An RTG Turboliner at Union Station in St. Louis in the 1970s.
|Number built||6 trainsets|
|Maximum speed||125 miles per hour (201 km/h)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Line(s) served||Empire Corridor|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The Turboliners are a family of gas turbine trainsets built for Amtrak in the 1970s. The trains were powered by gas turbine engines and ran on diesel fuel. Some were equipped with third rail shoes to enable entry into the underground tunnels approaching Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York City. Turboliner service originally started in the 1970s as an effort by Amtrak to update its fleet with faster, more modern vehicles. Since then, the trainsets have undergone several rebuilds with the latest in 2000. As part of a lawsuit settlement between Amtrak and New York State, no Turboliners are currently in revenue service and the partially refurbished fleet has been sold for scrap.
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.
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. However on the cab ends they were modified with standard knuckle couplers and European buffers were removed at those locations. Bells were also added under each cab. Amtrak later installed oscillating headlights on the cab ends for better grade crossing recognition because motorists would often mistake the Turbos' dual headlights with automobiles on the parallel U.S. Rt. 66 on the St. Louis line, resulting in several grade crossing accidents. The oscillating lights were mounted between the original headlights, later changed to above the windshield. In addition the RTG's original French air horns were modified to blow simultaneously instead of alternating as in typical European practice and were later changed to top-mount Nathan P-5A's. Each trainset consisted of two power cars (which included seating), two coaches and a bar/grill.
During the energy crisis of the late 70s, several modifications were performed to reduce fuel consumption, such as the addition of a higher power and more efficient main engine. This allowed the sets to run with only one of the two main engines operating, resulting in saved fuel. The 380V/50 hertz alternator that supplied head-end power to the coaches was driven by a smaller turbo engine, the Astazou.
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.: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.:147
After service in the midwest, three RTG trainsets 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.
Midwest corridor services
The first two RTG trainsets arrived in October 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.: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.: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.: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.:176
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.:148 These were based on the earlier RTG series trains but had American-style couplers throughout and American-standard (480 volts/60 hertz) 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. Matching its practice with the earlier RTGs, Amtrak set up a separate maintenance facility in Rensselaer, New York.:227
The RTL Turboliners were scheduled to be rebuilt in 1995 by Amerail, which would replace the turbines in the original sets with higher-powered ones as well as replacing the relay style turbine control with electronic digital control units. The interiors were also to be renovated and the exterior paint scheme changed. These rebuilt sets were to be designated "RTL-II". Though the initial RTL-II was very successful, the program was aborted and the other six trains continued in their original configuration. This trainset, and 2 rebuilt RTG sets provided service out of New York until one of the RTG trainsets caught fire in New York Penn Station, resulting in the retirement of the RTG sets. The lone RTL-II set continued revenue operations until 2002.
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, 2003, 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.
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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- "A collection of Turboliner photos". Amtrak Photo Archive.
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