The following is a timeline of significant (but far from totally inclusive) events affecting Amtrak service since 1995. The year 1995 was selected as it was roughly halfway between the advent of Amtrak and today. 1995 was also a significant year with several long-distance trains being discontinued and includes 1997 when two more made their last trips, basically creating the long-distance network we have today – which in itself is significant in that the entirety of expansion of long-distance trains throughout the history of Amtrak has receded to the point that the “system” is nearly the same as it was on May 1, 1971, the start of Amtrak.
Note: The items in bold print are generally considered as negative developments; those not in bold are informational or positive changes. Often, those which are not negative are simply rescinding previously-mentioned negative items, such as Covid restrictions being lifted or a train being restored to daily service because another was discontinued altogether, or are state-sponsored services. Included in the timeline are some service enhancements for long-distance trains, but these improvements were relatively short-lived, and proves the general apathy of Amtrak senior management throughout Amtrak’s history because the overall focus remained constant: Cut service, cut routes, rarely initiate programs which would enhance customer experience. Following the timeline is a historical snapshot comparison of running times of long-distance trains, followed by actual examples of fairly recent Amtrak service failings reported by the media.
July 31-October 5: Wolverine Service trains 350 and 353 between Chicago and Pontiac will only operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday due to trackwork.
July 9: The westbound Capitol Limited experienced mechanical failure west of Harpers Ferry, WV. The equipment eventually returned to Washington, DC. That equipment stood to protect the eastbound Capitol Limited from Chicago departing July 10, so that train was canceled, even though the standard consist was only one coach, one sleeping car, and one food service car. This highlights Amtrak’s shortage-of-equipment crisis.
June 28: The northbound Coast Starlight struck a tractor-trailer at Moorpark, California, derailing most of the consist. Due to lack of replacement equipment, Amtrak suspended service on the Coast Starlight route between Los Angeles and Emeryville until July 7. The train involved in the derailment had only five revenue cars (coaches and sleeping cars) compared to as many at ten pre-Covid.
June 23: Effective with the arrival of the Southbound Adirondack at Albany-Rensselaer on June 23, Amtrak suspended service on the route between Albany and Montréal, citing excessive running time (10 MPH maximum) on CN’s Rouses Point subdivision between Rouses Point, New York and a point just to the east of St. Lambert, Québec due to the possibility of thermal misalignments (sun kinks) in the track. The route has spartan freight traffic, and CN claims Amtrak has not been sufficiently compensating CN to keep the track up to passenger train speed. The train is supposed to return (albeit with a maximum speed less than optimum on the Rouses Point subdivision) in September 2023 when the summer heat abates.
April: The Coast Starlight is reported to be operating without its business class car, a continued denigration of service following the removal of the Pacific Parlour cars in 2018. The train is operating with as few as 6 cars (two sleeping cars, dining car, lounge car, two coaches), half the number of cars as in 2017.
April 3: Amtrak reinstates the Adirondack between New York and Montréal, which had not operated north of Albany/Rensselaer since March 2020 (when the train was suspended due to border restrictions with Covid-19). The train is scheduled for 11 hours, 5 minutes southbound (versus 10 hours, 30 minutes pre-Covid) and 11 hours 36 minutes northbound (versus 10 hours 56 minutes pre-Covid). Northbound, the train is allowed 3 hours, 43 minutes for the 49 miles from Rouses Point to Montréal for an average speed of 13.2 MPH. Southbound, the train is scheduled at 3 hours, 5 minutes from departure Montréal to departure from Rouses Point for a speed of 15.9 MPH. The Northbound train averages 42.1 MPH from New York to Rouses Point, and only 32.8 MPH from New York to Montréal. The section between Rouses Point and Montréal is the train’s Achilles’ Heel due to standing delay for customs and immigration inspection and slow track conditions, notably between Rouses Point, and Cantic. The southbound train (68) departs Montréal 50 minutes later than pre-Covid, and arrives in Schenectady 1 hour, 11 minutes later at 638 PM, 55 minutes prior to the departure of the westbound Lake Shore Limited for Chicago. Since guaranteed connections require a minimum of one hour, the later Montréal departure time severs the connection in Schenectady. The lengthy running times between Montréal and the border makes the service uncompetitive with the parallel freeway, and foretells a similar problem in extending the Vermonter from St. Albans to Montréal as the route is shared from Cantic to Montréal.
March 29: Amtrak PR spin example: The westbound Empire Builder is terminated in Devils Lake, North Dakota after both Siemens Charger locomotives failed and were not able to provide power (and heat) to the train. Instead of the train continuing after the problem was rectified, Amtrak chose to put most of the 90 passengers in a hotel for the night and take them to their destinations on the next day’s train. According to Marc Magliari, senior public relations manager at Amtrak, the train experienced mechanical issues with its locomotives that have since been resolved. He said although the train was physically able to travel after repairs were made, the most prudent course of action due to cold weather was to delay travel until Thursday morning. "We were able to continue on with all systems back on line, but we thought it best given the weather conditions to stay put," said Magliari. "I'm told the record cold temperature in Devils Lake this time of year is minus-13, and this morning was minus-8, so it's certainly severe weather conditions." Devils Lake weather reality check: This occurred at the end of March. The record low temperature in March in Devils Lake is actually -33F, and the record low in April -24F. Magliari doesn’t state who “told” him this, but obviously, he did not bother to verify and chose to misspeak. The average low in Devils Lake in January is -2.5F, so it’s unlikely locals in Devils Lake consider -8F anything but commonplace. (And this same Superliner equipment was used – without annulling service – on the Empire Builder through Havre, Montana on December 24, 1983 when the temperature at train time was -35F after an overnight low of -48F and a wind chill of -69F.
January: The Capitol Limited begins operating with as few as three cars: Coach, Cross-Country Café, and Sleeping car, the poster child for Amtrak’s equipment crisis. Exacerbating the situation is Canadian National’s requirement of at least seven Superliner cars each on the Illini, Saluki, and City of New Orleans (to fulfill a minimum axle count requirement to ensure activation of highway grade crossing warning devices), and the start of the Winter Park Express from Denver to Winter Park, which is, nonetheless, operating with half the seats it did in previous years (4 cars instead of 8). The second frequency between Chicago and Quincy suspended in November, 2022 due to lack of crews returned to service, but operated with as little as one coach (and a baggage car to fulfill BNSF’s requirement of a minimum of 12 axles).
Ongoing: Suspended in March 2020 when the international border was closed due to the pandemic, the New York-Montréal Adirondack has yet to return to service. Amtrak cites the need to familiarize crews with route, but the more-likely barrier to service is the track condition of the 43-mile CN Rouses Point subdivision between Southwark (St. Lambert, Québec), Cantic, and Rouses Point, NY. Of special concern is the 5.3 miles between Cantic and Rouses Point which sees little or no traffic and is restricted to 10 MPH. The segment between Cantic and Southwark was also the route of the Montréaler prior to its discontinuance in 1995 and would be the route of the Vermonter if extended to Montréal and would also require track work. The route between Rouses Point to Southwark is unsignaled.
Late December: Service interruptions and train annulments abound, primarily for trains in and out of the Chicago hub due to cold weather, staffing issues, and difficulty getting Amtrak’s new locomotives to function as intended.
Mid-November: Due to crew shortages, Amtrak as suspended one of two roundtrip trains between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois indefinitely.
October 14: The Silver Meteor, suspended since January is the last Amtrak long-distance train to be restored to daily operation. However, adding the train will not increase capacity significantly on the New York-Florida route. Reporting by Bob Johnston in TRAINS magazine noted that when the Silver Star was the lone New York-Florida train (since January), it was operating with 5 sleeping cars and 4 or 5 coaches, but with the return of the Silver Meteor, both trains will be assigned three sleeping cars. In fact, most long-distance trains are running with fewer cars than pre-pandemic. The Empire Builder, for instance, is operating at 50% capacity on its Seattle section with only one coach and one sleeping car.
Despite a Congressional mandate that daily service be restored earlier, the Crescent and City of New Orleans (reduced to five-days-per-week in January) do not return to daily operation until October 7.
July 29: The route of the Ethan Allen Express (sponsored the State of Vermont) was extended 70 miles to originate/terminate in Burlington instead of Rutland. The route extension was part of a 30-year vision by the state to return intercity rail passenger service to “The Queen City” on a route that hadn’t seen a regular passenger train in 69 years.
July 11: Amtrak adds 40 minutes the schedule of the eastbound Empire Builder to accommodate that the standard 9-car train needs nearly an hour for inspection and servicing in Minot, North Dakota rather than the 20 minutes which was the case pre-Covid with 11 cars. Prior to the lengthening of the schedule, the eastbound Empire Builder held the distinction of being the only Amtrak long-distance train on a schedule faster than the pre-Amtrak counterpart schedule in effect on April 30, 1971. The lengthened schedule and its arrival in Chicago 50 minutes later prompted Amtrak to sever guaranteed connections with the Illinois Zephyr, the last Wolverine Service train of the day, and the Cardinal.
May 23: Amtrak restores the Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, and Empire Builder to daily operation (reduced to five-days-per-week in January).
March 28: Amtrak restores the Capitol Limited, Coast Starlight and Texas Eagle to daily operation (reduced to five-days-per-week in January).
January: Citing “staffing challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the highly active Omicron variant,” Amtrak began running most long-distance trains only five days per week. Exceptions were: The Sunset Limited and Cardinal, which retained their tri-weekly schedule; Auto Train, the Palmetto and the Silver Star which remain daily; The Silver Meteor was canceled altogether. The Silver Star continued to operate via Raleigh, Columbia, and Tampa; The Palmetto continued to operate via Charleston, SC. Other than Auto Train, the Silver Star was the only Amtrak service south of Savannah.
November 18: Following installation of PTC and easing of Covid restrictions, Amtrak trains between Seattle and Portland begin regularly using the Point Defiance Bypass from Tacoma to Nisqually (previously delayed by the Amtrak 501 derailment on December 18, 2017 and Covid).
Covid-cut service restorations: The Coast Starlight, Capitol Limited, Texas Eagle return to daily operation March 28; the Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, California Zephyr and Empire Builder return to daily operation in May. The Crescent, City of New Orleans, Silver Meteor and Silver Star return to daily operation June 7.
September: Amtrak suspends package express service.
As deaths and infections rise as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Amtrak begins practicing social distancing on its trains, as well as eliminating freshly-prepared meals in dining cars on Western Superliner trains. As the year progresses, frequencies of most trains or corridors are reduced. Reinstatement of service as the pandemic eases in 2021 and 2022 is not uniform.
Most long-distance trains (except the Cardinal and Sunset Limited already tri-weekly) are reduced to tri-weekly in October 2020. Exceptions are the Silver Star (tri-weekly) and Silver Meteor (four times weekly) beginning in July. Auto Train continues to operate daily.
October 1: “Contemporary Dining” is inflicted upon passengers on the Silver Meteor, Cardinal, City of New Orleans and Crescent.
September: Amtrak retires its last dome car, the ex-Empire Builder “Ocean View.” This, along with the removal of Pacific Parlour cars on the Coast Starlight shows resistance on the part of Amtrak management to offer any kind of equipment other than the generic.
September: “Contemporary Dining” (as in meals not freshly prepared onboard) comes to the Texas Eagle.
June 1: “Contemporary Dining” (as in meals not freshly prepared onboard) comes to the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.
February 4-5: Amtrak removes Pacific Parlour Cars from service on the Coast Starlight, ending lounge space for first-class passengers.
December 18: On its first trip over the new “Point Defiance Bypass” route (the Lakewood subdivision) between Tacoma and Nisqually, an Amtrak “Series 6” Talgo train derailed on a 30 MPH curve at 78 MPH. The derailment destroyed the trainset and squashed the plan to add two more daily Amtrak Cascades round trips between Seattle and Portland and resulted in the State of Washington (primary sponsor of Amtrak Cascades service) to remove all “Series 6” Talgotrains from service. Following installation of PTC and easing of Covid restrictions, Amtrak trains between Seattle and Portland began using the Point Defiance Bypass regularly on November 18, 2021, but Amtrak’s chronic equipment shortage has not allowed for replacement of the scrapped Talgotrains, and therefore the two additional frequencies that were to accompany service on the Point Defiance Bypass have yet to materialize. The NTSB report on the accident stated: “The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Amtrak 501 derailment was Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority's failure to provide an effective mitigation for the hazardous curve without positive train control in place, which allowed the Amtrak engineer to enter the 30-mph curve at too high of a speed due to his inadequate training on the territory and inadequate training on the newer equipment. Contributing to the accident was the Washington State Department of Transportation's decision to start revenue service without being assured that safety certification and verification had been completed to the level determined in the preliminary hazard assessment. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration's decision to permit railcars that did not meet regulatory strength requirements to be used in revenue passenger service, resulting in (1) the loss of survivable space and (2) the failed articulated railcar-to-railcar connections that enabled secondary collisions with the surrounding environment causing severe damage to railcar-body structures which then failed to provide occupant protection resulting in passenger ejections, injuries, and fatalities.”
October 31: Northeast Regional Service (one train daily each way) is extended to Roanoke, Virginia (from Washington, DC and Lynchburg). The service is sponsored by the state of Virginia. It’s the first rail passenger service at Roanoke since October 1, 1979 when the Hilltopper was discontinued. Amtrak begins destaffing large numbers of stations throughout the system. On the Empire Builder route alone in 2017, these stations became unmanned: Columbus, Wisconsin (the stop for the Madison metro area of nearly 700,000 people), Winona, Minnesota (the stop for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and home to two universities), and Grand Forks, North Dakota (home of University of North Dakota where 29% of the student body is from Minnesota where a reciprocal tuition agreement is in place). Also, along this same routes, Glenview, Illinois and Wolf Point, Montana were destaffed in 2015. Havre and Shelby in Montana were destaffed in 2018 along with others nationwide such as Charleston, WV and Cincinnati. These stations were ordered restaffed (and funding was provided), but complete reinstatement rarely occurred as though checked baggage is available, no ticket sales are performed, discriminating against those without access to the Internet or banking.
Amtrak removes the dining car on the Silver Star during the summer season as an “experiment” citing delayed delivery of new Viewliner dining cars. The “experiment” was made permanent in 2016.
December 29: It took over 27 years, but the 50 miles of former Boston and Maine trackage (and pre-1987 route of the Montréaler) from East Northfield, MA to Springfield, MA was finally upgraded for passenger train operations, courtesy of the State of Massachusetts. The St. Albans-Washington, DC Vermonter began using the route which added stops in Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke (and eliminated the stop in Amherst, MA, home of U Mass). While the routing via Greenfield requires trains to back out of the station at Springfield, it’s 11 miles shorter and eliminates the need to reverse direction (and change operating freight railroads) at Palmer, Massachusetts. The upgraded track is a cooperative effort by the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut to extend and improve the “Knowledge Corridor” between New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield.
December 12: For the first time since 1977 and the discontinuance of the Amtrak Mountaineer, Amtrak service returned to Norfolk, Virginia as an extension of Northeast Regional service from Richmond, and is sponsored by the state of Virginia.
The Empire Builder route in North Dakota was threatened when heavy precipitation in the area caused Devils Lake (with no regular outlet) to quadruple in size. The water level rose significantly and was likely to inundate the railroad east of Churchs Ferry. BNSF completely rebuilt the railroad between Surrey (Minot) and Fargo via Devils Lake and Grand Forks, installing CTC, new ties and rail AND building two new bridges over the rising lake, raising the track level to several feet higher than the lake could ever be, or above 1,458 feet above sea level. (The maximum height of the water was 1,454.3 feet in 2011; if the water rose to 1,458 feet, it would naturally spill over into Tolna Coulee and the Sheyenne/Red River/Hudson Bay drainage.) The first Empire Builder over the new bridges operated on November 7, 2012.
November 1: Two Downeaster trains are extended to originate/terminate at Brunswick, Maine instead of Portland.
In FY2012, Amtrak reports 54,324 patrons used the Williston, North Dakota station along the Empire Builder as testimony to the utility of passenger trains in a rural area without much alternate public transportation. Sparked by the Bakken Oil Boom, ridership at Williston was higher than much larger cities such as Omaha, Lincoln(NE), Topeka, Salt Lake City, Dallas and Austin.
October: Northeast Regional Service (one train daily each way) is extended to Lynchburg, Virginia (from Washington, DC), supplementing service already provided by the Crescent. The service is sponsored by the state of Virginia.
Due to equipment and amenities enhancements initiated in 2005, ridership on the Empire Builder was 554,266, half-again as many riders as the ridership on Amtrak’s second-most-ridden long-distance train, the Silver Star. But rather than building on the success of the Empire Builder with its other long-distance trains, Amtrak gradually discontinued the amenities which made the train unique. However, the train exceeded ridership of 500,000 in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013 largely due to increased ridership to and from North Dakota destinations during the Bakken Oil Boom, in an area with limited transportation alternatives. The obvious conclusion is that better equipment and additional amenities actually brings long-distance trains closer to covering their direct costs (and that’s accepting Amtrak’s opaque accounting methods). When onboard services and on-time performance deteriorates, ridership drops significantly.
August 28: Amtrak cut back the Sunset Limited to operate Los Angeles-San Antonio only (to facilitate the Texas Eagle connection) due to the expected and actual damage from Hurricane Katrina. CSX experienced significant damage between New Orleans and Pensacola. The Sunset Limited was restored between Los Angeles and New Orleans in November, but service east of New Orleans has never returned.
August: Amtrak refurbishes (not just “refreshes”) the equipment used on the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder. Improved onboard amenities include enhanced offerings in the dining car, at-seat meal service for coach passengers, wine and cheese tastings for first class passengers, and expanded Rails and Trails guides.
Amtrak discontinued the Pittsburgh-Chicago potion of the New York-Chicago Three Rivers on March 7 because Amtrak was phasing out its mail and express business. The train continued east of Pittsburgh as the Pennsylvanian.
March 8: Due to chronic delays – mostly on Union Pacific – the schedule of the Sunset Limited was lengthened significantly – as in 8 hours for the eastbound train, which included 6.5 hours of dwell in New Orleans. (The average speed from Los Angeles to Orlando was less than 37 MPH. The westbound schedule was only lengthened by 3.5 hours, but in doing so broke the connection with the northbound Coast Starlight in Los Angeles. Some of the eastbound padding was cut in May of 2012, but the train remains much slower today than in 2004 and before.
In November, the Palmetto – the only train serving Tampa - is discontinued south of Savannah, GA becoming a New York-Savannah train. The New York-Orlando-Miami Silver Star’s routing is changed to make a side trip to Tampa from Auburndale.
In anticipation of discontinuing the train when mail was no longer handled, Amtrak removed sleeping cars from the New York-Chicago Three Rivers on November 1.
June 11: Amtrak celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Empire Builder (the second-longest continuously-operated passenger train in the United States). Amtrak president David Gunn rode the train from Chicago to Whitefish, and assigned locomotives 7(the train number of the Amtrak westbound Empire Builder) and 31(the train number for most of the streamlined era as a Great Northern train) as well as ex-Empire Builder full-length dome car “Ocean View”, Amtrak’s last remaining dome car. Due to deferred equipment maintenance and harsh winter conditions (page 32 “Amtrak in the Heartland”), Amtrak took 18 of its 48 Viewliner sleeping cars out of service. Amtrak removed the Boston sleeping car off the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited. Through car service to/from Boston was reinstated May 7, but again suspended on November 1 in favor of a connection to a Rensselaer-Boston train.
When the Bush administration suggested that states needed to begin funding long-distance trains, Montana commissioned a study of the economic benefit of the Empire Builder to the state, finding the train contributed $13.75 million economic benefit annually.
Amtrak cut back the Pennsylvanian to its original New York-Pittsburgh segment on January 27 after having been extended to Chicago in November 1998 to accommodate additional mail and express traffic. Amtrak announced it was phasing out mail and express in 2002, and Pennsylvanian ridership suffered east of Pittsburgh as the schedule favored mail contracts and not passenger demand.
Close on the heels of the 1995 purchase of ATSF by BN, BNSF advised Amtrak in 1996 that it was evaluating routes with little or no traffic for downgrading or abandonment, and that the Southwest Chief route between La Junta and Albuquerque was one such route. By 2002, the last remaining freight customer route, the York Canyon coal mine had closed (in 2001), and BNSF had upgraded its ex-ATSF line from La Junta to Amarillo via Boise City, Oklahoma to allow directional running (with the former BN route via Clayton, New Mexico) between Pueblo, Colorado and Amarillo. This combination of events, along with the grades of 3% or more over Raton and Glorieta Passes guaranteed the route would never be needed for freight traffic, and BNSF discussed moving the Southwest Chief to the Amarillo route with its lesser grades, faster running time and greater online population. Communities which would lose service balked at the proposed reroute, and over the course of the next 20 years (and beyond), the affected states and Amtrak would pay to maintain the existing route for the time being. In April, the Silver Palm loses its dining car and sleeping cars and becomes a coach-only train with “enhanced” business class. The train is renamed the Palmetto.
December 15: The Downeaster, sponsored by the State of Maine, begins service between Boston’s North Station and Portland, Maine, capping 9 years of visionary funding for infrastructure improvements and negotiations with the host railroad (Guilford Transportation) which raised repeated barriers to launch the service earlier. Amtrak’s Heritage sleeping cars with “direct dump” toilets were retired in October after the FRA waiver allowing their operation had expired.
September 2: A second Amtrak Cascades train begins operating between Seattle and Bellingham; in October 2009 the train was extended to Vancouver, BC providing two roundtrips daily between Seattle and Vancouver (with one continuing to/from south of Seattle). As such, 14 of 17 weekly departures from Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station are Amtrak Cascades trains.
June 15: The Heartland Flyer began service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, funded by the state of Oklahoma. It’s the first Amtrak service to Oklahoma since 1979.
State-supported trains in the Vancouver, BC-Eugene, Oregon corridor are rebranded as Amtrak Cascades. The Texas Eagle began operating four days per week (instead of three) on February 6 to accommodate express shipments. On the “additional day”, the train operated from San Antonio to Los Angeles independent of the Sunset Limited. The Texas Eagle reverted to tri-weekly on February 28, 2001.
October 26: The Sunset Limited is “extended” to originate/terminate in Orlando instead of Sanford (with the equipment deadheading between Orlando and Sanford for servicing).
May 11: The California Zephyr returned to daily operation west of Salt Lake City following the discontinuance of the Desert Wind between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
May 11: The Empire Builder returned to daily operation Chicago to Seattle/Portland with (according to Amtrak) equipment from the Pioneer, which was discontinued at the same time. The front page of the Great Falls Tribune the following day featured a photo of the Empire Builder in Havre with the headline, “Happy on the Hi-Line.”
May 11: The City of New Orleans resumed daily service (instead of six-day-per-week).
May 11: The Pioneer (operating tri-weekly since 1994) was discontinued due to the ongoing Amtrak equipment and funding crises. States were unwilling to fund the train, and Amtrak said the equipment would be used to return the Empire Builder to a daily operation.
May 11: The Desert Wind (operating tri-weekly since 1995) was discontinued due to the ongoing Amtrak equipment and funding crises. Amtrak said the equipment would be used to return the California Zephyr (west of Salt Lake City) to a daily operation.
Amtrak had planned to discontinue the Texas Eagle on May 11, but a last-minute loan from the state of Texas saved the train. The loan was repaid (supposedly) by increased express revenues.
Through coaches begin operating between New York and Chicago via a connection between the Three Rivers and Capitol Limited at Pittsburgh.
December 2: The Ethan Allen Express (sponsored by the state of Vermont) began service between New York City and Rutland, Vermont – as an extension of an Empire Service train. It was the first regularly-scheduled rail passenger service to Rutland since 1953, and the first regularly-scheduled rail passenger service between Rutland and Whitehall, New York since 1934.
November 11: Daily service on the Crescent is restored between Atlanta and New Orleans.
November 10: The Three Rivers is extended to Chicago via Willard and Defiance, OH due to increasing head-end traffic.
November 10: To save costs, Amtrak discontinued the Sunset Limited between Sanford, Florida and Miami. This was to take advantage of the existence of the Auto Train mechanical facility at Sanford, but it required passengers to/from Orlando to ride the Silver Meteor or Silver Star. The Sunset Limited was “extended” to originate/terminate at Orlando instead of Sanford on October 26, 1997.
In the fall, a third New York-Florida train is added (following the early 1995 discontinuance of the Palmetto) named the Silver Palm. The Silver Palm is a New York-Miami train via Charleston, SC, Wildwood, FL, and Tampa.
August 1: Following Burlington Northern’s purchase of the Santa Fe, BNSF built a connection between the ex-BN and ex-ATSF main lines west of Galesburg, Illinois at Cameron. As a result, Amtrak rerouted the Southwest Chief on the ex-BN route between Chicago and Cameron, eliminating station stops at Joliet, Streator, Chillicothe, and Galesburg (North Broad Street). The new route was 15 miles shorter, over 30 minutes faster and eliminated a segment of track near Corwith Yard where the Southwest Chief was the only tenant.
June 2: About to be purchased by Union Pacific, Southern Pacific advised Amtrak that the 136 miles of track used by the Sunset Limited between Phoenix and Wellton, Arizona would be discontinued as a through route, and in order for the Sunset Limited to keep serving Phoenix Amtrak would need to assume track maintenance. (From a SP/UP perspective, a routing from Phoenix to Wellton via Picacho – the route to be kept in service to serve Phoenix – was 107 miles longer, but with the vast majority of freight traffic in and out of Phoenix being to/from the east, and with relatively little between Phoenix and California, the move was logical.) With no funding source to maintain the status quo, Amtrak routed the Sunset Limited on the UP freight route via the community of Maricopa, and established its Phoenix metro stop there. At the time, Phoenix was the 9th-largest city in the United States. In 2023, it’s number 5, with the metro area as number 10.
October 9: Saboteurs cause the derailment of the westbound Sunset Limited at Hyder, Arizona.
September 10: The City of New Orleans is rerouted between Memphis and Jackson, MS via Greenwood instead of Grenada. The line via Greenwood and Yazoo City has fewer grades and direct access (for freight trains) to Illinois Central’s main freight yard in Memphis.
September: The Cardinal’s eastern terminus is changed from New York to Washington causing ridership to plummet. Ridership rose once again upon extending the train to New York in October, 2003.
September 10: The Chicago-New York Broadway Limited is discontinued due to the perpetual budget crunch after 83 years of continuous operation. A New York-Pittsburgh coach only (and mail) train, the Three Rivers, was added at the same time.
September 10: The Houston-Dallas segment of the tri-weekly Texas Eagle was discontinued, replaced by a Thruway Bus between Houston and Longview.
June 11: Due to the perpetual budget crunch, the City of New Orleans starting running only 5 days per week. A sixth day of operation was added back on April 17, 1996.
June 11: The California Zephyr/Desert Wind operate daily Chicago-Salt Lake City, with the California Zephyr continuing to Oakland four days per week, and the Desert Wind continuing to Los Angeles the other three days per week.
May 26: The Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont began service, operating opposite the Carolinian.
May 24: The Mount Baker International begins service between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
April 2: The Crescent begins operating tri-weekly south/west of Atlanta.
April 1: In the face of a $200 million shortage of working capital, the Montreal-Washington Montréaler is discontinued. Contributing to the demise of the train was increased terminal fees at Central Station in Montréal, the lack of intervention (or a sense of urgency) by the province of Québec, and its circuitous route between New Haven, CT and Brattleboro, VT to avoid deteriorated track conditions between Brattleboro and Springfield, MA. (The route – via Willimantic and New London, CT - was 37% or 46 miles longer than the direct route the Montréaler used unit 1987, which also served Springfield and Hartford directly.) The replacement Washington, DC-St. Albans Vermonter (financed by the state of Vermont) was launched the following day with push-pull equipment which allowed the train to again serve Hartford and Springfield directly, but required a change of direction between CSX and Central Vermont in Palmer, Massachusetts. The sachet at Palmer was still time-consuming, but not as much as the much-longer, slower route via New London.
April 1: The Mobile-Birmingham Gulf Breeze is discontinued.
February 1: In the face of a $200 million shortage of working capital, New York-Tampa Palmetto is discontinued.
February 1: Despite being Amtrak’s most-ridden long-distance train in 1994, the Empire Builder begins operating four days per week west of St. Paul (to create one daily train between Chicago and Seattle with the already tri-weekly Pioneer operating on the other three days). Amtrak trucked mail west of St. Paul on the days the Empire Builder didn’t operate.
Above: Amtrak “State of Decay” timeline present day through 1995.