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Sinkhole Success ???? 37 Years of Amtrak in Memphis: Not as boring as it first appears Amtrak Memphis Timeline

Memphis Chapter Officers President – David Chase

Vice President – Bruce Smedley National Director – Bill Strong

Secretary – Oliver Doughtie

Treasurer – Thomas Doherty

Librarian – Mike Pendergrass Publication Editor – Tom Parker

Last Month’s Meeting Bill Strong reported on the (non)progress in getting the City to move on the Central Station Sinkhole. Several upcoming historical society meetings were announced notably the Illinois Central Historical Society ( at Paducah KY, August 22,23 & 24, (info at, Louisville and Nashville Historical Society ( at Etowah, TN, Sept. 18 through 21, (info at and the GM&O Historical Society ( at Union City, TN ,Oct 11th. (Info at City Railfest 2008.htm) Our program was the video “Illinois Central Steam Finale”. The video featured Illinois Central steam power running in the 1950's in Illinois and Kentucky as steam was winding down.

This Month's Meeting This month's program will be “Modern Coal-burning Steam Locomotives”, a Norfolk and Western promotional film. Bruce Smedley and Mike Pendergrass will talk about steam locomotives of the Pocahontas Roads (N&W, C&O & VGN). CORRECTION: The article last month “24 Hour Amtrak Trip” incorrectly credited the Dubuque Times Herald. The paper's correct name is the Dubuque Telegtaph Herald ( BUFF ONLINE: User Name:Member Password: Buff

(Capital “M” & “B”)

Cover Photo: GN 181 on display at Whitefish, MT. One of only 7 NW-3 switch engines ever built, all built for the Great Northern. Built in March of 1942 as GN 5406 and renumbered 181 in 1943, it was sold to the Anaconda Company in 1965 and renumbered 900. It was later acquired by the Stumptown Historical Society and restored to its original colors. The Society also owns the Whitefish Station, which houses their Museum as well as Amtrak facilities. The station was built in 1927 by the Great Northern. Tom Parker Photo

Sinkhole Success?? An Editorial

The Sinkhole on July 20,2008 (T.Parker photo)

After more than two months, the City of Memphis announced on July 9th that an agreement between the City and the Canadian National Railroad had been reached and that repairs could begin. City Attorney Elbert Jefferson promised the City would move with “deliberate speed to get dirt moving and things happening”. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari was quoted as saying, ”If there is substantial progress by the end of this month, we anticipate resuming service at Central Station by sometime in August.” Predictably, August was an overly optimistic estimate for Amtrak's return to the station. Still at issue was responsibili-

ty for moving a fiber-optic cable that runs through the construction site. An easement for the cable was granted to Sprint Communications by the Illinois Central Railroad years ago. Sprint-Nextel contention was that of either the Canadian National Railroad or the City of Memphis was responsible for relocation of the cable. At the July 14th NRHS meeting, Bill Strong reported that contrary to assurances from the City, the agreements, especially one with NextelSprint, had not been finalized and that discussions were “on going”. On July 23rd, it was reported that Sprint would begin moving their cable August 6th and it will take 4 days. (Pete Avioti of the Mayor's Office to Bill Strong) Actual repair of the sinkhole will begin after the cable is relocated and the repair will take about “two months”(Commerical Appeal 7/24). Only then will the Canadian National be able to relay their track. Assuming that the above time frame is accurate, service at Central Station will have been interrupted for about six months. Using Amtrak's estimate of expenses of from $4000 to $5000 per day due to the sinkhole, Amtrak will be out between three quarters and a million dollars in

additional costs. Regardless of the eventual outcome, Bill Strong is to be commended for shining a spotlight on the sinkhole problem. His diligence has resulted in the story being covered by every TV station in Memphis, numerous articles in the Commercial Appeal and motivated friends of Amtrak to write letters to the editor and to contact both the mayors office and their City Councilmen. Hopefully no matter how long it takes to get the trains back on track, Bill's efforts will have hastened the proccess and saved Amtrak thousands of dollars. -Tom Parker

The culprit is marked by orange flags and paint, Sprint-Nextel's undeground fiber-optic cable. (T. Parker photo)

37 Years of Amtrak in Memphis: Not as boring as it first appears By David Johnston

Southbound train no.59, the City of New Orleans rolls past the Pyramid in downtown Memphis, Tennessee at 6:00am on July 22, 1995. (D. Johnston photo)

Amtrak has been in the news a lot lately, both locally and nationally, so this might be a good time to review some history of our national passenger railroad. After all, this past May 1st was Amtrak’s 37th birthday, and that’s enough time to accumulate some history. Some wellknown “fallen flag” railroad companies didn’t survive nearly that long. Nowadays, Amtrak train service is now fully accepted as an alternate method of travel. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone under 55 years old who could remember a time when railroad companies operated their own passenger trains. The fact that Amtrak

has survived this long is something of a miracle, considering its financial structure. A Brief historical summary Creation of Amtrak

Thirty seven years ago, on May 1st, 1971 the majority of passenger rail service in the United States was effectively nationalized. This was accomplished via a transfer of passenger train ownership and operations from the freight railroads to a new corporation (Amtrak) established by the U.S. Congress to “save” rail passenger service in the United States. Urgent action was needed because passenger trains had become a serious financial burden to the freight railroad companies, nearly threatening the survival of the U.S. railroad industry. Railroad passenger service in the United States was rapidly disappearing due to train cancellations and service reductions. Interstate

Amtrak's #59 "Panama Limited", 10 hours late, December 22, 1973 (D. Johnston photo)

highways and commercial aviation (both modes heavily supported by public funding) had become the most convenient mode of intercity travel. The idea of subsidizing passenger trains was an attempt to level the playing field among the various modes. The method chosen to do this (direct subsidies to the freight railroad companies, and later to a new operating company) has proven to be a very difficult way to fix a problem that many agree was caused by state & federal government actions in the first place.

The northbound City of New Orleans clumps over Broadway crossing on a cloudy day in September, 1971, some five months after the Amtrak takeover. You’d never know there had been a change of operators because the consist was all-IC on that day. (D. Johmston photo)

Why? The subsidy method lends itself to political bickering & manipulation. Annual budget battles in Congress have become routine. Several times over the years Amtrak has become the target of budget-cutting politicians (Presidents Carter, Reagan, and G.W. Bush have each proposed drastic reductions to Amtrak funding, some cases being deliberate shutdown attempts.) This business model ( subsidizing ongoing operations) was the easiest way to get things started in 1971, but has proven to be a bad way to spend public money on a transportation system. In the near future, we could

- Later that same month mixed train consists began to appear. This is the northbound Amtrak City of New Orleans pulling into Memphis Central Station with a mix of former L&N, UP and IC cars in the train, including a heavyweight IC office car on the rear. (D. Johnston photos)

see a shift to something completely different, similar to the way aviation and highways are funded, where public money is spent for infrastructure: (track & right-of-way, stations, signaling, dispatching centers), and private companies own the trains and rent track time and run the service. (Recent studies have called for this.) Back to 1970: The freight railroad companies had been losing tons of money on their passenger operations since the end of World War II, and in 1970 something new was clearly needed. A brief summarization of the “deal” offered to the railroad companies by the 1971 Amtrak law was this: “In return for stock in Amtrak, give us (Amtrak) your equipment ( passenger cars, locomotives, and related supplies) and access to your tracks & support facilities, and we (Amtrak) will operate the service and assume financial responsibility for it.” Other parts of the law provided that Amtrak would pay a small access fee for track usage, and that Amtrak would

In November 1971 Amtrak rescheduled its Chicago-New Orleans long distance service as an overnight run offering both coach and sleeping car accommodations. Concurrent with the scheduling change the train’s name was also changed to Panama Limited, resurrecting another famous old Illinois Central nameplate. The Amtrak Panama carried coaches and sleepers and bore very little resemblance to the all-first-class, all-Pullman IC Panama Limited. The change to an overnight schedule assured that train times at Memphis would be during the middle of the night, for both directions, very inconvenient for Memphis passengers. (D. Johnston photo)

Locomotive failures were a common problem for Amtrak in the early 1970s. Sometimes ICG would attach a freight unit to the struggling Amtrak power consist at Central Station. The idea was to “keep ‘em rolling”, even if the freight hogs weren’t geared for passenger train speeds, this was better than a broken-down, stalled passenger train blocking the mainline. In this August, 1974 scene an ICG GP40 leads the southbound City of New Orleans at Belz Ave. (about a half mile north of East Junction) (D. Johnston photo)

be the sole monopoly provider of intercity passenger rail service in the United States. Three holdout companies (Southern, Rock Island, and D&RGW) refused to participate and continued operating their own passenger trains. None of these holdout services affected Memphis. In May, 1971 most observers agreed there was very little “saving� (of passenger trains) taking place. It was the freight railroad industry being saved, or liberated from, the worst of the passenger related losses it desperately wanted to get away from. Despite its flaws, Amtrak did indeed save intercity passenger train service in the United States. Eventually new equipment was designed and constructed, both locomotives and cars, allowing retirement of the worn-out stock inherited from the railroads at startup. And new types of high-speed services were introduced in the Northeastern U.S. Amtrak in Memphis The immediate effect of the Amtrak startup was a huge reduction in passenger train service across the United

These views are from the south end of the platform, facing north, train stopped. Lots of workers standing around, apparently a big problem with the steam generator in the lead unit. Switch engines pulling a transfer freight through the station (left track) were used to set out the lead Amtrak E-unit on the adjacent station track. Middle unit (still in IC colors) is set up to be leading unit. The second unit of the 3-unit consist was former IC E8A #4020, still in IC colors. After removing the lead diesel unit, this IC-painted unit became the lead unit on the train.

States. Here in Memphis, Illinois Central was the only service provider at the May 1, 1971 startup date. The former IC schedule was reduced from six trains per 24-hour period to two, a 67% reduction: Eliminated: trains nos. 5 & 6, the Panama Limited, IC’s premier overnight Chicago-New Orleans train, (southbound & northbound). Nos. 3 & 4,the Mid-American, a local-stops, Chicago-Memphis coach-only train (both directions). Remaining: Nos. 1 & 2 (renumbered by Amtrak to 58 & 59) the City of New Orleans, Chicago-New Orleans (both directions), daytime schedule. Over the years, this train underwent several schedule changes, and name changes, but still remains as the only scheduled Amtrak run through Memphis. For the majority of its Amtrak operation this train has operated on an overnight schedule between its two endpoints, passing through Memphis between 11pm and 7am, both directions. This inconvenient schedule timing has helped to discourage Memphis traffic. Other Stuff: Not on the pub-

Three photos of the NBC TODAY SHOW Amtrak Special Train which stopped in Memphis during its nation-wide tour on May 21, 1985. Train was parked facing north on ICG’s downtown riverfront mainline, on the Beale Street bridge. By mid-morning the rain had stopped as the train departed northbound . The view from the bluff (from Confederate Park) shows the Mississippi River and downtown harbor in background. (D. Johnston photos)

-Central StationThe downtown station at the south end of Main Street has always been Amtrak’s only boarding point in the Memphis area. An eyesore in 1971, it was spruced up with a $23 million rehab in 1998.

The evening of December 29, 1982 found the” Liberty Bowl Limited” parked on the L-A Beltline, at Hollywood Street, while University of Illinois football fans watched their team play at the nearby stadium. This was a special train chartered by the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago to bring fans to the game. Normally Amtrak trains don’t traverse the Beltline tracks. Exceptions are specials like this, and detouring trains. A notable example was April of this year when a roadbed cave-in just south of Central Station forced Amtrak to re-route nos. 58 & 59 through Memphis via the Beltline route.

Central Station

(T. Parker photo)

lished timetable, but still appearing occasionally: -Special TrainsWith the Chicago-New Orleans route being so strategic for Amtrak, we’ve seen lots of specials and excursions passing through Memphis. Some Examples: Mardi Gras specials, Football specials, Private car charter trains, News Media specials.

It was still dark when I took this early morning view of southbound no.59 at Memphis Central Station Jan. 12, 1994. (D. Johnston photo)

A Timeline of Amtrak Changes at Memphis,TN May 1, 1971 Same as with IC - Train numbers 1 and 2, the daytime schedule, and the name, City of New Orleans, were retained on the first two timetables issued by Amtrak. November 14, 1971 The operating schedule is changed to an overnight run between the endpoints of Chicago and New Orleans, approximating the old IC Panama Limited schedule. Concurrent with this schedule change, the train was assigned numbers 59 (southbound) and 58 (northbound), and the train name was changed to Panama Limited. February 1, 1981 Train name is changed back to City of New Orleans, keeping the overnight schedule. April 29, 1984 A new train serving St. Louis and Kansas City, the River Cities, was added, as a connection to the City of New Orleans (at Centralia, IL). This made it possible to travel from Memphis directly to/from these destinations via Amtrak . Summer, 1992 The River Cities, was dropped from the schedule, and replaced by a bus. 1971 through 1991 Equipment: the City of New Orleans/ River Cities train consists had always been made up from Amtrak’s single-level equipment pool. The best of the original heritage fleet cars, mixed with newer Amfleet cars purchased in the 1970s & ‘80s. Spring, 1994 City of New Orleans was re-equipped with hi-level Superliner cars. September 10, 1995 City of New Orleans was re-routed off the traditional IC “passenger mainline” between Memphis and Jackson, Mississippi, the Grenada District main via Grenada and Canton, MS, onto the “freight mainline” via Greenwood and Yazoo City. Autumn, 1995 Southbound train no.59 canceled on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. October, 1996 Daily operations resumed, both directions.


Going away view shows office car #50 (Ex GM&O #50) on the rear of a super late Panama Limited on December 22, 1973. At this time, Amtrak cared about matched train consists & required host railroads to paint their office cars into the Amtrak color scheme. (D. Johnston photo) Meeting Schedule August 11,2008 September 8, 2008 October 13, 2008 November 10, 2008 December 8, 2008 Meetings are the 2nd Monday of each month in the White Station Branch Library from 7-9 pm. 5094 Poplar Avenue Memphis, TN (in front of Clark Tower)

Contact the Editor Tom Parker 3012 Wood Thrush Drive Memphis, TN 38134

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August 2008 Memphis Buff  

Amtrak Memphis Timeline Amtrak Memphis Timeline 37 Years of Amtrak in Memphis: 37 Years of Amtrak in Memphis: Not as boring as it first appe...