TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) When I took my first long-distance train trip Amtrak operated four routes between New York City and Chicago. All of them were filled with railroad history, and used to be served by famous trains.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited took 19-hours to get between New York and Chicago. It traveled north from New York to Albany, then headed west to Buffalo, Cleveland, and Chicago. This was the old main-line of the New York Central, and the former route of the Twentieth Century Limited, the most luxurious train in the nation. In the 1950s The Century made the trip 3-hours faster being pulled by steam engines than Amtrak does today.
The Broadway Limited was a name still used by Amtrak. Years ago it was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s flagship train, running between New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. The old Broadway Limited was an all-Pullman first-class train. Amtrak’s Broadway Limited carried coaches, sleeping cars, a diner, and was a shadow of what the real Broadway Limited used to be.
The Capital Limited was Amtrak’s train from Washington DC to Chicago. The same train and the same route was used by the old Baltimore & Ohio.
The Cardinal was the most unusual train Amtrak operated. It was intended as another DC to Chicago route, offering a late afternoon alternative departure for people who couldn’t take the Capital Limited in the morning. It ran 3-days a week, and made a sweeping circle down through western Maryland, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and then north through Cincinnati, Indiana, and Illinois. It was the most out-of-the way route to Chicago. It was also the longest, at 26-hours. It was the one I would ride.
The Cardinal started in New York City. Not because there were huge numbers of passengers for a 26-hour out-of-the-way train trip. It started in New York because the Cardinal’s unusual slumbercoach sleeping cars were serviced at New York’s Sunnyside Yard. That was also the crew base for the sleeping car attendants and the commissary for the dining car.
When I boarded, I was amazed at how small the slumbercoach compartment was. No larger than a small closet, it was the smallest sleeping car accommodation ever offered by railroads. It was intended for one person. Half the bed folded out of the side of the wall, the other half was your chair, when the seatback was folded down horizontally. A slumbercoach compartment cost only $35. It was the only sleeping accommodation where meals in the diner weren’t included.
When the Cardinal left New York, I was the only passenger in the 24-unit slumbercoach. The porter was still making the beds. Most passengers wouldn’t board until we reached Washington 3-hours later. I left my compartment and wandered the train. One car forward the 6 & 10 sleeper was completely empty. Again the porter was making up the car for riders who would board later. The diner was also a work in progress. Table cloths were still being placed on tables, silverware was being laid out. The three forward coaches had about 10 people in them. It seemed like I had the train all to myself.
The Cardinal was scheduled for a 35-minute stop in Washington for boarding and to swap the electric engine for two diesels. I got off and wandered the station. When I returned, the train was hopping.
The Cardinal showed me the woods of western Maryland, including famous Point of Rocks junction – once the first rail line in the entire country. I saw Harpers Ferry, the historic Civil War site. We passed the famous Whitewater resort at White Sulfur Springs where the U.S. government has its underground bunker in the basement. You could see the equally posh Homestead Resort high on its hill with its private branch line. We went through tiny towns that seemed to be forever in poverty. We saw snow-covered hills and deep rock cuts that the old coal trains of the 1800s rolled past. I’d never been in Kentucky... but the train took me through the backwoods there, and then along the banks of the Ohio River. This was Appalachia, the backwater of the United States. It was a part of the country I’d never seen before, and haven't seen since. That alone made a long, rambling ride on The Cardinal worth the trip.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau