Cardinal (train)

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Amtrak's The Cardinal - Prince, WV.jpg
Eastbound Cardinal stopped in Prince, West Virginia
Service type Inter-city rail
Higher speed rail (NEC only)
Status Operating
Locale Midwestern United States
Southeastern United States
Mid-Atlantic states
Predecessor James Whitcomb Riley
First service October 30, 1977
Successor None
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Ridership 113,103 total (FY13)
Start Chicago, Illinois
Stops 36
End New York City
Distance travelled 1,146 miles (1,844 km)
Average journey time 26.5 hours
Service frequency Thrice-weekly
Train number(s) 50/51
On-board services
  • First class sleeper
  • Reserved business class
  • Reserved coach
Seating arrangements Airline-style
Sleeping arrangements Roomettes and bedrooms
Catering facilities Diner/lounge
Baggage facilities Checked baggage available at selected stations
Rolling stock Heritage Coaches
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Track owner(s) Amtrak
CSX Transportation
Buckingham Branch
NS Railway
CN Railway
Union Pacific

The Cardinal is a thrice-weekly long distance passenger train operated by Amtrak between New York Penn Station and Chicago Union Station, with major intermediate stops at Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Charleston, Huntington, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Trains depart New York on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and depart Chicago on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The 1,146-mile (1,844 km) trip between the termini of the route takes 26​12 hours.[1]

The Hoosier State provides service on the 196-mile (315 km) segment of the Cardinal route between Indianapolis and Chicago on the four days of the week when it is not otherwise provided by the Cardinal.[1]

During fiscal year 2013, the Cardinal carried 113,103 passengers,[2] off 2.8% from 2012 when the route had a record ridership of 116,373. The 2012 ridership was a 4.9% increase over 2011,[3] when the line carried 110,923 passengers, which was up 3.6% from 107,842 riders in 2010.

The Cardinal had a record revenue of $7,733,458 in fiscal year 2013, up 2.6% from a total of $7,536,903 in fiscal year 2012,[2] itself an increase of 6.2% from 2011 when the route brought in $7,097,809.[3] The 2011 figure was an 11.3% increase from 2010.


The Cardinal is the successor of several previous trains, primarily the New York Central (later Penn Central) James Whitcomb Riley and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) George Washington. The James Whitcomb Riley was a daytime all-coach train which operated between Chicago and Cincinnati (via Indianapolis), while the George Washington was a C&O sleeper that ran between Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and Newport News, Virginia. Up until the late 1950s, the Riley would carry the Washington's sleeper cars between Cincinnati and Chicago.[4] Both routes survived until the formation of Amtrak in 1971.[5]:51; 93

Amtrak kept service mostly identical at first.[6] Through Washington–Chicago and Newport News–Chicago coaches began operating July 12, and a through sleeping car began September 8.[7] Throughout the 1970s Amtrak would drop the George Washington name and re-route the train off the rapidly deteriorating Penn Central track in Indiana.[7] The Newport News section ended in 1976, replaced by the New York–Newport News Colonial.[8]

The former station in Muncie, Indiana before the realignment via Indianapolis

The James Whitcomb Riley was renamed the Cardinal on October 30, 1977, as the Cardinal was the state bird of all six states through which it ran. However, due to poor track conditions in Indiana, the train was rerouted numerous times, first over various Penn Central/Conrail routings, then ultimately over the former Baltimore and Ohio route via Cottage Grove by 1980.[9]

The Cardinal was eventually extended from Washington, D.C., to New York City in an effort to improve the Cardinal's cost recovery ratio, but the entire train was discontinued on September 30, 1981. A congressional mandate initiated by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) resurrected the train on January 8, 1982, and followed another new route, via Richmond, Indiana, and Muncie, Indiana. This arrangement lasted until April 27, 1986, when the train was finally moved to its current route via Indianapolis.[9] On October 29, 1995, the Cardinal was truncated at Washington, D.C. as a result of the conversion to Superliner equipment. On October 27, 2002, issues with derailments caused the Cardinal's Superliner equipment to be taken away. They were replaced with Viewliner equipment. The Cardinal continued to operate the Chicago-Washington D.C. schedule. Service to New York was restored on Sunday's westbound Cardinal on October 27, 2003. Full service to New York resumed on April 26, 2004.

Hoosier State[edit]

With the Indianapolis routing, the Cardinal began operating jointly with the Chicago–Indianapolis Hoosier State. The Hoosier State operated to Indianapolis on the days the Cardinal does not. This pattern ceased on October 25, 1987, then resumed again on July 19, 1998. On December 17, 1999, Amtrak extended the Hoosier State to Jeffersonville, Indiana, (and later to Louisville, Kentucky) and renamed the train the Kentucky Cardinal. This new train was a daily service; on days when the Cardinal operated, the two trains ran combined between Indianapolis and Chicago. Amtrak ultimately discontinued the Kentucky Cardinal on July 4, 2003.


In the July 2010 issue of Trains magazine, the Cardinal was noted as being one of five routes under consideration for performance improvement.[10] For the Cardinal, the proposed changes include:

  • Daily operation from thrice-weekly
  • Changing the western terminus to St. Louis, Missouri

In addition, Railfan and Railroad magazine suggested that the train be rerouted to St. Louis as well, with a separate section bound for Chicago.

In early October 2010, Amtrak released a report detailing plans to increase the Cardinal's service from three trains a week to daily service, as well as increasing the train's on-time performance and food service.[11] The January 2011 issue of Trains later revealed that Amtrak would scrap re-routing and Superliner conversion and instead adopt not only daily service, but also purchasing dome cars to be used along the Chicago-Washington, D.C., portion of the trip. In addition, the routing into Chicago Union Station would be changed and station platforms along the route containing coal dust would be scrubbed and cleaned.[12]

However, obstacles to a daily Cardinal persist. Track capacity is limited on the Buckingham Branch Railroad in Virginia where the Cardinal operates, preventing frequent freight trains from passing a daily Cardinal. This problem applies also to the planned but failed Greenbrier Presidential Express train, which would also have traversed the Buckingham Branch on a weekly basis. The Buckingham Branch requires additional funding to expand several sidings before allowing additional service.[13] Another obstacle is freight congestion in Chicago particularly at the 75th Street Corridor in Chicago's South Side.[14] Infrastructure improvements are being made at both obstacles. The Orange Branch between Orange and Gordonsville raised train speed after the completion of a track and signal project in 2017.[15] The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) has completed a preliminary design phase for the 75th Street Corridor and is awaiting funding for Phase 2.[14]

Train consist[edit]

In the early 1990s, the Cardinal ran with the usual Amtrak long-distance consist of two F40s/E60 plus several MHC and material handling baggage cars, followed by several Amfleet coaches, an Amfleet lounge, a Heritage diner, two or three Heritage 10-6 sleepers, a slumbercoach, and finally, a baggage dormitory car. Following the delivery of the Superliner II fleet, however, the Cardinal was re-equipped with Superliner cars in 1995.[16] As a result, its route was truncated to end in Washington D.C. as the Superliner equipment could not run into New York City due to low clearances there. With the Superliner equipment, the consist would usually be two Superliner sleeping cars, a diner, a Sightseer Lounge, a baggage coach, and a coach.

In 2002, two derailments on other routes took numerous Superliner cars out of service. Because of this, insufficient Superliner equipment was available for use on the Cardinal. The Cardinal was re-equipped with a consist of single-level long-distance cars, including dining, lounge, sleeping, and dormitory cars, although service to New York was not restored until 2004. Subsequent fleet shortages shortened the Cardinal further, and at one point, the train was running with two or three Amfleet II coaches and a combined diner-lounge car. While the sleeping car was later restored, the Cardinal has not had a dormitory car or a diner since. Similarly, though the baggage car was also removed, it was restored in response to an upturn in patronage in mid-2010. In 2016, Amtrak added business class service to the Cardinal.[17]

The Cardinal's current typical consist includes a single locomotive, a Viewliner II baggage car, one or two Viewliner I sleeping cars, one Amfleet I Club-Dinette business class car, a single Amfleet II Diner-Lite diner-lounge car, and two to four Amfleet II long-distance coaches.

Route overview[edit]

The Cardinal's route is one of the most scenic in Amtrak's system. After an early morning departure from NYC, the train passes through Virginia's rolling horse country, across the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah Valley. Then the train climbs the Allegheny Mountains and stops at the resort town of White Sulphur Springs, with its famous The Greenbrier hotel. The Cardinal descends on tracks through the New River Gorge National River, a unit of the National Park Service protecting the longest deepest river gorge in the Eastern U.S. The river is popular for white water rafting, and the cliffs attract rock climbers. The forests blaze with autumn foliage and the train usually sells out during the peak season. The Cardinal will often add the only remaining full-length dome car in Amtrak service, car number 10031, to the consist in the autumn to try to accommodate the leaf peepers.[18]

The schedules are timed to provide a daylight transit of the New River Gorge almost all year. So westbound, the train travels at night from Charleston, West Virginia, on to Indianapolis, where it arrives about dawn, reaching Chicago in mid-morning. Eastbound the Cardinal departs late afternoon, reaching Indianapolis before midnight, Charleston mid-morning, and NYC in the late evening. Unfortunately, Cincinnati is served both directions with stops after midnight, yet about 15,000 passengers a year arrive or depart from this station.

The Cardinal is one of only two of Amtrak's 15 long distance trains to operate only three days a week, the other being the Sunset Limited.

Route details[edit]

Amtrak Cardinal (interactive map)

The Cardinal operates over Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Buckingham Branch Railroad, Canadian National Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, and Metra trackage:

Station stops[edit]

State/Province Town/City Station Connections
Illinois Chicago Chicago Union Station Amtrak: Blue Water, Capitol Limited, Carl Sandburg, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans, Empire Builder, Hiawatha Service, Hoosier State, Illini, Illinois Zephyr, Lake Shore Limited, Lincoln Service, Pere Marquette, Saluki, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine, Thruway Motorcoach

CTA Buses: 1, 7, 14, 19, 20, X20, X28, 56, 60, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 128, 129, 130, 151, 156, 157, 192
CTA Subway Stops: Clinton Blue Line, Quincy Brown, Orange, Pink, and Purple Lines
Megabus: M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, M7
Metra: North Central Service, Milwaukee District/North Line, Milwaukee District/West Line, BNSF Railway Line, Heritage Corridor, SouthWest Service

Indiana Dyer Dyer Amtrak Station None
Rensselaer Rensselaer Amtrak station None
Lafayette Lafayette Amtrak Station Greyhound Lines
CityBus: 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 4A, 4B, 5, 6A, 6B, 7
Crawfordsville Crawfordsville Station None
Indianapolis Indianapolis station Amtrak: Thruway Motorcoach (Burlington Trailways)
IndyGo: Route 16
Connersville Connersville station None
Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Union Terminal SORTA: (First bus is at 5:45am on weekdays)
Kentucky Maysville Maysville station Maysville Transit
South Shore South Portsmouth-South Shore None
Ashland Ashland Transportation Center Greyhound Lines
ABS: All routes
West Virginia Huntington Huntington Amtrak station Tri-State Transit Authority: 2, 4, 5, 6, 10
Charleston Charleston Amtrak station KRT: Route 18, Thruway Motorcoach to Sutton/Flatwoods, Weston, Clarksburg, Fairmont & Morgantown (Barons Bus Lines) (Note: Thruway Motorcoach only serves Train 50 eastbound. There is no Thruway Motorcoach service from Charleston serving Train 51 westbound.) [19]
Montgomery Montgomery station KRT: Route 9, 22
Thurmond Thurmond station None
Prince Prince depot None
Hinton Hinton Amtrak Station None
Alderson Alderson station None
White Sulphur Springs White Sulphur Springs station None
Virginia Clifton Forge Clifton Forge station None
Staunton Staunton Amtrak station Staunton Free Trolley: Green Route
CATS: 250 Connector (at Staunton Visitor Center)
Charlottesville Charlottesville Union Station Amtrak: Crescent, Northeast Regional, Thruway Motorcoach to Richmond (James River Transportation) & Washington D.C. (through ticketing on existing Greyhound Lines route)
Greyhound Lines
CAT: T, 7
Culpeper Culpeper Amtrak: Crescent, Northeast Regional
Manassas Manassas Amtrak: Crescent, Northeast Regional
VRE: Manassas Line
PRTC: Manassas Metro Direct, OmniLink Manassas
Alexandria Alexandria Union Station Amtrak: Crescent, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star
VRE: Fredericksburg Line, Manassas Line
Metro: Blue Line, Yellow Line
Metrobus: REX, 28A, 28B, 29K, 29N
DASH: AT2, AT5, AT6, AT7, AT8, AT10
District of Columbia Washington Washington Union Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Capitol Limited, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter, Thruway Motorcoach to Charlottesville, Virginia (through ticketing on existing Greyhound Lines route)
MARC Train: Brunswick Line, Camden Line, Penn Line
VRE: Manassas Line, Fredericksburg Line
Metro: Red Line
Metrobus: D3, D6, D8, X1, X2, X8, X9, 80, 96, 97
DC Circulator: Georgetown, Navy Yard
DC Streetcar: H Street/Benning Road Line
MTA Maryland: 903, 922
Loudoun County Transit: Loudoun County
PRTC: Dale City

Washington D.C. is where the Cardinal switches between electrification and diesel locomotive services: Trains going to Chicago must switch from a Siemens ACS-64 electric locomotive to a GE Genesis P42DC diesel locomotive as there are no facilities, including catenary wires, between Washington and Chicago that support electric locomotives. Trains going to New York must switch from a GE Genesis P42DC diesel locomotive to a Siemens ACS-64 electric locomotive due to diesels not being allowed in the North River Tunnels into NYC from New Jersey.

Maryland Baltimore Baltimore Penn Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
MARC Train: Penn Line
MTA Maryland: Light Rail, 3, 11, 61, 64
Delaware Wilmington Wilmington Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
DART First State: 2, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 28, 31, 33, 35, 38, 40, 45, 48, 52, 54, 55, 59, 301, 305 (seasonal)
SEPTA Regional Rail: Wilmington/Newark Line
Pennsylvania Philadelphia 30th Street Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Atlantic City Line
SEPTA City Transit Division: Market-Frankford Line, SEPTA Subway-Surface Trolley Lines (Route 10, Route 11, Route 13, Route 34, Route 36), 9, 12, 21, 30, 31, 42, 44, 62, LUCY
SEPTA Suburban Transit Division: 124, 125
SEPTA Regional Rail: Airport Line, Warminster Line, Wilmington/Newark Line, West Trenton Line, Media/Elwyn Line, Lansdale/Doylestown Line, Paoli/Thorndale Line, Manayunk/Norristown Line, Cynwyd Line, Trenton Line, Chestnut Hill East Line, Chestnut Hill West Line, Fox Chase Line
New Jersey Trenton Trenton Rail Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Pennsylvanian, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor Line, River Line, 409, 418, 600, 601, 604, 606, 608, 609, 611, 619
SEPTA Regional Rail: Trenton Line
SEPTA Suburban Transit Division: Route 127
Newark Newark Penn Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
NJ Transit: Newark City Subway, Newark Light Rail, North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Raritan Valley Line, 1, 5, 21, 34, 40, 62, 67, 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76, 78, 79, 108, 308, 319
Coach USA: 31, 44
New York New York City Penn Station Amtrak: Acela Express, Adirondack, Carolinian, Crescent, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone Service, Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Northeast Regional, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter
LIRR: Main Line
NJ Transit: North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Gladstone Branch, Montclair-Boonton Line, Morristown Line
NYC Subway: 1, ​2, and ​3 A, ​C and ​E trains
NYC Transit buses: M4, M7, M20, M34 / M34A Select Bus Service, Q32


  1. ^ a b "Cardinal / Hoosier State". Amtrak. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  2. ^ a b "Amtrak Fiscal Year 2012 Ridership and Revenue" (PDF). Amtrak. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Schafer, Mike; Welsh, Joe (1997). Classic American Streamliners. Osceola, Wisconsin: MotorBooks International. ISBN 978-0-7603-0377-1. 
  5. ^ Sanders, Craig (2003). Limiteds, Locals, and Expresses in Indiana, 1838–1971. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34216-3. 
  6. ^ "Amtrak's First Trains and Routes". Mark D. Bej. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Lynch, Peter E. (2004). Penn Central Railroad. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 0760317631. OCLC 53356627. 
  8. ^ "PRR CHRONOLOGY 1976" (PDF). The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Schafer, Mike, Bob Johnston and Kevin McKinney. All Aboard Amtrak. Piscataway NJ: Railpace Co., 1991
  10. ^ "Amtrak Trains Under the Microscope in 2010", Trains, July 2010, 20.
  11. ^ "More trains: Amtrak plans to dailify the Cardinal". The Hook. 2 October 2010. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  12. ^ "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List", Trains, January 2011, 20-21.
  13. ^ "Bob Bryant's Big Little Railroad", Trains, January 2012, 51.
  14. ^ a b "P2, P3, EW2, GS19 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project" (PDF). CREATE. November 2015. Retrieved January 10, 2018. 
  15. ^ "Picking Up Speed in Orange". Buckingham Branch Railroad. April 17, 2017. Retrieved January 10, 2018. 
  16. ^ "Central Virginia Railfan Page--Amtrak Service". TrainWeb. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  17. ^ Amtrak Launches Business Class Service for Cardinal Passengers
  18. ^ "Fall Travel Made Brilliant on the Great Dome Car". Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  19. ^ Amtrak Launches Thruway Bus Connection in West Virginia

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Route map: Google

KML is from Wikidata