U.S.: Looking at Amtrak, Brightline, Caltrain, West Central Wisconsin and Montana’s Big Sky Rail at the end of the year

The fireman for Amtrak’s Lone Star (former Texas Chief) looks back at his train standing in the Ardmore, Oklahoma station in 1974. The Lone Star operated from Chicago to Houston/Fort Worth-Dallas, and was discontinued in 1979 during the Carter Administration long distance/inter-regional train cuts. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Jim Coston, Executive Chairman, Corridor Rail Development Corporation. File photo.

By James E. Coston, Executive Chairman, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 20, 2022

CHICAGO – Those of us with just a bit of gray hair at the conclusion of 2022 look back half a century to the conclusion of 1972, Amtrak’s first full year of operations, and remember.

Those first years of Amtrak were a fascinating time; for some full of hope and promise for a new way of passenger trains in America, but for others a time of remembrance for what had been lost after over a century of passenger trains in our country. Working summers at Chicago Union Station for Amtrak during college back then, we loaded sold-out Broadway Limited’s and ran second sections of regional corridor trains over peak travel periods with borrowed equipment, and projected robust growth for Amtrak based upon demand. The growth hasn’t come from Amtrak and its trains, however. It’s come from successful efforts at the state and regional level to introduce and expand train routes and services.

New York Pennsylvania Station’s electronic wall map of Amtrak’s fairly robust 1974 national system. Even with the overhead lights reflected in the glass over the map viewers can see their favorite long distance/inter-regional routes. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Chicago Union Station boarding passengers make their way down the train platform in 1974 to board the Broadway Limited from Chicago to New York City and intermediate station stops. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Trainside, Broadway Limited, Chicago Union Station in 1974, boarding for departure. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Brattelboro, Vermont’s train station in 1972 just before Amtrak’s Montrealer began service. Wikimedia Commons photo.
For comparison, a contemporary view of the Brattleboro, Vermont Amtrak station as featured on the Great American Stations website. The station is owned by the Town of Brattleboro. Great American Stations photo.
It looks like the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Northeast Corridor at Bridgeport, Connecticut and it looks like a Penn Central GG-1 is steadfastly hauling a passenger train, but this is Amtrak in 1972. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Pennsylvania Railroad and the Budd Company invented Metroliners in the 1960s and in 1972 an Amtrak Metroliner (with the original smaller windows) was at the Northeast Corridor’s Capital Beltway station which still was showing Penn Central colors on signage. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Amtrak signage somewhat grandiosely announced the Capital Beltway Transportation Center on the Northeast Corridor in 1972. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A 1972 Northeast Corridor Metroliner is humming along in New York City as the Pennsylvania Railroad and then Penn Central originally intended, complete with Amtrak identification markers on the blunt nose. Notice on the bottom right of the front of the car is the shadow of the original Pennsylvania Railroad Keystone logo which was not successfully erased. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Before it became a densely packed Washington suburb, in 1972 the former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Silver Spring, Maryland train station had a somewhat peaceful appearance. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Union Station in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1972. This building is now a non-railroad commercial facility and has been replaced by a nearby wooden platform with a canopy. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Amtrak’s Potomac Special at Grafton, West Virginia in 1972. This train was on a former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad route between Washington, D.C. and Parkersburg, West Virginia and at various times had the name West Virginian, Potomac Turbo, Potomac Special and casually, Harley’s Hornet and Staggers Special because of the oblique demands of powerful West Virginia Congressman and committee chairman Harley O. Staggers that Amtrak serve his state. The Potomac Special is gone as well as Grafton as an Amtrak station stop. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Chicago to St. Louis Turboliner Service in 1975 at Joliet, Illinois. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Passengers on a Turboliner train between Chicago and St. Louis in 1972. Wikimedia Commons photo.
In 1972 smog was still an issue in California. A unidentified southbound Amtrak train at Alviso, California could be a Coast Daylight consist of former Southern Pacific Railroad equipment. Wikimedia Commons photo.
During 1972 at the beginning of Amtrak’s “rainbow years” when passenger equipment from the passenger railroads which joined Amtrak just the year before saw their equipment dispersed all over the new Amtrak system as needed, former Union Pacific Railroad locomotives prepare to leave Miami for points north. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A cold and rare snow winter’s day in 1972 finds the former Atlantic Coast Line/Seaboard Coast Line/now Amtrak Vacationer southbound at Columbia, South Carolina’s former Seaboard station built in 1903 headed for warmer Florida weather. The station is now a restaurant and a new Amtrak station was built in 1991 on new tracks after the former Seaboard line through the middle of downtown was relocated. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Enjoy the myriad train names on the train arrivals and departure boards behind the Chicago Union Station information counter in 1974. Amtrak’s automated “Julie” voice information system wasn’t even conceived of in 1974, much less clicking a few buttons on a smartphone to find any information you may desire about an Amtrak train. In 1974 you had to wait in line and talk to an actual Amtrak agent face to face. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The latest Amtrak Arrow reservations system in 1974 at Chicago Union Station complete with a monochrome screen. Just in case the computer system failed, a reservations manual is tucked safely next to the computer monitor on the left. In the background, rubber stamps were still de rigueur for the well-appointed ticket office. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Chicago Union Station ticket and information counter in 1974. Wikimedia Commons photo.
An argument could be made that boarding trains at Chicago Union Station, including in 1974 has always been a bit chaotic, particularly if Fido is your traveling companion. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The naysayers said by 1974 Americans would have lost interest in old passenger trains. Crowds at Chicago Union Station proved them wrong. Wikimedia Commons photo.
It’s 1976; on the left is former Pennsylvania Railroad infamous P-70 coach equipment with now-outdated Penn Central markings headed onto the former Fort Wayne, Indian Pennsylvania Railroad main line for commuter service to Valparaiso, Indiana. A Burlington Northern gallery car train is on the right. Wikimedia Commons photo.
In 1974 there was only a dream of a dreary Chicago Union Station being refreshed and refurbished. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Exterior of Chicago Union Station in 1974, with railroad heritage signage still atop the building. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Forty-five years later in 2019, Chicago Union Station exterior. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Illinois Zephyr and Lincoln Service trains equipped with the latest in locomotive technology at Chicago Union Station in 2018. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Here at the end of 2022 the travel industry as a whole is moving past being in recovery mode after the pandemic and many aspects of travel are back to normal.

Brightline at MiamiCentral Station in 2019. Inaugurated in 2017 but suspended service for much of the pandemic, Brightline has now carried over two million passengers between MiamiCentral Station, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with healthy load factors and ridership rising constantly. Brightline will begin 16 higher speed roundtrips a day between MiamiCentral and the new Orlando International Airport terminal in mid to late 2023. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Brightline’s passenger waiting area at its West Palm Beach station in 2018. In December 2022 Brightline will open two new stations in Boca Raton and Miami Dade County’s Aventura. More stations are planned and underway in addition to the new terminal at Orlando International Airport. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A Brightline consist is seeing how well it blends in at the railroad’s new Orlando International Airport terminal. Both Brightline and airline passengers will pass seamlessly between the airside and railside parts of the airport. Plans are being finalized for a further Brightline extension to Central Florida’s theme park resort area and down the Interstate 4 right-of-way to Tampa. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Brightline in South Florida has surpassed pre-pandemic ridership levels between MiamiCentral Station and West Palm Beach as the new railroad looks forward to opening service all the way to Orlando International Airport in 2023 as construction winds down on the new line. Brightline West, anticipating new, electrified service between Las Vegas and Southern California has predicted an imminent start of construction.

Caltrain’s first electric multiple unit/EMU trainset on the testing track at the United States Department of Transportation Transportation Technology Center run by the Federal Railroad Administration near Pueblo, Colorado. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Catenary is already installed along much of Caltrain’s right of way through the Silicon Valley and into the San Francisco Bay Area. Final work will be completed soon and the diesel locomotive and equipment shown above will be replaced with electric multiple unit/EMU trainsets. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Further north in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, Caltrain continues to press forward with its full route electrification program, replacing diesel locomotives with new electric engines.

Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha pauses at the MIssoula, Montana former Northern Pacific Railroad passenger station in 1976. The North Coast Hiawatha, Amtrak’s version of the Vista Dome North Coast Limited would be discontinued in 1979. The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority based in Montana is working to restore service on the former Northern Pacific main line, now part of BNSF from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority in Montana is resolutely moving forward with an ambitious – and obtainable – goal of reinstating the lost and lamented Vista Dome North Coast Limited passenger train service from Chicago to the west coast across the former Northern Pacific/now BNSF southern tier line.

West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition.

The West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition continues to move forward with its plan to reestablish passenger rail service from Eau Claire, Wisconsin to St. Paul Union Depot, reviving a former Chicago & North Western Railroad route, now on a Union Pacific Railroad line.

After much ado, a new Gulf Coast Limited between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama is in the works, for two round trips a day.

Two Amtrak locomotives at Chicago Union Station in 2019: the battle weary and the fresh and ready for action versions. Wikimedia Commons photo.
New Siemens Venture Amtrak Midwest passenger cars await their turn for service at the Chicago coach yard late in 2022. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A shiny new Siemens ALC-42 Charger locomotive at Chicago Union Station in 2022. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Unveiled in December 2022, an Amtrak Airo trainset by Siemens, designed for use on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and various state subsidized corridors around the country. Amtrak publicity photo.

The Amtrak of today has post-pandemic revived all of its daily long distance/inter-regional trains with the reinstatement of the Silver Meteor. Many of the state-sponsored regional routes are back in service.

Fifty years after 1972, passenger rail in the United States is alive and well, with more plans than ever, both in the private and public sector for growth. Congress has come to appreciate the value of passenger trains and has opened the purse strings.

File Illustration.

The early days of Amtrak in 1972 and the uncertainty of the future are long gone. As we look to 2023, there is a bright future for passenger trains on all fronts. Planning is underway. Meetings are being scheduled. Budgets are being drawn. A new generation of passenger cars and locomotives is rolling off the assembly lines.

The year 2023 is one to watch. And, Corridor Rail Development will continue to be part of the future of passenger rail in America. We are grateful to be part of a new, dynamic era of passenger trains in the third decade of the 21st Century.

Join us for the ride; it’s going to be fun for everyone.

Thanks for reading our website in 2022.

Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for a bright and prosperous 2023.

Magazine ad when streamlined consists were introduced on New York Central’s 20th Century Limited. Internet image.
Pennsylvania Railroad magazine ad from 1944 celebrating women in railroading for the war effort. Internet image.
Seaboard Railway 1945 magazine ad promoting both freight and passenger service. Internet image.
Please share with others