Railroads & Locomotives Passenger Service Eight forgotten Amtrak trains in the Midwest

Eight forgotten Amtrak trains in the Midwest

By Brian Schmidt, Classic Trains Editor | June 2, 2023

We highlight eight trains missing from Amtrak’s route map for 20 years or more

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These eight forgotten Amtrak trains are largely unremembered by railfans today. The shortest duration lasted just short of 14 months.


Black Hawk


The Black Hawk began service on the Illinois Central Iowa Division main line between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, on Feb. 14, 1974. It operated at first with Budd Rail Diesel Cars and later was converted to conventional locomotive-hauled trains. The train provided the only Amtrak service to Elmhurst, Rockford, Freeport, and Galena, Ill. It was discontinued on Sept. 30, 1981.


Passenger train outside stone station
Amtrak’s Black Hawk stops at Rockford’s IC station on April 27, 1974. J. David Ingles photo


Calumet and Indiana Connection


Amtrak took over Conrail’s Valparaiso to Chicago commuter service on Oct. 1, 1979. In 1980, the two nameless weekday-only trains were christened the Calumet and Indiana Connection. They operated as trains 321-324. Budget cuts led to a reduction in service and in January 1986 the Indiana Connection was the first to go. The Calumet would call it quits on May 3, 1991.


Kentucky Cardinal


On Dec. 17, 1999, Amtrak extended the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State to become the Kentucky Cardinal, operating between Chicago and Jeffersonville, Ind.; it would eventually be extended to Louisville, Ky., proper before coming off in July 2003. Technically a daily train, it operated combined with the Cardinal on the days the long-distance train ran. For a while it ran with a Superliner coach and sleeper, but by the end it consisted of a single Horizon coach. Then it reverted to the Hoosier State name and operation.


Passengers gather luggage under blue station sign
Amtrak Kentucky Cardinal passengers disembark at Louisville on July 4, 2003, the final weekend of the train’s operation. Bob Johnston photo


Lake Country Limited


Looking to grow its mail and express business, Amtrak added the Chicago to Janesville, Wis., Lake Country Limited on April 15, 2000. Stops inclined Glenview, Ill. (shared with the Hiawatha service), and Walworth and Lake Geneva, Wis. It would typically run with a GE P32-BWH diesel locomotive, single Horizon coach, and NPCU “Cabbage” cab control car. Unfortunately, the parcel business never materialized, and the train locals dubbed the “Heifer Zephyr” was euthanized on Sept. 22, 2001.


Silver-and-blue diesel locomotive with passenger train at road crossing
Amtrak’s Lake Country Limited ambles across state Highway 173 at tiny Belden, Ill., on its way from Janesville, Wis., to Chicago on July 22, 2000. J. David Ingles photo


Michigan Executive


Amtrak launched the Michigan Executive on weekdays between Jackson and Detroit starting Jan. 20, 1975. The train, which took over a service previously operated by Penn Central, ran eastbound in the mornings and westbound in the evenings, thus serving the Detroit-bound commuter market. It carried Nos. 373-374. The Michigan Executive was discontinued on Jan. 13, 1984.


Prairie Marksman


The Prairie Marksman began service on Aug. 9, 1980, adding (East) Peoria, Ill., to the Amtrak route map. (Rock Island served Peoria proper until 1978.) The train operated over the existing Chicago to St. Louis corridor as far as Chenoa, and then west on the Toledo, Peoria & Western to East Peoria. It was discontinued on Oct. 4, 1981.


River Cities


The River Cities expanded Amtrak St. Louis services in April 1984, extending a Kansas City to St. Louis train. This would connect with the City of New Orleans at Centralia, Ill. Carrying Nos. 358/359, the train even hauled a through coach and sleeper from Kansas City for a time. Its numbers were derived from those of the City of New Orleans: 58 and 59. The River Cities disappeared from the Amtrak map in September 1994.

2 thoughts on “Eight forgotten Amtrak trains in the Midwest

  1. I’m surprised that The Floridian, which traveled through the midwest from Chicago to Miami wasn’t mentioned in this article. I worked as a bartender on that train on that train in the early days of Amtrak.

  2. Typical short term thinking under starvation funding. Amtrak was designed to preserve rail transportation, not end it. The Effort to make every route a money maker resulted in killing many forever and reducing service on profitable lines to minimal, sold out trips or elongated service arriving/departing in the middle of the night. The result has been an obvious and concerted effort to kill any federally supported rail network or essential transportation service. Instead we operate dilapidated and obsolete aged equipment while other countries eat our lunch!

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