Amtrak’s Pioneer #25 & #26
Amtrak’s Pioneer was a short lived train; it lasted 20 years from 1977 to 1997 travelling from Seattle to Chicago. It was a connector train, meaning it connected with another train during its trip. The Empire Builder was the other Northwest train with a connector. The main section (#8) left Seattle, another smaller section (#28) left Portland and the two trains combines in Spokane. The Pioneer, train #26, would leave Seattle, the Desert Wind, train #36, would leave Los Angeles and both would meet up with the California Zephyr, train #6, in Salt Lake City to become one massive train that went to Chicago. The westbound Pioneer, train #25, would break off from the westbound California Zephyr, #5, to travel to Seattle.
The Pioneer travelled about 185 miles on Burlington Northern rails before enter Union Pacific rails in Portland. All Amtrak trains operating on BN rails had their train numbers altered so that they could not be confused with a freight train with the same number. Union Pacific used train symbols made up of letters. Both BN and Amtrak numberings were the same, evens were east, and odds were west. Amtrak trains were given a four-digit designation; for example the westbound Empire Builder train number 7, was 1007 and the eastbound Builder train number 8, was 1008. This eliminated any confusion with trains 7 & 8, the Sealand double-stack trains travelling between Seattle and Chicago. The Coast Starlight were trains 1011 and 1014. BN train 14 was the Seattle to St. Louis intermodal train and train 11 was the Chicago to Portland intermodal train.
For that 185 miles, the eastbound Pioneer was not train 1026, it was train 1795. The westbound Pioneer was not train 1025, it was 1798. The California Zephyr was train 1005 and 1006 when it was on BN rails in the Chicago area.
In 1977, the Pioneer ran daily to Salt Lake where passengers could connect with the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad’s San Francisco Zephyr. In 1983 the D&RGW finally gave up its passenger train service and turned it over to Amtrak. The train was renamed California Zephyr, now the Pioneer and Desert Wind trains combined with the CZ at Salt Lake. Train #36, the Desert Wind, would arrive first in Salt Lake at 5:10am, then train #6 would arrive at 5:20am, then finally train #26 would arrive at 5:50am. When train #6 left Salt Lake it could have up to 2 or 3 or baggage cars, plus a mail car, and upwards of 16 to 18 Superliners cars making it the biggest Amtrak train on the west coast. During the summer travel season it could have 600 people on board. It would take 3, sometimes 4, locomotives to pull the train over the Rocky Mountains.
In June 1991, the Pioneer’s route was changed to stay on the Union Pacific all the way to Denver which now gave Wyoming towns Amtrak service. The Desert Wind was still combined at Salt Lake and the Pioneer was combined in Denver. Then in November 1993, because of budget cuts by Congress, the Pioneer was reduced to running 3 times per week. Train #26 would depart Seattle on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Train #25 would arrive in Seattle on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
On May 10, 1997, the Pioneer made its final trip. Amtrak F40PH #323 pulled the last train out of Seattle. The roundhouse crews put black dots on the front making it look as if it had a sad face and "Last Pioneer" was painted below.