The Turboliners were a family of gas turbine trainsets built for Amtrak in the 1970s. They were some of the first new equipment purchased by Amtrak and represented an attempt by Amtrak to update its fleet with faster, more modern trains. The first batch (known as "RTG") were built by the French firm ANF and entered service on Midwestern routes in 1973. The second batch ("RTL") were of a similar design but manufactured by Rohr Industries, an American company. These entered service on the Empire Corridor in New York in 1976. Both the RTG and RTL trainsets received various upgrades over the years, with the last RTL trainsets leaving revenue service in 2003.
An RTG Turboliner at Union Station in St. Louis, Missouri in 1974
A conductor collects tickets aboard a Midwestern Turboliner in 1974
|Number built||6 trainsets|
|Maximum speed||125 mph (201 km/h)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The RTG model was an Americanized version of the French ANF T 2000 RTG "Turbotrain" (related to the prototype precursor to the very first TGV trainset, the TGV 001). The RTGs used European-style couplers (buffers and turnbuckles) between their cars, due to having been built in France by ANF for use on French railways. Another change was the installation of top-mounted Nathan P-5A horns. Each trainset consisted of two power cars (which included seating), two coaches and a bar/grill.
The first two RTG trainsets arrived in September 1973. These were based out of Chicago, and initially served the Chicago–St. Louis corridor. Amtrak ordered an additional four trainsets which entered service in 1975. Amtrak assigned these sets to its other two Midwestern corridors: Chicago–Milwaukee and Chicago–Detroit. Between 1975 and 1976 Amtrak experimented with formally renaming these services "Turboliner" after the equipment before returning to traditional names (e.g. Wolverine).
Amtrak acquired the Turboliners with multiple goals in mind. The Turboliners were expected to cost less to operate than a comparable diesel locomotive while having a higher operating speed, though this would be constrained by track conditions. Amtrak also hoped that introducing new equipment would generate favorable publicity. Two years into its existence, Amtrak was fighting the perception that it was making "cosmetic changes to hand-me-down equipment." Exotic new gas turbine sets could change that perception and generate favorable publicity.
Amtrak established a separate maintenance facility for all six trainsets in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago, on the site of an ex-Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad coach yard. This facility closed in 1981 after the withdrawal of the RTGs from service. The trainsets were mothballed at Amtrak's main maintenance facility in Beech Grove, Indiana.
In 1985, three RTG trainsets (64-69) were retrofitted with RTL style noses, and third rail capability to enable operation into New York. Renamed RTG-IIs, they were retired from service after one caught fire in Pennsylvania Station in New York on September 11, 1994.
The St. Louis corridor was the first to receive the new Turboliner equipment, with the initial run occurring September 28, 1973, amid great fanfare. The two daily frequencies were branded Turboliner, replaced the individual names Abraham Lincoln and Prairie State. Amtrak would repeat this experiment with the Detroit and Milwaukee corridors. Track conditions limited the new trainsets to 79 mph (127 km/h), but they were clean, comfortable, quiet and reliable. In the first year the Chicago–St. Louis running time dropped from 5.5 to 5 hours. The Federal Railroad Administration refused a request from Amtrak to raise the speed limit to 90 mph (140 km/h), citing inadequate signalling along the route. The new equipment had fallen out of favor by the end of 1974: food service was inadequate, and the five-car fixed consist could not handle demand. Amfleet coaches and new conventional diesels replaced both of the Turboliner trainsets in 1975.
Turboliners arrived on the Detroit run on April 10, 1975. Additional equipment allowed Amtrak to add a frequency in late April; the arrival of a third trainset in May made Chicago–Detroit the "first all-turbine-powered route." After one year of operation ridership on the corridor increased by 72 percent. The fixed capacity of 292 passengers on an RTL trainset proved an impediment; Amtrak couldn't add capacity when demand outstripped supply. Amtrak replaced one of the trainsets with a conventional locomotive hauling then-new Amfleet coaches in 1976; Turboliner service ended altogether by 1981 as more Amfleet equipment became available.
Turboliners debuted on the Hiawatha corridor began on June 1, 1975, with additional trainsets operating in 1976. As with the St. Louis and Detroit corridors, Amtrak dropped individual names in favor of the Turboliner in branding in 1976, but resumed these names in 1980. Turboliner equipment was withdrawn altogether in 1981. Their withdrawal was the end of Turboliner service in the Midwest.
Third rail shoe installed on the front truck of an RTL-II car for operation into New York Penn Station
|Number built||7 trainsets|
|Line(s) served||Empire Corridor|
|Train length||425 feet (130 m)|
|Maximum speed||125 mph (201 km/h)|
|Weight||308 short tons (279 t)|
|Power output||2,280 horsepower (1,700 kW)|
|Acceleration||1 mile per hour per second (1.6 km/(h·s))|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
Amtrak ordered an additional seven Turboliner trainsets which were delivered between 1976 and 1977. These were manufactured by Rohr Industries are were known as RTL Turboliners. They were based on the earlier RTG series trains but had American-style Janney couplers throughout and American-standard 480-volt head end power as well as a different design powercar cab. The sets operated in revenue service throughout upstate New York from the 70s into the 90s. One of these original sets were rebuilt into an RTL-II set.
The RTL Turboliners were capable of third rail operation, allowing them to enter Grand Central Terminal and, later Pennsylvania Station in New York. As it had with the earlier RTGs in the Midwest, Amtrak set up a separate maintenance facility in Rensselaer, New York. This facility opened on November 30, 1977, and cost $15 million. As built the RTLs carried 2,560 US gallons (9,700 l; 2,130 imp gal) of fuel, permitting a cruising range of 950 miles (1,530 km).
In 1995 Amtrak and New York collaborated on a rebuild of a single RTL trainset at a cost of $2 million. This rebuild included a pair of new Turbomeca Makila T1 turbines, each capable of developing 1,600 horsepower (1,200 kW). The interiors were also to be renovated and the exterior paint scheme changed. Morrison-Knudsen rebuilt the power cars while Amtrak overhauled the coach interiors at Beech Grove. The rebuilt trainset was designated "RTL-II". In test runs on the Empire Corridor and Northeast Corridor it reached a top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h) all the while consuming less fuel than previously.
In 1998 New York and Amtrak began the "High Speed Rail Improvement Program," a $185 million effort to improve service over the Empire Corridor. A key component of this program would be the reconstruction of all seven RTL Turboliner trainsets to the RTL-III specification. New York selected Super Steel Schenectady to perform the work, and the first two trainsets were to enter service in 1999. After numerous delays these trainsets entered service in April 2003. Of the five additional trainsets, originally scheduled to enter service in 2002, only one was completed and it never entered revenue service. All seven trainsets were renumbered in 2001 to prevent duplicate numbers with the new GE P42DCs and were painted in new Acela-style livery. One of the rebuilt RTL-IIIs was tested on the night of February 15, 2001, reaching 125 mph (201 km/h).
The agreement between Amtrak and New York provided that New York would take ownership of the rebuilt trainsets once Amtrak had "fully accepted" them for regular revenue service. Amtrak withdrew all the trainsets from service in June 2003 after problems developed with the air-conditioning and refused to operate them. In 2004 New York sued Amtrak in federal court for $477 million, both for not operating the trainsets and for failing to complete track work in the Empire Corridor to permit regular 125-mile-per-hour (201 km/h) operation. Amtrak, never enthusiastic about the higher operating costs of the gas-turbine trainsets and the fixed-capacity consists, mothballed the equipment at its maintenance facility in Bear, Delaware. Conventional Amfleet equipment replaced the trainsets revenue service.
In April 2005, New York State reached a settlement with Super Steel to completely close the rehabilitation project for $5.5 million, to stop work on the project, cover any remaining costs, and move four unfinished trains into storage at a nearby industrial park. This settlement, when added to the $64.8 million previously spent, brought the total amount spent on the project—the results of which were three rehabilitated trainsets and four others in various states of repair—to $70.3 million. In 2007 Amtrak and New York settled their own lawsuit, with Amtrak paying New York $20 million. Amtrak and New York State further agreed to commit $10 million each to implement track improvements in the Empire Corridor. New York auctioned off its surplus Turboliners in 2012 for $420,000.
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