Got the Fireman's Attention

Posted by George Hamlin
on Saturday, January 1, 2022

The beginning of Amtrak in the spring of 1971 was both a new start, as well as the end for many U.S. intercity passenger trains, and for that matter, entire routes.  Chicago-Los Angeles service was retained on the route of the Santa Fe’s Chiefs (super and otherwise, which would become a bone of contention between Amtrak and the Santa Fe in the not distant future), but the Union Pacific’s Cities trains, including the one named for California’s “City of Angels” expired following their April 30, 1971 departures.

Service between the U.S. northeast, specifically New York City, and Montreal, Quebec also vanished as of “Amtrak Day” on May 1.  However, one of Amtrak’s first post-startup new routes was a resumption of this service, albeit via the former route of the Montrealer/Washingtonian, via Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, rather than New York State; this commenced in September 1972.

Both the day and overnight trains on the New Haven-Boston & Maine-Central Vermont-Canadian National “Connecticut Valley” route had been discontinued as of 1966; the daytime Ambassador had been coaches only since at least the early 1960s.  On the NYC (later PC)-Delaware & Hudson route via Albany, both day and night services (the latter with sleepers) had persisted until the advent of Amtrak, and the day train featured dining service on the D&H, along with snack-bar service on the Penn Central south of the state capital.

Roughly two years later, in August 1974, however, the previous Penn Central-D&H route was also restored, in conjunction with financial support provided by New York State.  In addition, there was a pleasant twist, from a railfan standpoint: the D&H would provide some of the passenger equipment, as well as the motive power north of the Albany area. This, of course, meant that locomotion would be provided by Alco products. 

In the late 1960s, the D&H had acquired four Alco PA locomotives from the Santa Fe, as well as some streamlined passenger cars from the Denver & Rio Grande Western.  The railroad had retained this equipment subsequent to the demise of its pre-Amtrak service in 1971, so these iconic diesels were the natural choice for the new Adirondack service set to begin in the fall of 1974.

Since it was deemed advisable to upgrade these late-1940s machines, including new model 251 prime movers (diesel engines) replacing their original-equipment 244 models, they were sent to Morrison-Knudsen in Boise, Idaho, for this to take place.  In the process, horsepower was increased from the original 2000 to 2400. 

The PAs were sent in pairs to Idaho for this, so that initially, one set would be available to provide steam heat for the passenger cars, until the first, newly-upgraded, set returned; the D&H also utilized former Boston & Maine steam generator-equipped Alco RS-3s for this, as seen below at Fort Edward, New York, on September 7, 1974.



As a result, the PAs typically didn’t lead during the interim period, although as you can see in the top photo, they were definitely operational.  RS11 5008 leads here departing Whitehall, New York on September 8, 1974, where the northbound train has just met its southbound counterpart during their respective station stops.

Not for nothing were first generation Alco diesels given the title of “Honorary Steam Locomotives”; this one definitely has the fireman’s attention!  As for the 5008, maybe it was burning Anthracite …

Photos by George W. Hamlin

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