Early Amtrak Power & Trains

Somebody's Large Digital Image Here

Amtrak E8A #4316 in February 1972 (Photographer and location unknown / R.Craig collection)

Created on 1 May 1971, Amtrak's search for reliable and suitable locomotives and passenger equipment was an everyday challenge. The initial Amtrak roster consisted of 286 locomotives; it excluded scores of old locomotives Amtrak also had leased from several of the host railroads. For example, Santa Fe provided 74 F-units; Burlington Northern, Penn Central and Southern Pacific also added surplus units to Amtrak's power pool.

The new company had to wait 19 months before placing its first order for new locomotives; the November 1972 purchase was for 40 SDP40Fs from Electro-Motive Divison at a cost of $450,000 per unit. The new six-axle 3000-hp locomotives began arriving in June 1973. The average cost was more than 20 times higher than it had paid at start-up for aging E-Units, F-Units and GG-1s. Given the old equipments' constant breakdowns and low reliability, the deal was no bargain. Additionally, the old units were a point of constant frustration and cause of late running trains.

It is remarkable that Amtrak was able to endure, considering the many substantial obstacles confronted. The following scenes depict various Amtrak locomotives in long-distance passenger service during those early years (1971 to 1973). Enjoy.

* * * Photo Gallery * * *
Amtrak Day (Minus One)

It is April 30, 1971 and four E-units stand ready at the Ivy City engine Terminal in Washinton DC. All of the E's except for the Southern will become Amtrak property the next morning.

Amtrak's Wolverine

Amtrak E8A #4316 (ex-Penn Central #4316) while wearing a one-of-a-kind paint scheme leads the afternoon Wolverine outside Porter, Indiana on 25 June 1971. (Photographer unknown / R. Craig collection)

The Chief

Amtrak's eastbound Chief #19 departs Galesburg, Illinois on 2 June 1972. In classic A-B-B-A formation, the string of 300 Class war-bonnet Fs had been leased to Amtrak by Santa Fe. During the summer of 1972 Amtrak revived the Chicago-Los Angeles Chief trains #19/20 for three months.

The Texas Chief

ATSF F7 310C on the point of Amtrak’s Texas Chief #16, is ready for its 12:20pm departure for Temple, Ft. Worth, and Chicago from Union Station in Houston, TX on February 3, 1973 . (Ralph Back photo)

The Empire Builder

BN F7 9736 leads an A-B-A set of GN Big Sky Blue F-units on Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder #8 by Dayton's Bluff in St. Paul, MN on January 6, 1974. (Ralph Back photo)

The Denver Zephyr

Ex-Burlington Northern #9965 and two other UP E-units roar through Downers Grove, Il1inois on 1 June 1972 with the abbreviated version of the San Francisco Zephyr. (R. Craig photo)

The James Whitcomb Riley

On 14 April 1973, two B&O E8s, a B&O GP7 and four cars charge uphill at Copeland, VA. E8s and last three cars break-off for Washington, D.C. The lone geep and dome aim for Newport News. (Stanley Short photo)

The City of San Francisco

Amtrak's "City of Everywhere" races westward and is about to cross the Mississippi River on Memorial Day weekend in 1972. A combo of ex-Burlington and ex-UP units are in full charge.

The Illini

Amtrak avoided purchasing any E-units other than E8/9s. However, this June 1973 photo shows leased GM&O E7A #103A on the point of the morning train leaving Chicago. (Bill Raia photo)

The Panama Ltd. Power

The date is 1 June 1972, and the power for Amtrak's Panama Limited slowly backs in to the train shed at Chicago's Union Station. Ex-Illinois Central units remained a common sight on the New Orleans train.

The Lake Shore

A late-running Lake Shore Limited, slams passed the old passenger station in Rome, New York with E8A #278 (ex-Penn Central / nee NYC #4061) up front on 1 April 1975. (Dave Hamilton photo)

The Silver Meteor

Ex-Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac E8A #1011 and a sister unit race pass the Doswell, Virginia station with Southbound Meteor on 1 November 1971 (Marty Bernard photo)

The Silver Star

Southbound Amtrak No. 81 glides to a stop at Petersburg station in Ettrick, VA on 26 February 1972 with former SCL E8A No. 582 and leased E7As No's. 570 and 546. (Stanley Short photo)

The San Francisco Zephyr

Leased Southern Pacific FP7 #6454 and two stablemates growl uphill with Amtrak #6, the eastbound Zephyr; the train is approaching West Norden on a December day in 1971. (Drew Jacksich photo.)

The Sunset Limited

SP FP7s 6450 and 6455 lead two leased UP E-units on Amtrak #2 the eastbound Sunset Limited arriving at the SP Station in Houston, TX on January 25, 1972 close to its scheduled 12:00 Noon arrival time. (Ralph Back photo)

The Sunset Limited

UP E9 947 leads an A-B-A set of leased UP E-units departing from SP's Houston station in Houston, TX on October 31, 1971 with Amtrak’s eastbound Sunset Limited #2. (Ralph Back photo)

The Sunset Limited

Leased UP E8 929 and UP E9 904, and AMTK E9B 454 (ex-UP 912B) lead eastbound Amtrak #2 Sunset Limited as it departs the SP Station in Houston, TX on November 26, 1972. (Ralph Back photo)

The Markers

This trip down memory lane closes with a photo of private business car Pointe Ste. Charles carrying the markers on Amtrak train #28, the Portland section of the eastbound Empire Builder, which has stopped in Spokane. (Patrick Weeden photo)

Reference Sources
  • Journey to Amtrak by Harold A. Edmonson
  • Zephyrs, Chiefs and Other Orphans by Fred W.Frailey
Notes & Credits
  • Formatted by: R. Craig -- 1 November 2021
  • Updated by by Ralph Back -- 27 November 2021

Back to Main Menu

Back to Remember When