Although somewhat confusing there was also a second Leaf, operated between CN and Lehigh Valley to connect Toronto with New York City on an overnight run. This was dropped in early February, 1961. Today, the former route of the original train is now part of Amtrak's Blue Water Service, while New York Central's former Lake Shore Limited route is now known as the Maple Leaf. The train was inaugurated by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada on April 26, 1981 with station stops at New York (Penn Station, Croton-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, Rensselaer, Albany, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Depew, Buffalo, Niagara Falls (New York and Ontario, where crews from VIA Rail take the train), St. Catharines, Grimsby, Aldershot, Oakville, and finally Toronto.
As with Amtrak's Empire Service, much of the route the Leaf uses today on the former New York Central's main line hosted the Lake Shore Limited
that connected Buffalo and the Big Apple. The train was upgraded twice
prior to the streamliner era, first in 1905 with more modern equipment
although it still utilized 4-4-0s (albeit more powerful); then in 1920
it was updated again with all-steel, "heavyweight" Pullman cars and non-streamlined J Class 4-6-4 Hudsons. A typical run for the train to cover the 436 miles between New York and Buffalo, even during its early years, was just over seven hours. In 1941 the Empire
truly came of age when the NYC decided to completely streamline the
train with new equipment from the Budd Company. Using its patented
fluted stainless steel the equipment included mostly coaches but also
offered new amenities like air-conditioning.
The Empire State Express was officially christened as a streamliner on Sunday, December 7, 1941 and unfortunately, as the NYC would soon learn the company could not have chosen a worse date to inaugurate the train. While the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii completely overshadowed the Empire's inauguration it went on to remain a successful dayliner for the New York Central. The train lost its name in 1967 and many of the high class amenities that made it popular during its heyday. After this time it was simply known as the Empire Service by successor Penn Central, which continued to operate it until the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971. From the beginning on this routing the Leaf has never offered lots of accommodations and has always used Amfleet cars for coach and business class service as well as a cafe/snack car.
|Amtrak F40PH #226 has the westbound "Maple Leaf" as it rolls across a very low trestle near Savannah, New York on July 14, 2001. The author notes that he captured the scene from a parallel bridge that once held two additional tracks of the New York Central's Water Level Route main line.|
Until the early 2000s the train operated with EMD F40PHs, one of the
last to do so. Interestingly, while Amtrak began receiving General
Electric's new Genesis models as
early as the mid-1990s VIAs crews were unfamiliar with them. As such,
the train did not begin using them until 2002, today operating primarily
either a P42DC or P32AC-DM. With the Amtrak and the state of New York looking to upgrade the Empire Service corridor with train speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour (high speed rail) it is hoped that the Leaf
will be able to reduced its operating times immensely in the near
future and likely see increased demand (as of now it carries about
400,000 riders annually).
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