From the Fifties to the Nineties

Posted by George Hamlin
on Saturday, May 15, 2021

By the early 1990s, Amtrak was firmly ensconced in the U.S. intercity passenger train business.  The glorious postwar-era equipment that once had provided hope that, at least prior to the advent of the Interstate Highway System and jet airliners, passenger trains would continue to have a significant role in the country’s passenger transportation system (think California Zephyr, for example) had largely vanished.

Along with the hope, much of the glamorous equipment that had been seen on trains like the CZ, and others like it, had vanished, also.  By the late 1960s, former intercity coaches had begun to be converted for commuter train use on a number of occasions, often replacing heavyweight coaches dating from the 1930s, and even earlier. 

Following Amtrak’s formation, even more coaches were rendered surplus, and found themselves working only five days per week, and in some cases, only during peak rush hour services, in commuter service, which, unlike intercity passenger, was turning into a growth industry by the 1970s.  (See my TRAINS Observation Deck blog post on February 1, 2021, “Strangers in a Strange Land, on Multiple Levels” for an example involving coaches moving from the Great Northern’s Empire Builder and Western Star to commuter service in New Jersey; an odder example, while it lasted, was the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie’s acquisition of former Louisville & Nashville coaches built for that railroad’s Georgian and Humming Bird.)

EMD’s streamlined E and F cab units made it to Amtrak Day (May 1, 1971) in fair numbers, and were used by the National carrier in its early days, but by the early 1990s, this was history.  In any case, except for FL9s, Amtrak didn’t roster F units long after its inception; the E units’ replacements first showed up in 1973 in the form of the ill-fated SDP40F.  By the early 1990s, Amtrak’s more successful second-generation F40PHs were themselves close to being replaced by General Electric Genesis units, which would begin in 1993.

Thus, the scene depicted above, in MARC’s Brunswick, Maryland layover facility for service on the former B&O’s main line west of Washington, DC, was the proverbial “sight for sore eyes”, in the form of RDC-2 number one, and (on lease from the CSX), F7 116, supplementing MARCs own remaining F units.   The latter was built as an F3 for the Clinchfield Railroad, and later upgraded to an F7.  Making its way to the CSX via the Clinchfield’s migration into the “Family Lines”, and later, the Seaboard System merger, the 116 and F7 118 were the two cab units of SBD’s A-B-B-A set of locomotives used for office car and other special moves.  Following the creation of the CSX, the four units were broken up into a pair of A-B sets for use briefly on the railroad’s RoadRailer service between the Midwest and Atlanta, and eventually repainted in the “Bright Future” paint scheme seen here.

The RDC had been built as B&O 1960, for use on the railroad’s Daylight Speedliner between Philadelphia (and later, Baltimore) to Pittsburgh, replacing conventional equipment.  This RDC-2 was one of two built with a kitchen and dining section to provide meal service on this run.  While the cost reduction produced by substituting three RDCs (two coaches and a meal service car) for a locomotive-hauled consist was welcome, it wasn’t enough to stave off the inevitable, and the Speedliner  was discontinued in 1961, with the RDCs bumped down to commuter service as a result.

Unfortunately, the “blast from the past” visual seen here was a short-run attraction; today both newer purpose-built power (MP36s, and Siemens’ Chargers) and gallery coaches are the norm, making this scene from thirty years ago all the more poignant, in retrospect.

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