The Metroliner Page

Covering America's first high speed train: Budd Metroliners 1966-present

Metroliner History

By Kevin Wong

The passage of the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 began efforts in high speed rail in the Northeastern United States, particularly in the Washington-New York corridor. By 1963 a limited access highway between these cities was in service with the opening of the JFK Highway (I-95) in Maryland and Delaware. The Eastern Shuttle, with frequent service and low fares, appealed to business travelers.

By 1966, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), the U.S. Department of Commerce and ICC began development on a high-speed train with a maximum rated speed of 160 mph. The Budd Company of Philadelphia received the contract for 61 cars, which would be built at its Red Lion Road assembly plant in Northeast Philadelphia. Westinghouse and General Electric would be the contractors for electrical and traction equipment.

The Metroliner equipment would be electric multiple unit equipment built as single ended single units (cab at one end), intended to operate in trains of 2, 4, 6 or 8 cars. Styling was a radical break from conventional passenger equipment, with a rounded fuselage shaped body and small windows (given that the Metroliner service was intended to compete with airline shuttles). Three variants or body styles were built: Coach (76 seat), Snack Bar-Coach (60 seat, with food service counter) and First Class Parlor (34 seat, with 1-1 seating). The coaches, snack bars and parlors were designated internally by PRR as MP85E4, MPC85E5 and MPP85E5 respectively.

The 31 coaches were numbered 800-830 and were Westinghouse units, the other 30 cars were GE units and included 20 snack bars (850-869) and 10 parlors (880-889).

In 1967 the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) was established and bureaucratic responsibility for the Metroliner project shifted from the ICC and U.S. Department of Commerce to the Office of High-Speed Ground Transportation at USDOT. Although passenger service start date was projected for autumn 1967, delays regarding the cars at Budd pushed the timetable further back in 1968, though some cars were already completed prior to the Penn Central merger in early 1968.

Metroliner service was inaugurated on January 16, 1969 with one daily round trip between Washington and New York. Although the Westinghouse units were assembled and completed first, technical problems meant that initially only GE units were accepted in service (with snack bar coaches and first class parlors). As additional cars were accepted in the spring and summer of 1969, service was gradually increased. Due to track and technical limitations, the Metroliners were unable to reach their rated 160 mph in service and were reduced to 110, 100 and 90 mph in the 1970s.

Amtrak took responsibility for the Metroliner service from Penn Central as of May 1, 1971 and many cars received new logos as well as the red-white-blue striped livery.

In 1975 the first of 492 Metroliner-based Amfleet passenger cars began appearing on the Northeast Corridor. The Amfleets would retire the remaining conventional equipment in corridor service by 1977.

By the late 1970s, technical issues with the Metroliners forced Amtrak into a rebuild program of some units, including the relocation of electrical equipment to a "hump" mounted on the roofline. With the delivery of 125 mph AEM7 electric units from EMD and ASEA of Sweden, Amtrak retired the GG1s by 1981. The AEM7s also allowed Metroliner service to be operated with Amfleet equipment, and the Budd Metroliners would be phased out of Northeast Corridor service.

Some Metroliners remained as electric MU units, operating on the Keystone Service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia Suburban Station as "Capitoliners". The last Metroliner operating as a self-powered electric unit ran in early 1988, though the "Capitoliners" were often towed by locomotives in the later 1980s.

Most of the Metroliner fleet was converted to push-pull operation in the late 1980s and early 90s for Atlantic City, Michigan and California services. Most of the 800-830 Westinghouse coaches were renumbered into the 9600-series as cab cars. Others retained their numbers in push-pull service, before being regrouped in the 9800 series. A number of coaches and parlor cars were rebuilt as decabbed coaches, funded by the State of Michigan for corridor services. Most of the snack bars were stored or scrapped, with 860 at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and 863 renumbered as 9800, the Metroliner conference car available for charters and special events.

The 9600-series cab cars remain in regular service, almost five decades after construction and delivery in 1966-67. They can found on the Keystone Service in push-pull operation with Amfleet coaches and Siemens ACS-64s, as well as on the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven shuttle service.

Metroliner Chronology

September 30, 1965: High Speed Ground Transportation Act (Public Law 89-220) passed by U.S. Congress, directs Secretary of Commerce to undertake and develop high-speed ground transportation experimental projects.
May 6, 1966: 50 high-speed electric MU cars are ordered from Budd, Westinghouse and General Electric at $20 million, with $10.4 million PRR and $9.6 million U.S. government funds. Cars included 20 coaches, 20 snack bar coaches and 10 first class parlors. The coaches are Westinghouse cars, the snack bars and parlors GE cars. First cars are to be delivered for Autumn 1967 revenue passenger service date. Design of "Metroliners" is a radical departure from conventional equipment, with rounded fuselage body, small windows and "aero" styled cab ends.
August 30, 1966: SEPTA orders 11 Westinghouse Metroliner coaches for high-speed state funded service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, added to order of 20 coaches.
April 1, 1967: U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) established, authority of Metroliner project transferred from Secretary of Commerce to USDOT.
May 24, 1967: PRR announces October 29, 1967 Metroliner start date.
September 1967: First two Westinghouse Metroliner coaches (800 and 802) delivered to test track on Reading West Trenton Line.
November 15, 1967: First two Westinghouse Metroliners (800 and 802) delivered to PRR.
November 18, 1967: Testing of 800 and 802 begins at up to 125 mph on high speed line between Trenton and New Brunswick.
November 24, 1967: 800 and 802 hit 164 mph, with serious technical problems noted.
December 3, 1967: Metroliners 801 and 803 begin testing.
December 17, 1967: Westinghouse Metroliners 800 and 802 are tested at speeds up to 175 mph. Windows of a MP54 consist ripped out by the passing Metroliners at high speed.
February 1, 1968: Penn Central merger. The Westinghouse Metroliners and some GE units were factory delivered with PRR Keystones as most were completed before this date.
February 8, 1968: Westinghouse coach 810 and GE snack bar 852 are displayed at Washington Union Station for Congressional officials.
March 2, 1968: First two GE Metroliners delivered to PRR.
March 12, 1968: U.S. Transportation Secretary Alan Boyd announces indefinite delay on Metroliners due to problems with Westinghouse equipment.
June 24, 1968: Budd Company suspends Metroliner testing due to Westinghouse and GE technical difficulties.
July 1968: 800, 802, 804 and 808 placed in dead storage until Westinghouse legal issues are settled.
July 2, 1968: GE Metroliners 851 and 852 hit 161 mph in demo for Japanese railway officials on high speed line in New Jersey.
August 8, 1968: Successful 100 mph test of 819 (WE) and 852 (GE) operating as 2-car pair, proving compatibility between Westinghouse and GE equipment.
August 26, 1968: SEPTA refuses acceptance of Westinghouse Metroliners after failed acceptance run.
September 4, 1968: Budd announces the 31 Westinghouse Metroliners would be returned to Westinghouse pending resolution of technical issues.
October 10, 1968: Budd reports successful test of a 6-car GE train, with a New York-Washington running time at 2:59.
November 30, 1968: Budd announces no Westinghouse Metroliners will be tested until the GEs are fully accepted for service.
December 20, 1968: Penn Central and USDOT announce start of Metroliner service on January 16, 1969 with one 6-car GE train at 2:59 schedule on a single daily round trip.
January 10, 1969: A 6-car GE train operates between Philadelphia and Washington on test run for next week's VIP and press preview run.
January 15, 1969: Special VIP preview Metroliner run between Washington and New York, with stopover for lunch at Philadelphia. Public and Congressional officials, including outgoing Transportation Secretary Boyd (Johnson) and incoming John Volpe (Nixon) are on board.
January 16, 1969: First day of official Metroliner service, round trip 2000/2001 operates between New York and Washington with GEs 880, 881, 859, 858 and 854. Public phone service (provided by AT&T/Bell System) is available in the snack bars and parlor cars. Westinghouse units are stored, awaiting testing, delivery and acceptance.
February 7, 1969: 4-car Metroliner tested between New York and New Haven.
February 10, 1969: Second round trip added.
March 20, 1969: Testing of Westinghouse Metroliners resumes.
April 2, 1969: Third round trip added.
May 1, 1969: 11 Westinghouse units accepted, 28 GE units in service.
July 2, 1969: 20 Westinghouse units accepted.
October 26, 1969: Six daily Metroliner round trips now on schedule, 20 Westinghouse and 28 GE Metroliners in service (48 cars).
January 24, 1970: President Richard Nixon rides a Metroliner special to the 70th anniversary of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
February 1970: SEPTA's 11 Westinghouse Metroliners are reassigned to main line New York-Washington high speed service, moved to Red Lion assembly plant for rework. These units would not be accepted for service until 1972.
April 20, 1970: Metroliners carry one millionth passenger.
May 1, 1971: Amtrak begins Metroliner operation.
November 14, 1971: Metroliner increased to 12 round trips, including one round trip to New Haven. Top speed reduced to 100 mph.
February 1972: GE Metroliner 862 is sent to the company's Erie shop for a trial rebuild, followed by 867 in September.
March 1972: Westinghouse Metroliner 815 is sent to the company's West Mifflin (Pittsburgh) shop for trial rebuild, followed by 816 in July.
October 28, 1973: Metroliner service increased to 15 round trips.
December 17, 1973: Major ice storm in New York metropolitan region disables Metroliners, which are towed by GG1s in the storm's aftermath, a situation that would occur again during snowstorms in 1974, 1975 and 1978.
1974: Peak Metroliner ridership year at 2,493,301, in part due to oil and energy crisis.
July 1974: The four rebuilt Metroliners (862, 867, 815, 816) are tested and accepted for service. Upgrades include roof humps for dynamic braking and air intakes.
August 1975: Amtrak introduces the first of 492 "Amfleet" cars - unpowered trailers built by Budd on the Metroliner car shell. The Amfleets would be intended for the Northeast Corridor, as well as medium distance daytime trains in the eastern states and eventually West Coast and Midwest corridor service.
1976: Decline in reliability of Metroliner MU fleet begins, often substituted for by Amfleet equipment and cuts in round trips.
1977: Amtrak begins painting large "AMTRAK" logos on front of Metroliner MU cars.
1978: Budd introduces the SPV, a diesel MU passenger car built on the fuselage shape Metroliner car shell. The SPV is intended as a modern version of the company's successful RDC of the 1950s. but fails to take off in sales or interest.
1978-1979: GG1-powered Amfleet equipment fills in for Metroliners as overhaul program begins at GE.
May 1979: First train of 34 GE rebuild Metroliners in service, roof humps added.
1980: GE rebuild program completed.
February 2, 1981: 801 and 813 tested in Harrisburg service.
April 1981: Last unrebuilt Metroliners removed from service.
August 1981: Amtrak plans on redeploying rebuilt Metroliners to Harrisburg service.
October 23, 1981: Last Metroliner MU train in service on Northeast Corridor.
October 25, 1981: All Metroliner service now operated by AEM7-powered Amfleet equipment rated for 125 mph, Metroliner MUs reassigned to Harrisburg service, as "Capitoliners".
January 25, 1988: Metroliner MU operation in Harrisburg service ends, service to Philadelphia Suburban (Penn Center) Station dropped. Metroliners were often towed by diesels in Harrisburg service or substituted with Amfleet equipment during 1980s.
1988-1991: Metroliner MUs converted to push-pull for Atlantic City, Michigan and California service, most as cab cars, others are decabbed coaches.
May 1989: Amtrak launches Atlantic City service with converted Metroliner cab cars.
1990s: Metroliners can be found on Midwest, Michigan and California corridor services as cab cars. Some decabbed coaches were funded and rebuilt for Michigan corridor service.
1995: GE Metroliner 860 (snack bar) joins the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania collection.
February 2003: Many stored Metroliner snack bars and parlor coaches at Wilmington Shops are scrapped in a cleanout of the backlot.
October 2006-present: Restoration of electric service on Keystone Corridor (Harrisburg-New York) uses Metroliner cabs in push-pull mode with AEM7s and now ACS-64s. Other Metroliners are used on the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven shuttle as cab cars and snack bar 9800 (former 863) is now a conference/business car.

Metroliner specifications
Length: 85'
Width: 10'-6"
Height: 14"-10"
Weight: 166,000 lb
Motors: WE 1461A, 300 HP (1200 HP/car) and GE 1254A1, 255 HP (1020 HP/car)

Metroliner coach (800-830) Roster - PRR MP85E4

UnitRenumber (push-pull)Notes
81444550Michigan Coach
81844551Michigan Coach
8219652Later USDOT DOTX 220/222

Metroliner snack bar-coach (850-869) Roster - PRR MPC85E5

UnitRenumber (push-pull)Notes
850Scrapped 2/2003
851Scrapped 2/2003
852Scrapped 2/2003
856Scrapped 2/2003
857Scrapped 2/2003
859Scrapped 2/2003
860Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
862Scrapped 2/2003
8639800Metroliner Conference Car, in service
864Scrapped 2/2003
869Scrapped 2/2003

Metroliner first class parlor (880-889) Roster - PRR MPP85E5

UnitRenumber (push-pull)Notes
88044552Michigan Coach
881Scrapped 2/2003
88244557Michigan Coach
883Scrapped 2/2003
88444553Michigan Coach, rebuilt 2013 as Catenary Measurement Car 10005
88544556Michigan Coach
886Rebuilt as coach, scrapped
887Rebuilt as coach, scrapped
88844554Michigan Coach
88944555Michigan Coach