Passengers board the National Limited at Kansas City in June of 1974.

(Charles O'Rear, National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


National Limited (Amtrak)

This article is about the Amtrak train. For the predecessor B&O train, see National Limited.

The National Limited was a passenger train that ran between Kansas City, Missouri, and both New York City and Washington, D.C., splitting in Pennsylvania. Amtrak operated the train from 1971 to 1979.



In 1970, the Department of Transportation, in its designation of endpoints for the Amtrak system, designated a train to run between New York, Washington and St. Louis.  This was later amended to run all the way to Kansas City, with a connection to the Super Chief running between Chicago and Los Angeles. The route was being served, prior to Amtrak, by the Spirit of St. Louis, originally run by the Pennsylvania Railroad and later inherited by Penn Central.

Amtrak initially retained the Spirit of St. Louis, extending it to Kansas City along the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In July 1971, the train was renamed the National Limited to better reflect the scope of the route. That name had been used by another New York-St. Louis train operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which had been the Spirit of St. Louis' principal rival. On paper, the route should have been a financial success. Not only did it serve a myriad of population centers (New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, St Louis and Kansas City), but its predecessor had existed for almost 60 years (the St. Louisian had run along the route from 1913 until being replaced by the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927). However, it was fraught with problems almost from the start. It frequently ran late (and sometimes not at all), owing to the poor condition of ex-PRR trackage in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. 

For most of its existence the National Limited operated a Washington section. Until October 29, 1978, this section split at Harrisburg and reached Washington Union Station via the Port Road Branch. From that date until discontinuance the National Limited split at North Philadelphia station, which had long been used as the sole Philadelphia stop for east-west PRR/Penn Central trains.


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

(Hikki Nagasaki, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



In 1979, the Carter administration, in its plan to cut Amtrak's budget, required all routes to meet a minimum cost/farebox ratio.  Any train not making enough money would be dropped from the system. Unfortunately, rampant delays caused by deteriorating Penn Central trackage in the Midwest led to a substantial decline in ridership on the National Limited. Two other former Penn Central trains inherited by Amtrak, the Floridian (formerly the South Wind) and the James Whitcomb Riley, were plagued by similar problems.

Despite protests by local politicians, the National Limited made its last run October 1, 1979. Although the National Limited saw increased patronage in early 1979 due to the oil crisis, it was not enough to spare the train. Amtrak officials said that eastbound trains frequently left Kansas City with fewer than 100 passengers even at the peak of the crisis.

The end of the National Limited spelled the end of intercity rail service in Columbus and Dayton. It also isolated Amtrak's primary maintenance facility, the Beech Grove Shops in Beech Grove, Indiana, near Indianapolis (inherited from Penn Central). 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 Mules (the St. Louis Mule and the Kansas City Mule) to provide service there; this route has since been succeeded by the Missouri River Runner. Service to Indianapolis returned in 1980 with the Indianapolis–Chicago Hoosier State, which reconnected the Beech Grove Shops to the rest of the network.


Potential restoration

In June 2021, Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) added an amendment to the Surface Transportation Investment Act of 2021 which requires the Department of Transportation (not Amtrak itself) to evaluate the restoration of discontinued long-distance routes, such as the National Limited. The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee with bipartisan support, and was later rolled into President Biden's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed into law in November 2021. The report must be delivered to Congress within two years. The law also provides $2.4 billion in new funds to Amtrak's long-distance route network.

On October 28, 2022, the Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study was announced by the Federal Railroad Administration. Its purpose is to evaluate the restoration and addition of discontinued and new long-distance passenger services, as well as the upgrading of tri-weekly long-distance services (the Sunset Limited and the Cardinal) to daily operation. The criteria for either restoring or creating new long-distance routes are that they connect large and small communities as part of a "regional rail network", provide economic and social well-being for rural areas, provide "enhanced connectivity" for the existing long-distance passenger trains, and reflect the support and engagement of the locals and region for restored long-distance passenger service. These criteria include the National Limited, among other trains. The study will take place through 2023, and will engage with stakeholders, the rail companies, and communities as it "evaluates how to better connect people with long-distance rail services".


Route - Stops

Mile Post / km City / Station / notes
0 / 0  New York
10 mi / 16 km Newark Penn
58 mi / 93 km Trenton
86 mi / 138 km North Philadelphia (Bypassed 1978), Philadelphia (Post-1978)
105 mi / 169 km Paoli
154 mi / 248 km  Lancaster
189 mi / 304 km                                                  Harrisburg
250 mi / 402 km                                                    Lewistown
286 mi / 460 km                                                        Huntingdon
306 mi / 492 km                                                      Tyrone
320 mi / 515 km                                                        Altoona
320 mi / 515 km                                                        Johnstown
395 mi / 636 km                                                            Latrobe
404 mi / 650 km                                                            Greensburg
428 mi / 689 km                                                          Wilkinsburg
435 mi / 700 km                                                            Pittsburgh
532 mi / 856 km Dennison (Never opened)
626 mi / 1007 km                                                              Columbus
697 mi / 1122 km                                                                      Dayton
738 mi / 1188 km                                                                        Richmond
807 mi / 1299 km                                                                          Indianapolis
879 mi / 1415 km Terre Haute
946 mi / 1522 km                              Effingham
1045 mi / 1682 km St. Louis–Union Station
1058 mi / 1703 km Kirkwood
1166 mi / 1876 km                              Jefferson City
1229 mi / 1978 km                              Sedalia
1258 mi / 2025 km                                Warrensburg
1322 mi / 2128 km                                Kansas City


Service type: Inter-city rail
Status: Discontinued
Locale: Eastern United States
Predecessor: Spirit of St. Louis
First service: July 1971
Last service: October 1, 1979
Current operator: N/A
Former operator: Amtrak
Route Termini: New York City, New York / Washington, D.C. / Kansas City, Missouri
Distance traveled: 1,322 miles (2,128 km)
Service frequency: Daily
Train numbers: 30/31
On-board services
Classes: First class (sleepers), Reserved coach
Sleeping arrangements: Bedrooms, Roomettes
Catering facilities: Dining car
Observation facilities: Dome car
Rolling stock: Heritage fleet
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)