Sun May 1st, 2011 at 10:56:30 AM EST
Amtrak began operations on Saturday, May 1, 1971, with an early promotional slogan of "Tracks Are Back." Congress created the carrier as a quasi-public, for-profit corporation to relieve the railroads of passenger service losses that had already led to the Penn Central bankruptcy.
One consequence of the creation of Amtrak was the immediate discontinuance of a number of the passenger trains the freight railroads had wanted to discontinue. Some services that might have met any kind of socially-necessary criterion were also discontinued. Such was the case in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that morning.
In 1971, I was taking slides with a 126 format Instamatic clone. Here are two 1942 Hiawatha coaches with Milwaukee's canonical rib-sides parked in the coach yard that itself was a remnant of the west end trackage at the old Everett Street Depot. These continued in use on The Milwaukee Road, regularly on the Madison trains and the Milwaukee - Watertown "Cannon Ball"; occasionally to provide additional seats on the Chicago turns; and when holiday loadings increased, to strengthen the Hiawatha itself. With the discontinuance of the Madison service and the Union Pacific City trains and the Hiawatha transformed into the Empire Builder, sufficient of the 1947 and 1948 smooth-side coaches were available to form the trains The Milwaukee Road operated for Amtrak, as well as to make up the "Cannon Ball."
Milwaukee thus became one of a few stations in the country where Amtrak trains mingled with trains of other carriers. Southern, Rock Island, Rio Grande, and a few other railroads in the lower 48 chose not to join Amtrak. The Milwaukee Road's Watertown local, which had a 36 mile run, did not meet the 75 mile cutoff to qualify as an intercity train, and thus it, as well as the carrier's Chicago commuter service, remained in operation after May 1. Illinois officials were able to set up a Passenger Rail authority, later to become a participant in Metra, to keep the commuter trains running in Illinois. Wisconsin officials have never been able to set up any kind of commuter train authority. The Milwaukee Road was able to discontinue the Fox Lake to Walworth (via Zenda) end of its North Line, and the "Cannon Ball" was gone in 1972.
One encouraging sign that morning was that The Milwaukee Road had applied fresh silver paint to the trucks of its cars and locomotives, and given the upper works a wash. One discouraging sign was the absence of the Chicago and North Western. Perhaps the carrier, whose legal department had played The Milwaukee Road for years in train discontinuance cases, arguing that the presence of a Milwaukee Road train serving Iowa or Madison satisfied Interstate Commerce Commission criteria for adequate Passenger Rail service, accomplished the same thing one last time, despite there being no Milwaukee Road train through the Fox Cities to Green Bay.
Up to April 30, a Chicago resident could put in a full business day in Milwaukee, or journey north for an early dinner, using North Western's 149, itself a remnant of a Green Bay train, north at 8 am, and returning from Milwaukee at 7.45 pm on 216, the onetime Flambeau 400 that was still officially an Ashland train in the summer. (Yes, the first Amtrak-related discontinuance occurred in northern Wisconsin in January, 1971, when the holiday-season Ashland train gave way to the off-season bus. The summer-season restoration never happened.)
With the coming of Amtrak, the first northbound departure is 27 at 9.40 am, using the same stock that arrived off 24 that morning. (In the past 40 years, Amtrak has discovered the value of early morning departures from both cities, and, enabling legislation or not, is effectively running commuter trains on the C&M.)
An Instamatic shooting up-sun has its limitations. Two diesels, four coaches spliced by one of the Buffeteria cars, all reasonably well-scrubbed. That formation was standard for the Milwaukee turns for much of the first year. One set could protect 24 - 27 - 12 - 23. A second coach-only formation left Milwaukee on 46 at 4.20 pm, returning on Nine out of Chicago at 7.25 pm. The Milwaukee service has never been conducive to travellers who seek a night at the opera, or a sporting event or an evening speech in Chicago.
On the bright side, the Morning Hiawatha gave way to a transcontinental train. The first trip of 31 (the old Great Northern number) arrived just after noon.
Burlington Northern didn't have a matched set of diesels for the first trip, and a train bearing a Great Northern name enters The Milwaukee Road's station with a Northern Pacific diesel. More exotic stuff would come, but not yet.
In Amtrak's first schedule, Twelve left at 12.20 pm, the same time that the Builder left from the other end of the station.
Fresh paint, freshly scrubbed, otherwise business as usual.
In the first few days of Amtrak operation, some of the legacy trains, including the eastbound Empire Builder and North Coast Limited, were fulfilling their old schedules, and Milwaukee's first eastbound train from Seattle in about ten years arrived on Monday, a school day.
Weekends offered an opportunity to do some trainwatching, though, and if the Builders were on time or close to time, they'd reach Wauwatosa shortly after noon. The westbound would be first.
Still some Northern Pacific power. That Milwaukee Road track has seen better days.
I didn't take very good notes in those days, and the date of these pictures, as well as the lateness (or not) of each train escapes memory.
The eastbound the same day also had Northern Pacific power. Burlington Northern's coach yard still assembled the trains in those days, and the Builder was a blend of Burlington silver, Great Northern orange or blue, Northern Pacific two-tone green, and Burlington Northern green. I understand that some relief trains ran between the Twin Cities and Chicago with Milwaukee Road power and coaches (imagine a Hiawatha without a Super Dome or any kind of a parlor car). The mixing of equipment, which Amtrak advertised as part of making the trains worth traveling again, came later. That mixing had the effect of removing some of the most clapped-out equipment from service, but it exposed the car departments of participating railroads to unfamiliar heating, cooling, and electrical systems. Perhaps more on those days later.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)