
A B&O blunt-end Pullman lounge car at Chicago’s Grand Central Station in August 1969, still carrying B&O’s muted but classic stylistic exterior paint scheme.
Baltimore & Ohio’s famed Capitol Limited in an unknown location in 1970, carrying a blunt-end Chesapeake & Ohio observation lounge car on this day. After 1963, the B&O was a corporate part of the C&O Railroad, and the two railroads often swapped passenger equipment and had similar exterior paint schemes. The Capitol Limited remains in operation as an Amtrak train between Washington Union Station and Chicago Union Station.
A rare 1969 shot of Baltimore & Ohio’s Gateway passenger train at Garrett, Indiana. The Gateway only operated for one year in 1969 and ran between Chicago and Pittsburgh.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Metropolitan being refueled at Grafton, West Virginia in July 1970. B&O successor CSX still has operations in Grafton.
Chicago Great Western Railway motive power in 1963. In 1968 the railroad would disappear into Chicago and North Western Railway and finally into the Union Pacific Railroad. Chicago Great Western began operations in 1885.
Unknown location, 1980 recording what used to be common passenger train station signage.
St. Louis Union Station in 1981 in the years between the closing of the station in 1978 and the reopening in 1985 as a hotel and mall. The station first opened in 1894.
The vastness of St. Louis Union Station in December 1970. At the station’s peak during World War II in the 1940s the station handled over 100,000 passengers a day. The station was a true union station, handling trains of 22 different railroads prior to Amtrak, which became the 23rd railroad served by the station in 1971.
Another December 1970 St. Louis Union Station photo, this time under the huge trainshed which was built to cover 32 tracks. At its 1894 opening, the station was the largest passenger train station in the world, handling the most train services of the highest number of different railroads for any single terminal in the world. Under the trainshed in 1948 the famous Chicago Tribune photo of President Harry Truman holding up the errant Chicago Tribune front page proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman” was taken with the president standing on the rear open platform of the presidential private railroad car.
December 1970, La Junta, Colorado with the southbound La Junta Streamliner in the station. Northbound, the train would be called the Denver Streamliner. Perhaps, by late in 1970, less than six months before the beginning of Amtrak the “Streamliner” name may have been a bit optimistic.
Santa Fe La Junta, Colorado passenger train station timetable board. This would be the final Christmas season Santa Fe list of trains before Amtrak in 1971. Note that the Super Chief and El Capitan had been combined into a single consist.
November 1967, university town Athens, Georgia, Seaboard Coast Line (former Seaboard Air Line) passenger train station. The station remains in use today by CSX Transportation as office space.
November 1967, Seaboard Coast Line unnamed mail and express train, Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia.
Louisville & Nashville’s Georgian at Atlanta Union Station received a much-need scrubbing to remove road grime in 1963. The L&N often mixed heavyweight cars in its modern passenger train consists.
Southern Railway’s Royal Palm in 1963 appears to be heavily laden with baggage, mail and express and Railway Post Office cars.
No surprise it’s a cold day on the Bangor and Aroostook in New England in 1970 where this office car is located.
Dusk, somewhere, 1983. Wherever the track is headed to, there is a green signal.
A milk run on the Union Pacific Railroad, April 1971, just days away from Amtrak Day on May 1, 1971.
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