International (Amtrak train)

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19961012 08 Amtrak E. Lansing, MI.jpg
A Via Rail EMD F40PH leads the International with Amtrak Hi-Level and Superliner coaches into East Lansing in 1996
Service type Intercity rail
Status Discontinued
Locale Midwestern United States/Southern Ontario
Predecessor Blue Water Limited
First service October 31, 1982
Last service April 23, 2004
Successor Blue Water
Former operator(s) Amtrak/Via Rail
Start Chicago, Illinois
Stops 19
End Toronto, Ontario
Distance travelled 502 mi (808 km)
Average journey time 10 hours 47 minutes
Service frequency Daily
Train number(s)
  • 364, 365, 367 (Amtrak)
  • 88, 85, 685 (Via)
On-board services
Class(es) Reserved coach
Catering facilities On-board cafe
Rolling stock Superliner coaches
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

The International (formerly International Limited) was a named passenger train operated between Chicago and Toronto. It was originally an overnight train operated by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and its successors the Canadian National Railway and Grand Trunk Western Railroad, running as far as Montreal. The train was cut back to Port Huron, Michigan in 1970 and discontinued in 1971.

In 1982, Amtrak and Via Rail revived the route by extending Amtrak's Blue Water Limited. It was renamed as the International the next year. The service was initially successful but encountered numerous funding crises in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Substantial delays crossing the international border after the September 11th attacks, combined with freight congestion and the 2003 SARS outbreak, decimated ridership. In 2004, the train was replaced with the Blue Water, which offered a better interstate schedule and higher reliability.


CN/GTW operation

The eastbound International Limited operating on the Grand Trunk Railway around 1909

The Canadian National Railway (CN) and Grand Trunk Western Railroad (GTW) operated the overnight International Limited between Chicago's Dearborn Station and Montreal's Central Station via Port Huron. A typical twelve-car consist included two baggage-express cars, five coaches, three named 12-1 Pullman sleepers, a named 8-1-2 Pullman sleeper, and an unusual 2-3-1 buffet/lounge/solarium car; all cars were from the CN except one baggage car.

Eastbound train #14 departed Dearborn Station at 8:00 pm, behind a GTW U4-b 6400 Northern-type steam locomotive. At Port Huron, St. Clair Tunnel Company electrics would pull the train through the tunnel to Sarnia, Ontario, where a CN 5700-class Hudson or a 6400-class streamlined Confederation would take the train to Montreal. The 15-hour trip made a number of stops en route to an 11:00 am arrival at Montreal. Westbound train #13 operated on a similar overnight schedule.

Until 1964, the International Limited was one of three daily Chicago-Toronto trips on the route, along with the Inter-City Limited and La Salle/Maple Leaf. GTW and parent company CN used aggressive marketing, inexpensive fares, and on-board perks like free meals to attract riders. East Lansing station opened as an experimental stop for Michigan State University and proved successful. However, the Grand Trunk was still losing "staggering amounts of money" running the service.[1]:203 The eastbound Inter-City Limited was cut to Port Huron in November 1964, and cut entirely on October 29, 1967 along with the La Salle when the Chicago-Detroit Mohawk was added. The International Limited was cut back to Port Huron on June 12, 1970, leaving the Maple Leaf (the westbound a 1966-renamed Inter-City Limited) as the railroad's only Toronto train. When taking over intercity rail service in the United States, Amtrak did not retain any of the six GTW trains (the International Limited, Maple Leaf, and Mohawk).[1]:203 They made their last runs on April 30, 1971; the International Limited was the last intercity train to depart from Dearborn Station.[2]:70–71

Amtrak/Via operation


The International Limited at Flint in 1982

In 1974, Amtrak restored service over the GTW to Port Huron with the Blue Water (renamed the Blue Water Limited in 1975). After Via Rail took over Canadian intercity passenger services in 1978, Amtrak saw a chance to improve the Blue Water Limited's financial performance by extending it to Toronto. Talks between the agencies began in late 1981.[1]:204 Negotiations soon reached a stalemate; Michigan desired a later Sunday schedule so that weekend travelers to Toronto could return late in the evening, but Via did not. Michigan was also worried about losing day trips to Chicago; supported primarily by ridership west of East Lansing, the Blue Water Limited was Amtrak's most-used state-supported route with only one daily round trip.[1]:204

The New York-Toronto Maple Leaf, introduced in April 1981, had proved an immediate success, and Amtrak and Via soon reached an agreement. Via accepted the later Sunday train and agreed to share equipment for the route. Michigan funded a Flint-Battle Creek bus, which connected with the westbound Wolverine and eastbound Twilight Limited, to preserve Flint-Chicago day trips.[1]:204-2065 The International Limited began operations on October 31, 1982, replacing the Blue Water Limited. In contrast to its predecessor, it used ex-Penn Central trackage west of Battle Creek, Michigan - in common with Amtrak's other Michigan trains - and ran on a daylight schedule. On June 13, 1983, Amtrak renamed the train the International, which it carried until its discontinuance.[1]:205

The International began serving Stratford (pictured in 2004) in 1990

On January 15, 1990, Via moved the International off its original CN route to a more northerly route between London and Toronto. The new route enabled it to service Kitchener, Ontario, but added an hour to its running time.[1]:205 There were also several never-enacted proposals to reroute the train within Michigan. A 1984 state plan would have run the International through Grand Rapids; instead, the independent Pere Marquette was started using funds saved by the startup of the International Limited and the discontinuance of the Michigan Executive.[1]:209 In 1995, during a funding crunch, Amtrak proposed routing the International through Durand, Pontiac, and Detroit, thus dropping Flint and Port Huron.[1]:205 In 2000, Amtrak proposed moving the train entirely to the Chicago-Detroit line that fall as part of the Network Growth Strategy.[3] Detroit station would have been skipped entirely; Amtrak would no longer have used state funds for the International, though they may have been used for a replacement Port Huron train instead.[1]:205 Neither proposal was ultimately enacted.

Decline and discontinuance

Signage at the Flint station denoting the current Blue Water destination and International Limited destination

Beginning in the late 1990s, Amtrak services in Michigan suffered a series of funding crises. The Pere Marquette was reduced to four times a week in April 1995; that September, a state commission voted to reduce the International to quad-weekly to restore daily operation on the Pere Marquette. The commission elected to keep the daily International in January 1996; in 1997, the state and Amtrak agreed to an 18-month contract lasting through March 31, 1999.[1]:2006 Despite an extension, Amtrak proposed to end the train on October 2, 2000. After negotiations proceeded well, the state approved $6.7 million on January 17, 2001 to continue funding for the International. With ridership falling, state officials were reluctant to pursue a long-term funding solution, instead opting for small extensions often by diverting other rail funds.[1]:206-207

Until 2001, the International had a customs stop of about one hour, with U.S. officials conducting screenings on the train at Port Huron. After the September 11th attacks, security personnel were redeployed to the Blue Water Bridge, and U.S. Customs refused to continue on-board screenings. (On-board screenings continued on Amtrak's three other border-crossing routes.) Westbound passengers had to be bussed with their luggage from Sarnia to Port Huron, costing Amtrak $27,000 a month. The security issues caused massive delays, even after on-board screening resumed on February 19, 2002 amid complaints from the state and both railroads. By this time, just 8 to 15 passengers crossed the border on a typical day.[1]:207

Delays caused by the border crossing and freight congestion continued to erode ridership, as did the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto. Ridership plunged from 125,126 in 1997 to just 88,045 in 2003.[4] Amtrak suggested to Michigan that the International be truncated to Port Huron, which would allow for a more reliable trip on the former Blue Water Limited schedule and restore connections in Chicago. With state agreement, the final International ran eastbound on April 22, 2004, and westbound the next day (along with a Port Huron eastbound on the International schedule). On April 24, 2004, the Port Huron-Chicago Blue Water began operation. Via retained a single daily Toronto-Sarnia round trip that was merged into its Corridor service, but a planned Port Huron-Sarnia bus was never implemented.[1]:207


The International with a VIA locomotive and Amtrak coaches in 1994

When started, the train usually consisted of two or three coaches and a food-service / custom-class car combination. Amtrak and Via alternated equipment: at first, Amtrak used diesel locomotives and Amfleet coaches, while Via used LRCs and Tempo coaches. Equipment assignments and allocations frequently changed; after the VIA equipment was sidelined due to winter conditions in 1985, only Amtrak cars were used. On August 10, 1988, Via began using nine LRC passenger cars with the tilt mechanism removed (making them compatible with Amtrak cafe cars) pulled by F40PH locomotives.[1]:208

In November 1995, all trains began using 4-5 Amtrak Superliners and Hi-Level cars, pulled by Via F40PH locomotives. The F40PH locomotives were not compatible with the newly installed Incremental Train Control System; they were replaced with Amtrak P32-8WH locomotives late in 1999. Horizon Fleet were used beginning in 2000 to allow the Superliners to add capacity to western trains, and Genesis locomotives were used in the final years.[1]:208


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34705-3.
  2. ^ Holland, Kevin J. (2001). Classic American Railroad Terminals. Osceola, WI: MBI. ISBN 9780760308325. OCLC 45908903.
  3. ^ "Amtrak Needs to Improve Its Decisionmaking Process for Its Route and Service Proposals" (PDF). General Accounting Office. April 2002. Retrieved 2012-07-02.
  4. ^ Michigan Department of Transportation (January 17, 2016). "MDOT Rail Statistics: Annual Ridership Summary". Archived from the original on January 18, 2016.

External links

  • 2004 timetable
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