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Not to be confused with the UAC TurboTrain, also formerly used by Amtrak.
Amtrak's RTG (above) and RTL (below) Turboliner trainsets - Turboliner
Amtrak's RTG (above) and RTL (below) Turboliner trainsets

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.


The Turboliners were closely based on the French ANF company's gas-turbine T 2000 RTG "Turbotrain" trainset, including the use of similar Turbomeca gas-turbine engines. Despite the high cost of fuel common to all gas-turbine trains, the ANF and Rohr Turboliners had a long history of operation in the United States. With a total of 13 trainsets (6 RTG and 7 RTL) in the U.S. and many more in France (see Turbotrain), they also represented one of the largest uses of this type of power in the world, other than the freight-hauling Union Pacific GTELs. In comparison, two UAC TurboTrain sets operated in the U.S. and five in Canada. The Turboliners also had significantly greater longevity in service than the UAC TurboTrain, operating from 1973 into the 1990s, with one set running until 2002. In comparison, the UAC TurboTrain operated in 1968–76 in the U.S. and 1968–82 in Canada.


RTG Turboliner
An RTG Turboliner at Union Station in St. Louis in the 1970s.
In service 1973–1995
Manufacturer ANF
Number built 6 trainsets
Formation Five cars
Fleet numbers 58–69
Capacity 292 passengers
Operator Amtrak
Maximum speed 125 miles per hour (201 km/h)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)


The RTG model was an Americanized version of the French 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.[1]:8 Another change was the installation of top-mounted Nathan P-5A horns.[2] Each trainset consisted of two power cars (which included seating), two coaches and a bar/grill.

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.[3]:262 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.[4]:147

In 1985, three RTG trainsets (64-69) were retrofitted with RTL style noses, and third rail capability to enable operation into New York.[5]:53 Renamed RTG-IIs, they were retired from service after one caught fire in Pennsylvania Station in New York on September 11, 1994.[6][7]:95


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.[4]:147 Between 1975–1976 Amtrak experimented with formally renaming these services "Turboliner" after the equipment before returning to traditional names (e.g. Wolverine).

St. Louis

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 miles per hour (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 miles per hour (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.[3]:227–229


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.[3]:195–202


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.[3]:176


RTL Turboliner
Amtrak Empire Corridor Turboliner.jpg
An RTL Turboliner crosses the Seneca River near Savannah, New York in 1984.
Third rail shoe
Third rail shoe installed on the front truck of an RTL-II car for operation into New York Penn Station.
In service 1976–2003
Manufacturer Rohr Industries
Number built 7 trainsets
Formation Five cars
Fleet numbers 150–163
Capacity 263 passengers
Operator Amtrak
Line(s) served Empire Corridor
Train length 425 feet (130 m)
Maximum speed 125 miles per hour (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 12 in (1,435 mm)

Amtrak ordered an additional seven Turboliner trainsets which were delivered between 1976-1977. These were manufactured by Rohr Industries are were known as RTL Turboliners.[4]:148 They were based on the earlier RTG series trains but had American-style Janney couplers throughout[1]:8 and American-standard 480-volt head end power as well as a different design powercar cab.[9]:9-10 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.[10]:227 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 US$15 million.[5]:32 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).[8]


In 1995 Amtrak and New York collaborated on a rebuild of a single RTL trainset at a cost of US$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 miles per hour (201 km/h) all the while consuming less fuel than previously.[11] The lone RTL-II set continued revenue operations until 2002.[citation needed]


In 1998 New York and Amtrak began the "High Speed Rail Improvement Program," a US$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.[12][13] All seven trainsets were renumbered in 2001 to prevent duplicate numbers with the new GE P42DCs and were painted in new Acela-style livery.[7]:98 One of the rebuilt RTL-IIIs was tested on the night of February 15, 2003, reaching 125 mph (201 km/h).[14]

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 US$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.[15]

In April 2005, New York State reached a settlement with Super Steel to completely close the rehabilitation project for US$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 US$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 US$70.3 million.[16] In 2007 Amtrak and New York settled their own lawsuit, with Amtrak paying New York US$20 million. Amtrak and New York State further agreed to commit US$10 million each to implement track improvements in the Empire Corridor.[17] New York auctioned off its surplus Turboliners in 2012 for US$420,000.[18]

See also


Amtrak (MBI Railroad Color History)
Brian Solomon (2004)
This pictorial history is only the second of its kind to trace the 30-plus-year history of Amtrak, beginning with a look at the rise and fall of privately run passenger train service followed by a look at Amtrak's infant stage from 1971 through 1976. Also examined is the period from 1976 to 1991, when Amtrak finally established an image, buying new equipment and refurbished old and grew its ridership despite a severely limited budget. Modern and period color photos illustrate such aspects of Amtrak as its motive power, including the high-speed Acela Express; its diverse array of rolling stock and equipment, famous long-distance trains past and present; short-haul corridors.Against all odds, the passenger train survives in the United States. The formation of Amtrak in 1971 heralded the end of privately operated passenger train service and ushered in an era of intercity train travel financed on a budget that has vacillated between the virtually non-existent and the barely adequate.- The only extant pictorial history of America's only passenger rail network- Amtrak ridership in 2001 topped 24 million, the highest in its history- Passenger rail travel may be a concept whose time has come in this country, considering the woeful state of the airline industry and the efforts of prominent belt way politicians like Tom Harkin to make Amtrak a viable national passenger railwayAbout the AuthorBrian Solomon has authored several books about railroads and motive power, including MBI's recent Modern Locomotives and GE Locomotives. His writing and photography have been featured in the world's most prominent railfan publications, including TRAINS and RailNews. He splits his time between Monson, Massachusetts, and Dublin, Ireland.
  1. ^ a b National Transportation Safety Board (1976). Railroad/highway accident report: Collision of a Crown-Trygg Construction Company truck with an Amtrak passenger train Elwood, Illinois November 19, 1975. OCLC 45567906. 
  2. ^ "Forty Years of Amtrak Locomotive Horns". Key, Lock & Lantern 40 (4). Oct/Nov/Dec 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. OCLC 61499942. 
  4. ^ a b c Solomon, Brian (2004). Amtrak. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 0760317658. OCLC 56490949. 
  5. ^ a b Amtrak (2011). Amtrak: an American story. Washington, D.C.: National Railroad Passenger Corporation. ISBN 0871164442. OCLC 731030633. 
  6. ^ Smyth, Julie Carr (October 20, 1994). "AMTRAK RETIRES LINE OF TRAINS SCHEDULES TO CHANGE AFTER FIRE-PRONE TURBOLINERS ARE PULLED". Times Union. Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Simon, Elbert; David C. Warner (2011). Amtrak by the numbers: a comprehensive passenger car and motive power roster, 1971-2011. Kansas City, MO: White River Productions. ISBN 978-1-932804-12-9. OCLC 837623640. 
  8. ^ a b Amtrak (April 1977). "Join Amtrak for a journey into the future". 
  9. ^ National Transportation Safety Board (1981). Railroad accident report: head-end collision of Amtrak passenger train no. 74 and Conrail train OPSE-7, Dobbs Ferry, New York, November 7, 1980. OCLC 7530396. 
  10. ^ EuDaly, Kevin; Mike Schafer; Steve Jessup; Jim Boyd; Steve Glischinski; Andrew McBride (2009). The Complete Book of North American Railroading. Minneapolis: Voyageur Press. ISBN 9780760328484. OCLC 209631579. 
  11. ^ Vantuono, William C. (March 1, 1995). "A turbo in your future?". Railway Age  – via HighBeam (subscription required). Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Carmen Maldonaldo (February 9, 2005). "Turboliner Modernization Project SSSI Payment Verification and Close-out Costs Report 2004-S-10". 
  13. ^ Martin, Ben (July 1999). "Super Steel Schenectady". RailNews (428). 
  15. ^ Woodruff, Cathy (September 23, 2004). "DOT RAILS AGAINST AMTRAK". Times Union  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  16. ^ Woodruff, Cathy (May 28, 2005). "Express rail plan hits end of line". Times Union  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved December 24, 2012. 
  17. ^ Woodruff, Cathy (December 13, 2007). "Track cleared for upgrades; State suit settled; Amtrak to pay $20M, make improvements". Times Union  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  18. ^ Karlin, Rick. "State's rusting trains sell for $420,000". Retrieved December 13, 2012. 
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