Red, White and Green

Posted by George Hamlin
on Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Outliers; interlopers.  These, and other terms signifying the unexpected and/or unusual certainly apply to the subject matter of this color photo taken by my friend, and well-known photographer, Mel Lawrence, at Washington, DC’s Ivy City engine terminal, on May 16, 1978.  In a number of ways, neither Amtrak 52 nor Southern 6901 belong here this late in the 1970s.

Both, of course, pre-dated the advent of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.  The Southern Railway EMD E unit has considerably greater overall seniority, having been delivered (and originally numbered 2924) in September 1951, numerically, the second Southern E8. 

As is well-known, and fondly remembered, the Southern Railway elected not to join Amtrak initially, and continued to run its flagship, and a few other trains, independently (at least on its own trackage, although through cars to the north of Washington were interchanged with Amtrak).  As Amtrak struggled initially to get its operations going, and the equipment that it acquired refurbished, in many cases, the still-classy Southern “Southern Crescent” provided a vivid visual reminder of the “good-old days” of the postwar streamliners.

Roughly a year after the birth of Amtrak, this was enhanced by the return of the classic “Sylvan Green” and gold trim livery to the E8s used on Southern numbers 1 and 2, replacing the black/off-white “Tuxedo” paint scheme that had been adopted in the 1960s.  Since the only regular assignment of the E8s post-1971 was the “Southern Crescent”, the road chose to add the train’s name in script to the nose of the locomotives.

As the 1970s wore on, however, the Southern eventually relented, and turned its Washington-New Orleans route over to Amtrak in 1979.  Accordingly, the train’s name reverted to the historic “Crescent”, minus the “Southern”, and the green E units were put out to pasture. 

The gaudy creation to the left of the 6901 was, at the time, one of two types of new, high-speed, “hi-tech” passenger equipment that had preceded Amtrak by a few years, with the expectation, or more accurately the hope, that technology would restore the flagging fortunes of the intercity passenger train. 

This was, of course, one of the several “Turbo” trains built by aircraft engine manufacturer United Aircraft; the other entrant in this category was the electric multiple-unit cars that made up the initial version of the Metroliners: ordered for the Pennsylvania Railroad, placed in service by the Penn Central, and operated beginning in May 1971 by Amtrak.

The original Metroliners were restricted to routes which had overhead electric catenary to power them, limiting them essentially to Amtrak’s “Northeast Corridor”, but even there only as far north as New Haven, Connecticut.  The Turbotrains were used initially for a modest New York-Boston service; they also were utilized for service between Washington and West Virginia. 

Looking back from a historical perspective, Amtrak experimented with turbine-powered equipment of other varieties, but the end game is that none of this type of power has been on the active roster for many years. 

On the other hand, the Southern 6901 continues to be extant, and displaying the green and gold, at the Southeastern Railway Museum at Duluth, Georgia, north of Atlanta.  Technology doesn’t always have a lock on longevity.

 (Photo by Mel Lawrence; George Hamlin collection)

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