National Limited (Amtrak train)

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National Limited
Effingham Amtrak 1979.jpg
The National Limited at Effingham, Illinois in 1979.
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Discontinued
Locale Eastern United States
First service May 1, 1971
Last service October 1, 1979
Current operator(s) N/A
Former operator(s) Amtrak
Start New York City, New York
End Kansas City, Missouri
Distance travelled 1,322 miles (2,128 km)
Service frequency Daily
Train number(s) 30/31
On-board services
  • First class (sleepers)
  • Reserved coach
Sleeping arrangements
  • Bedrooms
  • Roomettes
Catering facilities
Observation facilities Dome car
Rolling stock Heritage fleet
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

The National Limited was a passenger train that ran between New York City and Kansas City, Missouri. Amtrak operated the train between 1971 and 1979.


The National Limited at Kansas City in 1974
The National Limited switches from the Northeast Corridor to the Port Road Branch at Perryville, Maryland in the 1970s

In 1970, the Department of Transportation, in its designation of endpoints for the Amtrak system, designated a train to run between New York City, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis.[1] This was later amended to run all the way to Kansas City, with a connection to the Super Chief that would run between Chicago and Los Angeles. The route was being served, prior to Amtrak, by the Pennsylvania Railroad's Spirit of St. Louis. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad also ran a train connecting New York and Washington with St. Louis. It was their train, known as the National Limited, that had the name that Amtrak would eventually use.

With Amtrak's birth in May 1971, they ran the Spirit of St. Louis, extending it to Kansas City. It soon lost the Spirit moniker, being replaced with the National Limited. The route had issues almost from the start. Although it should have been a financial success, going through a myriad of population centers, it frequently ran late (and sometimes not at all), owing to the deteriorated Penn Central trackage in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.[2]:55 For most of its existence the National Limited operated a Washington section. Until October 29, 1978, this section split at Harrisburg and reached Washington via the Port Road Branch. From that date until discontinuance the National Limited split at Philadelphia.[2]:62

In 1979, the Carter administration, in its plan to cut Amtrak's budget, applied criteria on a cost/farebox ratio to every Amtrak train.[1] Any train not making enough money would be dropped from the system. Unfortunately, the problem of Penn Central's track in the Midwest had led to a substantial decline in ridership on the National Limited. Although there were some protests by local politicians, the National Limited made its last run October 1, 1979.

The state of Missouri, not wanting to see service lost between St. Louis and Kansas City, stepped in on that part of the National's route, and introduced the Kansas City Mule and St. Louis Mule to provide service there; Amtrak now operates the Missouri River Runner between the two cities.


  1. ^ a b Schafer, Mike (1991). All Aboard Amtrak. Piscataway, NJ: Railpace Publishing. 
  2. ^ a b Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. 

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