Eastbound Cardinal stopped in Prince, West Virginia
|Service type||Inter-city rail |
Higher speed rail (Northeast Corridor only)
|Locale||Midwestern United States |
Southeastern United States
|Predecessor||James Whitcomb Riley|
|First service||October 30, 1977|
|Ridership||113,103 total (FY13)|
|End||New York City|
|Distance travelled||1,146 miles (1,844 km)|
|Average journey time||28 hours|
|Sleeping arrangements||Viewliner Roomette (2 beds)|
Viewliner Bedroom (2 beds)
Viewliner Bedroom Suite (4 beds)
Viewliner Accessible Bedroom (2 beds)
|Catering facilities||Dining car and on-board café|
|Baggage facilities||Checked baggage available at selected stations|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
Norfolk Southern Railway
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. It is one of three trains linking the Northeast to Chicago, the others being the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.
Trains depart New York City on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and depart Chicago on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The 1,146-mile (1,844 km) trip between Chicago and New York City takes 281⁄4 hours.
The Hoosier State previously provided service between Indianapolis and Chicago on the four days a week that the Cardinal did not. On June 30, 2019, that train was discontinued when the state of Indiana ceased funding of the route. 
During fiscal year 2018, the Cardinal carried 96,710 passengers, down 14% from fiscal year 2017. Overall, Amtrak recorded 31.7 million passenger trips in 2016-2017, an increase of 1.5% over the previous year, with total revenue of $3.2 billion, up 1.1% over the same time period. In FY2016, the train had a total revenue of $7,658,608, an increase of 0.2% over FY2015.
The Cardinal brings in approximately $7-8 million per year in ticket revenue; most recent figures show revenue of $7,658,608 in fiscal year 2015-2016, relatively unchanged from the five years prior.
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). The George Washington, the C&O's flagship train, was a long-distance sleeper that ran between Cincinnati and–via a split in Charlottesville, Virginia–Washington, D.C. and Newport News, Virginia. Until the late 1950s, the Riley carried the Washington's sleeper cars between Cincinnati and Chicago. Both routes survived until the formation of Amtrak in 1971.:51; 93
Amtrak kept service mostly identical through the spring and summer of 1971. It slowly began integrating the trains that summer; through Washington–Chicago and Newport News–Chicago coaches began operating July 12, and a through sleeping car began September 8. On November 14, the Riley and George Washington were merged, forming a single long-distance Chicago-Washington train, with the eastbound train (train 50) known as the George Washington and the westbound train (train 51) known as the Riley.:38 The eastern terminus was briefly extended to Boston, giving the Northeast Corridor a one-seat ride to Chicago. However, it was truncated back to Washington in 1972. On May 19, 1974, Amtrak fully merged the George Washington into the Riley.
During the early Amtrak era, the Riley was plagued by the poor condition of ex-New York Central track in Indiana. In 1973, it was moved to ex-Pennsylvania Railroad track through Indianapolis.:256 By 1974, Amtrak rerouted it off Penn Central track altogether; by then, the trackage had deteriorated so badly that the Riley was limited to 10 mph (16 km/h) for much of its route through Indiana. The Newport News section ended in 1976, replaced by the Boston–Newport News Colonial. A number of long-distance trains running along former Penn Central trackage in the Midwest were plagued by similar problems.
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 that had once been part of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then ultimately over the former Baltimore and Ohio route via Cottage Grove by 1980.
The Cardinal was eventually extended to run along the Northeast Corridor again in an effort to improve the Cardinal's cost recovery ratio, but this time with the eastern terminus moved to New York. Previously, the Broadway Limited ran from New York to Chicago along the Northeast Corridor, but only as far south as Philadelphia. The train was discontinued on September 30, 1981, but revived on January 8, 1982 per a mandate initiated by Senator Robert C. Byrd. The revived train followed another new route, via Richmond and Muncie, Indiana. This arrangement lasted until April 27, 1986, when the train was finally moved to its current route via Indianapolis. On October 29, 1995, the Cardinal was truncated to Washington, D.C. after the consist was updated with Superliners. On October 27, 2002, after derailments on other routes depleted available Superliner cars, the Superliners were replaced with Viewliners. 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.
From March 29, 2018 to November 8, 2018, due to continuing construction at New York Penn Station, the Cardinal's eastern terminus was temporarily moved to Washington. Cardinal passengers needing to travel to or from points north of Washington were transferred to a Northeast Regional.
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 did not, assuring seven-day service between Chicago and Indianapolis. This pattern ceased on October 25, 1987, when the Hoosier State became a full-fledged daily train once again. The Hoosier State was dropped on September 8, 1995, but resumed again on July 19, 1998, again running on days that the Cardinal did not run.
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 and brought back the Hoosier State on the pre-1999 schedule.
After Indiana discontinued its subsidy, Amtrak suspended the Hoosier State as of June 30, 2019. Passengers who booked trips after that date were compensated with Cardinal tickets.
In the July 2010 issue of Trains magazine, the Cardinal was noted as being one of five routes under consideration for performance improvement. For the Cardinal, the proposed changes included increasing service from thrice-weekly to daily operation, and changing the western terminus to St. Louis, Missouri. Railfan and Railroad magazine also suggested that the train be rerouted to St. Louis, with a separate section bound for Chicago.
In early October 2010, Amtrak released a report detailing plans to increase the Cardinal's service from thrice-weekly to daily service, as well as increasing the train's on-time performance and food service. 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.
However, obstacles to a daily Cardinal persist. Track capacity is limited on the Buckingham Branch Railroad, a short line railroad between Orange and Clifton Forge, Virginia where the Cardinal operates along former C&O/CSX trackage, preventing frequent freight trains from passing a daily Cardinal. This problem also applied 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. Another obstacle is freight congestion in Chicago particularly at the 75th Street Corridor on Chicago's South Side. 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. The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) has received funding under a public–private partnership (P3) for the 75th Street Corridor with construction beginning in October 2018 and is scheduled to be finished by 2025.
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. As a result, its route was truncated to end in Washington D.C. as a result; then as now, Superliners could not operate north of Washington due to low clearances in Baltimore and New York City. 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.
The Cardinal's current typical consist includes a single locomotive, three Amfleet II long-distance coaches, a single Amfleet II Diner-Lite diner-lounge car, one Amfleet I Club-Dinette business class car, one or two Viewliner I sleeping cars, and a Viewliner II baggage car.
Amtrak bills the Cardinal's route as one of the most scenic in its system. After an early morning departure from New York and traveling south down the Northeast Corridor, 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, home to The Greenbrier, a famous luxury resort. 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.
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. Like other long-distance trains, passengers are not allowed to travel only between stations on the Northeast Corridor on the Cardinal. Eastbound trains only stop to discharge passengers from Alexandria northward, and westbound trains only stop to receive passengers from Newark to Washington. This policy aims to keep seats available for passengers making longer trips; passengers traveling between Northeast Corridor stations can use the more frequent Northeast Regional service.
- Amtrak Northeast Corridor, New York to Washington
- CSX RF&P Subdivision, Washington to Alexandria
- NS Washington District, Alexandria to Orange
- BB Orange Subdivision and North Mountain Subdivision, Orange to Clifton Forge
- CSX Alleghany Subdivision, New River Subdivision, Kanawha Subdivision, Russell Subdivision, Northern Subdivision, Cincinnati Subdivision, Cincinnati Terminal Subdivision, Indianapolis Subdivision, Indianapolis Terminal Subdivision, Crawfordsville Branch Subdivision, Lafayette Subdivision, and Monon Subdivision, Clifton Forge to Munster
- CN Elsdon Subdivision, Munster to Thornton
- UP Villa Grove Subdivision, Thornton to 81st Street
- Metra SouthWest Service, 81st Street to Chicago
- NS Chicago Line, CP 518 to Chicago (Depending on Dispatcher preference, The Cardinal often runs between CP 518 and 21st Street on NS)
- "Cardinal / Hoosier State" (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
- "Amtrak suspends ticket sales for Hoosier State line after June 30". Indianapolis Business Journal. April 8, 2019.
- "Amtrak Cardinal ridership up 7.25 percent despite drop in Huntington" (Web). Charleston Gazette-Mail. November 20, 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
- "Amtrak FY16 Fact Sheet" (Web). Amtrak. April 17, 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
- Schafer, Mike; Welsh, Joe (1997). Classic American Streamliners. Osceola, Wisconsin: MotorBooks International. ISBN 978-0-7603-0377-1.
- Sanders, Craig (2003). Limiteds, Locals, and Expresses in Indiana, 1838–1971. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34216-4.
- "Amtrak's First Trains and Routes". Mark D. Bej. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- Lynch, Peter E. (2004). Penn Central Railroad. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 0760317631. OCLC 53356627.
- Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34705-3.
- "PRR CHRONOLOGY 1976" (PDF). The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
- Schafer, Mike; Johnston, Bob; McKinney, Kevin (1991). All Aboard Amtrak. Piscataway, NJ: Railpace Co.
- "Amtrak shortening Cardinal route to allow for track renovations in NYC". The News Leader. March 10, 2018. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
- "Amtrak Trains Under the Microscope". Trains. July 2010. p. 20.
- "More trains: Amtrak plans to dailify the Cardinal". The Hook. October 2, 2010. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
- "Amtrak's Improvement Wish List". Trains. January 2011. pp. 20–21.
- "Bob Bryant's Big Little Railroad". Trains. January 2012. p. 51.
- "P2, P3, EW2, GS19 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project" (PDF). CREATE. November 2015. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
- "Picking Up Speed in Orange". Buckingham Branch Railroad. April 17, 2017. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
- "Preckwinkle, Partners Mark 75th Street Rail Corridor Improvement Project". The Chicago Crusader. October 1, 2018. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
- "Central Virginia Railfan Page--Amtrak Service". TrainWeb. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Steelhammer, Rick (January 13, 2016). "Amtrak Launches Business Class Service for Cardinal Passengers".
- "Fall Travel Made Brilliant on the Great Dome Car". Amtrak.com. Retrieved October 21, 2014.
- "Amtrak Launches Thruway Bus Connection in West Virginia" (Press release). July 17, 2017.
- Mike Schafer, Amtrak's atlas, Trains, June 1991
- Schwieterman, Joseph P. (2001). When the Railroad Leaves Town: American Communities in the Age of Rail Line Abandonment, Eastern United States. Kirksville, Missouri: Truman State University Press. ISBN 978-0-943549-97-2.
- Solomon, Brian; Mike Schafer (2007). New York Central Railroad. Saint Paul, MN: MBI and Voyageur Press. ISBN 9780760329283. OCLC 85851554.
- Amtrak October 2010 report on the Cardinal