U.S., Newton, Kansas: Superliner IIIs And The Year 2026

By Andrew Selden, Guest Commentator; April 26, 2021

Newton, Kansas – July 9, 2026

Train 23, the Grand Canyon, but effectively the second section of Train 3, the Southwest Chief, over most of its route, glides towards its stop at Newton, Kansas. Just ten minutes earlier, Number 3 has come and gone, on its way to Los Angeles.

It is 2:55 A.M. on a warm summer night, and the well-lit platform is nearly deserted. An employee of Heartland Rail sits on his forklift ready to go to work. Two car-knockers similarly stand by, waiting to do their nightly chores. A pair of new Siemens SC-44s, facing west, idle on the west House Track, coupled to a new Superliner III Sightseer Lounge Car.

In the last two years Newton has become the second-biggest (after Chicago) and most commercially-important hub in the western U.S. for intercity rail travel. We are about to see why.

Number 23 stops, and several doors open. A small number of sleepy passengers detrain, and six board.  Local traffic is not what makes Newton so important to Heartland Rail, formed in 2023 when Congress determined to spin off Amtrak’s non-Northeast Corridor assets and operations into a new corporate entity charged solely with developing a true national network of intercity passenger trains in the rest of the country. Heartland’s order for two hundred new Superliner III railcars is just starting to be delivered, and Train 23 shows why.

Train 23 carries 11 revenue and three “non-revenue” cars plus two baggage cars, behind three SC-44s. Two coaches and three sleepers, a 24-hour service dining car, and a Sightseer lounge car began their journey in Chicago at 4:00 PM yesterday afternoon as Train 23. One additional coach and two sleepers also began in Chicago nominally as Train 33, the Texas Chief, destined for Houston via Oklahoma City and Dallas, and two more coaches and a sleeper, with another Sightseer Lounge, originated at 10:00 A.M. yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota, as Train 9, the Plainsman, destined for Cheyenne via Mason City, Des Moines, Kansas City, Newton, La Junta and Denver. These cars were switched into Train 23 at Kansas City. The circuity doesn’t seem to matter to customers because the train gets to Denver and the other Front Range cities about a half a day earlier than people could drive from much of the Upper Midwest. Passengers don’t seem to care how they do it or where the train goes overnight to get them there.

When Train 23 stops, the car knockers immediately pull the pin on the trailing three cars, headed for Houston, and inspect Train 23. The baggageman uses his forklift to off-load three pallets of express from the baggage car and load two new ones.

While this is underway, a second Heartland train, Number 34, quietly arrives at Newton from Houston. It drops two coaches and two sleepers for Number 23/9 to forward to Cheyenne, and a Sightseer Lounge, and immediately departs for Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland, with its through cars (two coaches and three sleepers, and a 24-hour lounge car) from Houston. It dropped a diner and coach at Oklahoma City and a second Sightseer Lounge at Newton. It runs separately from Newton through Chicago to Cleveland in the peak summer months. In winter, it is combined at Newton with Number 24 from the west.

Number 23 then pulls forward and crosses over to the eastward main track, and backs down on the four cars bound for Cheyenne on Number 9. Once the train is coupled and the brake test is completed, Train 23 departs Newton for La Junta, Albuquerque, Barstow and Oakland. It will drop the Train 9 through cars from St. Paul and Houston at La Junta, where waiting locomotives will forward Train 9 to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver and Cheyenne. Most passengers have slept through the nightly drama at Newton.

But we still have several cars waiting at Newton, cut off the rear of Train 23. The idling SC-44s now move forward onto the westward main track, and reverse with the Sightseer Lounge in tow to couple on to the through cars from Chicago running as Train 33. In less than an hour, it will depart from Newton southward to Wichita and Oklahoma City—where it will pick up a Superliner dining car and coach—and proceed to Ft. Worth and Dallas on its daily journey to Houston. But not just yet.

Newton’s station once again falls quiet in the warm summer night, but only for a few minutes. Soon, a headlight to the west announces the imminent arrival of Train 24/10/34 from Oakland and Cheyenne, and the nightly dance at Newton will repeat itself in the opposite direction. After Train 24 completes its work, leaving behind two coaches and two sleepers from Cheyenne, Number 33 pulls forward to the west and then once again backs down on the additional cars bound for Houston. It soon departs southward with two locomotives, four coaches and four sleepers, and a 24-hour Sightseer Lounge.

The Newton Hub makes possible rail travel in three major travelsheds–Houston-St. Paul, Houston-Cheyenne , and Cleveland-Oakland via Kansas City and Albuquerque–opening up hundreds of new origin-destination city pair travel opportunities. In addition, the schedules of Trains 9 and 10 naturally create interconnections from Train 8, the Empire Builder, to Trains 5 and 3, as well as from Number 6 to Number 3, and by simply changing cars in Kansas City, to trains 21 and 421 at Ft. Worth, and vice versa from 22, 4 and 6 to Number 7, and from 4 to 5, all without going into Chicago. Just the new city-pair opportunities within this dense network dwarf the commercial potential of the old linear routes that radiated out from Chicago as spokes that failed to interconnect. Heartland Rail’s traffic growth is running well ahead of its deliveries of new Superliner IIIs.

Once additional cars are delivered, Heartland plans to extend Trains 9 and 10 to Winnipeg on the north and to New Orleans on the south end of the  route, and establish year round operation of 33 and 34 to Cleveland, but with new through cars via Kansas City to Omaha and a connection with the Central Transcontinental Corridor.

Andrew C. Selden is a former franchise attorney, who is a past Chair of the American Bar Association’s section on franchise law, called the ABA Forum on Franchising. He is currently the President of United Rail Passenger Alliance, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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