Ask PeoriaStation

I’m currently in Duluth, Minnesota, so posts will be sporadic until next week. So it is time for another “Ask Peoria Station.” Feel free to ask any transportation related question. As always, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find one.

– David P. Jordan

Early Boeing 747 Domestic Routes: 1980s/1990s Version

Several post-deregulation upstarts used 747s on domestic U.S. routes in the 1980s and into the 1990s. I’ve already covered PeoplExpress in the Continental Airlines post, so the four others –  Transamerica Airlines, The Hawaii Express, Tower Air and America West Airlines – will be covered here.

This carrier started out as Los Angeles Air Service, a supplemental carrier, in 1948. In 1960, the name was changed to “Trans International Airlines.” TIA acquired another supplemental, Saturn Airways, in 1976. Although insurance giant Transamerica acquired TIA in 1968, the airline retained its old name until 1979.

It was in November 1979 that Transamerica launched its first scheduled service, from New York to Shannon and Amsterdam. Weekly Oakland-Los Angeles-Shannon-Paris service started in 1983 as did twice-weekly New York-Tel Aviv. Eventually, Chicago and Oakland had nonstop service to Shannon. Trans International operated DC-8s and DC-10s. The first 747 entered the fleet in 1979, and the carrier operated four total, though no more than two at a time over the next six years.

The most interesting part of Transamerica’s history was its deployment of 747s on limited frequency domestic routes. Service apparently started off as a charter service, but on June 2, 1982 weekly flights began linking St. Louis and Dallas/Ft. Worth with Honolulu and Tahiti.

The July 1984 Official Airline Guide shows weekly 747 flights routed St. Louis-DFW-Honolulu and St. Louis-DFW-Los Angeles-Honolulu. Only one weekly St. Louis-DFW-Honolulu roundtrip is shown in March 1985 schedules. Service llikely ended shortly thereafter.

Transamerica was a money loser. Labor troubles plagued the carrier as well. When no buyer was found, the carrier ceased operations at the end of September 1986.

This carrier began daily 747 service between Los Angeles and Honolulu on August 20, 1982. The 501-seat Giant Jet proved too big for the airline (though competitors American, Pan Am and United were using them as well), and the carrier switched to the DC-10 in May 1983. Insufficient loads and red ink doomed the carrier, and it ceased operations December 20, 1983.

In 1981, dedicated cargo carrier Flying Tiger Line formed a charter subsidiary, Metro International Airways, to operated domestic and international passenger charters using 747s. Scheduled service between New York and Brussels began in 1982. Service to Chicago was added later. The carrier was unprofitable, and in 1983 was reorganized into low-fare Tower Air.

Tower’s service focused mainly on flights from New York to Europe and Israel, but some domestic services were offered in the 1990s. The Official Airline Guide eff. July 15, 1991 shows weekly New York (JFK)-Miami service. September 1995 schedules show five weekly roundtrips between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles, six weekly roundtrips to Miami and two weekly roundtrips to both San Francisco and San Juan.

After one if its 747s veered off the runway during an aborted takeoff in a snowstorm at JFK on December 20, 1995, Tower Air suffered bad publicity. This was compounded subsequently by questionable maintenance practices, resulting in suspension of lucrative military contracts. The carrier filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on Leap Day 2000 and suspended operations on May 1 that year.

This Phoenix, Arizona-based carrier began operations on August 1, 1983 with a fleet of 737-100s and expanded quickly. By 1986, the carrier’s growth (including 737-200/300, 757-200 and DHC-8 turboprops for feeder flights) resulted in losses.

In 1987, Australia’s Ansett Airlines purchased a stake in America West and a year later filed for a Phoenix-Sydney route to connect the two carriers’ countries. Delivery of two 747-200s enabled twice-daily service between Phoenix and Honolulu (one via Las Vegas) starting November 16, 1989.

America West’s bid was rejected but it still desired to serve Japan. A bid to serve Tokyo was also rejected in 1990, but not Nagoya, to which flights were extended from Honolulu on February 27, 1991. Two more 747-200s joined the fleet in summer 1990 and were put into use on New York (JFK)-Las Vegas/Phoenix routes until the end of the year. The carrier even ordered two 747-400s for delivery in 1995-1996.

America West’s acquisition of 747s and its transpacific expansion couldn’t have occurred at a worse time. The American economy entered recession in July 1990 and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait the next month resulted in higher fuel prices for awhile. In its first three months alone, Nagoya service lost $10 million! The first flight had only one passenger, and service was quickly reduced from daily to tri-weekly. The economic situation hadn’t improved and the carrier filed for Chapter 11 in June 1991. The Honolulu-Nagoya route was sold to Northwest for $15 million, and ended in April 1992.

Honolulu service never justified the 381-seat 747, and from September 10, 1992 to March 1993, America West used a wet-leased American Trans Air L-1011 to continue Phoenix-Honolulu service. The 747s were withdrawn and America West’s troubled Giant Jet era came to an end.

America West emerged from bankruptcy in 1994. In 2005, the airline acquired US Airways. The carriers combined in September 2007 an operated as US Airways. In October 2015, US Airways and American Airlines merged, adopting the latter name.

– David P. Jordan

The Ann Arbor Railroad


Pardon another departure from Peoria-centric content.

My latest feature article in The Short Line is now available! I made a trip to Toledo, Ohio last May to explore and photograph this fascinating carrier’s operations. Detailed maps, brief history and info about operations, locomotives and customers can be found in this article.

Mike’s Scale Rails in Peoria should have copies by now, and you can also order through TSL’s website.

Not many people know about this magazine dedicated to shortline, industrial and tourist railroads. It first apppeared in 1973, and since 2000 has been published locally by Pioneer Railroad Services Inc.

– David P. Jordan

Early Boeing 747 Domestic Routes: Projected Routings (in 1968)

Time to shift gears a bit.

Now that I’ve covered actual domestic 747 service by ten original U.S operators, I thought I’d analyze a map which appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine’s 10/28/68 issue. It shows projected North American 747 routes for the 1971-1972 period. Some simply don’t make sense. And there is likely one glaring omission.


Many of these routes did in fact see 747 service during the 1971-1972 period. Working from east to west let’s analyze the exceptions.

Assuming Washington-Dulles International Airport and not Baltimore’s Friendship Airport was projected to have domestic 747 service, note matching frequencies on Boston-Philadelphia and Boston-Washington (Dulles) routes and those cities’ San Juan routes. If this map was intended to show Pan Am route segments not available for domestic passengers, then I’d say they’re related. In other words, Pan Am was likely projected to offer daily Boston-San Juan 747 service via Philadelphia (quad-weekly) and Washington (tri-weekly).

Note 14 weekly frequencies between Boston and Detroit. Only American Airlines had this route in the 1971-1972 time frame, and no doubt 747s would fly it as a leg of transcon routings, probably as described above. (Yes, Detroit Metropolitan Airport used “DTT” as its code until the 1980s.)

Note three segments with quad-weekly frequencies: Philadelphia-Detroit, Detroit-Minneapolis and Minneapolis-Seattle. Projected Pacific routes show sufficient frequency between Seattle and Tokyo (thrice-daily) to suggest this multi-stop routing, probably on Northwest Orient.

Note two segments with tri-weekly service: Washington-Cleveland and Cleveland-Chicago. Then notice ten weekly roundtrips between Chicago and Seattle. I suspect this route was projected to be operated by Northwest Orient as well.

The sole carrier on the Atlanta-Cleveland route, United Air Lines, offered five daily roundtrips in October 1971, but it seems an odd one for 747 service, unless part of a through service. The line shown between Cleveland and Los Angeles is certainly a mistake (note 56 weekly roundtrips), and was probably intended to show New York-Los Angeles 747 service. So projected 747 service between Atlanta and Cleveland seems even stranger. It is possible then that this line was intended to be drawn between Atlanta and Chicago.

Twenty-one weekly 747 roundtrips between Cleveland and Dallas? In October 1971, only one carrier, American Airlines, offered a single daily roundtrip in this market! Absence of DAL-LAX (for possible through service) makes this one even stranger. I can only speculate, but the artist may have intended to draw this line between Dallas and New York.

Braniff International Airways and Delta Air Lines were the incumbent carriers in the Chicago-Houston market. The former had only ordered two 747s, so one must assume Delta was projected to offer 747 service between the two cities. Houston had surprisingly little domestic 747 service in the 1970s. National Airlines was first to introduce it in 1974, and that was only for the summer.

Could this have been a joke? San Antonio International Airport (SAT) handled just 778,897 passengers in fiscal 1970 (ending June 30). Though growing rapidly, the city and its suburbs numbered only 863,669 residents. So what if this was serious? In late 1970, Braniff considered using a second 747 on its Mexico service, so a DAL-SAT-MEX routing might have been possible. Only Continental Airlines had nonstop SAT-LAX authority, but that carrier originally projected Giant Jet service to much larger Houston.

Not related to the above map, but on the same subject, the Cincinnati Enquirer on February 24, 1970 reported possible 747 service to Greater Cincinnati Airport in 1973:

When will the first jumbo jets set down at Greater Cincinnati, those air buses and Boeing 747s that will carry upwards of 300 passengers? Dickey believes the first may land here in 1973, if the airlines are ready. The flights, should the patronage warrant such jumbo visits, would probably be direct to either Florida or the West Coast. Greater Cincinnati Airport, Dickey says, will not be wanting for facilities to handle the mammoth jets, and the 8000-acre airport will be sufficient for such. The runways will be long enough, and sufficiently stable to withstand the greater weight of the Jumbos.

In 1973, Cincinnati was served by three 747 operators – American, Delta and TWA. TWA offered nonstop service to Los Angeles on a 707, and Delta offered Florida nonstops on smaller aircraft (DC-9s and Convair 880s). The Queen City had a metro population of 1.7 million at this time (notably larger than 747-served Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Portland), but being in the densely-populated eastern half of the country with frequent service to many nearby cities, it lacked sufficient concentration of traffic for wide-bodies on long-haul segments.

Delta Air Lines, however, placed L-1011s (“air buses”) on its Cincinnati-Atlanta route in 1974. After establishing a hub-and-spoke operation at CVG in 1981, L-1011 service increased, with the airline even operating them on a Dayton-Cincinnati-Los Angeles routing in 1983!

Cincinnati did eventually see 747 service, but to Europe. Delta’s CVG hub entered the big leagues when service increased significantly in December 1986 and gained its first nonstop service to Europe (London) in 1987. Eventually, global alliances attracted foreign carrier service…and 747s. Sabena-Belgian World Airlines actually started five-times-a-week Brussels-Cincinnati service on May 15, 1997 with an A340-200 (and eventually the larger A340-300). In 1998, Sabena started using a 747 on this route! Service ended in March 2000 after Delta terminated its alliance with the carrier.

Delta partner Air France added Cincinnati on May 15, 2000 with daily service to Paris on a 767-300ER. Heavy feeder traffic prompted the carrier to use a 747-200 on this route briefly in 2001, before service was suspended in July due to a strike (and thus the loss of connecting traffic) by Delta Connection carrier ComAir. When Air France resumed flights in April 2002, smaller A330s sufficed until service ended in 2004.

– David P. Jordan

Early Boeing 747 Domestic Routes: What Might Have Been (Alaska Airlines & Western Airlines)

Two U.S. carriers – Alaska Airlines and Western Airlines – ordered Boeing 747s, but cancelled them before any metal was cut.

Alaska Airlines was a small carrier in late-July 1967 when it ordered two Boeing 747Cs (Convertible cargo/passenger model) for delivery in late 1971. Alaska’s routes linked its Seattle headquarters with Anchorage (some via Sitka) where connections could be made with routes to Fairbanks and some smaller (and in many cases isolated) communities. The carrier expanded considerably in 1968 when it acquired both Cordova Airlines (for its service to the state capital, Juneau) and Alaska Coastal-Ellis Airlines.

So why did Alaska order two Giant Jets? An article appearing in AIRLINERS Magazine’s January-February 1994 issue says the carrier sought routes to Europe. More recently, a poster on one internet message board suggested that interest in nonstop Anchorage-New York (JFK) authority was the impetus for the order. Actually, the answer appears in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, August 1, 1967: Cargo volume on its Anchorage-Seattle route was expected to double by 1972, and fuel was cheap in the late 1960s when the break-even load factor on a 747 was estimated to be quite low. Alaska was also hoping to start Hawaii service on an Anchorage-Seattle-Portland-Honolulu routing.

When Alaska’s order went public, it was noted that one 747 cost nearly three times ($20 million) what the United States paid ($7.2 million) Russia for Alaska exactly 100 years earlier! Fortunately, it didn’t take the airline long to realize that the 747 was too big for its route network. The airline cancelled the order probably no later than early 1969 when winners and losers in the Trans-Pacific Route Case were announced.

In January 1969, Los Angeles-based Western Air Lines ordered 12 jets from Boeing, including three 747s. The Giant Jets were scheduled for delivery in October and December 1970 and June 1971.

Western hoped to be awarded several Hawaii routes as part of the TransPacific route Case. It wasn’t disappointed. Boeing 707s began operating Honolulu-Anchorage/Los Angeles/San Francisco/San Diego and Hilo-Los Angeles/San Francisco routes on July 25, 1969.

The 747s were ordered  to compete with Continental, Northwest Orient, Pan Am and United, which were expected to use them on their Los Angeles/San Francisco-Honolulu routes. So Western would have no doubt done the same, with some flights probably originating/terminating at inland cities such as Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

On July 28, 1969, a mechanics’ strike forced Western Airlines to shutdown operations. The company knew the walkout would last awhile (18 days) and be costly ($15 million), so on August 1 it cancelled the 747 order (and the other nine jets – 707s and 727s – a few days later).

Had Western gone ahead with its 747 deliveries, it would have found it too big for its route network, and sold them after a few years. A more suitable wide-body aircraft, the DC-10, entered the fleet in 1973. Western had 14, and these would be the largest aircraft it operated until the merger with Delta Air Lines on April 1, 1987.

– David P. Jordan

BNSF’s Peoria Local 9/19/16

I chased a BNSF freight from Galesburg to Peoria this afternoon.

The trio of geeps was kind of cool – BNSF 2846, a GP39-2 still wearing Santa F’s classic “yellowbonnet” scheme from 1972; BNSF 3150, a GP50 wearing Burlington Northern Cascade Green, and BNSF 2892, a GP39M wearing the “Heritage 3” scheme.

The train consist had nothing unusual, though you don’t see boxcars that much on it anymore. There were five loads and sixteen empties. A short train, but I had a good chase!

– David P. Jordan

Union Pacific MPECL (Led by a GP15AC!)

I saw Tuesday’s MPECL, but didn’t really plan on seeing Friday’s.

I’m glad I did. Like Tuesday, it had a 50-car block of sand empties coming out of storage (hydraulic fracturing must be making a comeback). The train’s other 53 cars represented “normal” traffic.

The odd thing about this train was its power. You don’t normally see a GP15AC leading on the mainline. But UPY 720, apparently assigned to the Peoria Wayfreight, is one of the few of that type equipped for Automatic Train Control (ATC), enabling it to lead on the double track Geneva Subdivision between Proviso, Illinois and Clinton, Iowa.

Video shot at Pottstown.

– David P. Jordan

Last Wisconsin Central-painted Unit on CN Peoria Local!

It was trailing unit in both directions Friday, but it was good to see anyway.

WC 3018, a GP40, is believed to be the last unit still wearing Wisconsin Central Ltd. paint. Spun off by Soo Line in 1987, the carrier was acquired by Canadian National in 2001, and remains a subsdiary, though operations have been merged into the larger carrier’s network.

I caught CN’s Peoria Local on its southbound leg. GTW 5938 led WC 3018 and 24 cars when it left the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s East Peoria Yard in mid-afternoon. This grew to 29 after pulling five empties from Amerhart Ltd’s Pekin distribution center. Scenes are in downtown Pekin, Hanna Drive and the “interurban curve” at 5th Street near South Pekin.

The two bulkhead flat cars carrying the curved steel plates came from Clive, Iowa. The Iowa Interstate Railroad serves Chicago Bridge & Iron’s fabrication plant there.

– David P. Jordan

Early Boeing 747 Domestic Routes – Braniff Int’l Airways

Braniff International Airways was the tenth and final early U.S. operator of the Boeing 747. Although it received its first Giant Jet in 1970, delivery came too late (December 28) for it to enter service that year.

Like many U.S. carriers in the 1960s, Braniff hoped to obtain routes to Hawaii and across the Pacific. So in January 1968, the carrier ordered two 747s. The carrier projected as many as ten Giant Jets would be needed if it obtained those Transpacific routes it desired.

In December 1968, Braniff was denied Transpacific routes, but did obtain extensive route authority to Hawaii from both the U.S. mainland and Mexico. A change in administrations brought a review of the CAB decision, and Braniff’s route awards were reduced. Service finally began on an Atlanta-Dallas-Honolulu route on August 14, 1969 using a Boeing 707-320C.

On January 15, 1971 “747 Braniff Place,” resplendent in an orange version of the carrier’s 1965 “Flying Colors” paint scheme, inaugurated daily Giant Jet service on the Honolulu route. But due to the plane’s maintenance schedule, the lone aircraft flew only between Dallas and Honolulu. Thus, the Atlanta-Dallas segment was replaced by a connecting flight on a 727.

There was concern that Braniff couldn’t fill a 322-seat 747 on a route that had operated for just 17 months with a smaller 707. But the airline began scheduling numerous 727 connecting flights to coincide with the Honolulu departure, and had no problem filling enough seats to ensure profitable operation.

Braniff’s second 747 was due for delivery in April 1971. As late as 1970, the carrier was considering the plane for Mexico service (probably Dallas-Mexico City). Eventually, it considered using it on the Dallas-New York (JFK) route in competition with American Airlines’ 747 service, but feared financial losses. So the jet, believed to be painted green, was placed into storage at Wichita, Kansas. Finally, in late 1971, Braniff cancelled the order and Boeing sold the jet to another operator.

Military charters and maintenance issues would periodically require Braniff to substitute a 707 on the Honolulu route. After these were retired, DC-8s (acquired with Panagra in 1967) provided substitute service when needed.

For seven years, Braniff operated a single 747 on its Honolulu route. Service switched from Dallas-Love Field to the new Dallas/Ft. Worth Regional Airport (DFW) on January 13, 1974. Interestingly, the airline considered replacing the lone 747 with a DC-10 or L-1011 by the mid-1970s, but never placed an order for either of the big tri-jets.

Since the 1960s, Braniff had made known its desire to serve Europe. In October 1968, it filed an application for routes linking Houston and Dallas with Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Rome and Zurich via Minneapolis/St. Paul. Nothing came of this, however.

In 1974, the Civil Aeronautics Board recommended several new gateways for nonstop service to Europe. Dallas was one of these, and Braniff applied for nonstop route authority to London (Gatwick). The airline received approval for the new route in December 1977, and used its lone 747 for a pre-inaugural flight on February 28, 1978. Regular service was to start the next day, but refusal by British aviation authorities to approve Braniff’s low fares, delayed start of service to March 18.

An American Airlines 747 was leased to cover the DFW-London route. It was painted in a hybrid of American’s silver paint with an orange Braniff window stripe and tail logo.

Braniff leased a second 747 from American Airlines to start a DFW-Seattle-Portland-Honolulu route on November 1, 1978. The Portland stop was eliminated July 1, 1979, but Seattle flights continued for a short while longer.

In 1979, Braniff sought to build a European gateway at Boston, and applied for routes to Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Paris from there and DFW. By mid-year, the carrier had built up a fleet of eight 747s (most leased).

Giant Jets were needed for the new Los Angeles base from mid-1979. A Los Angeles-Guam-Hong Kong route began in July that year while nonstops to Santiago, Chile began in August and to Seoul, S. Korea in September. The first of three brand-new 747SPs was used to extend Seoul service to Singapore. Interestingly, the 747SP had been ordered for a planned DFW-Bahrain nonstop service, which Braniff never operated.

In the 1960s, both the Anglo-French Concorde and Boeing 2707 Super-Sonic Transports (SST) were expected to dominate long-haul and intercontinental air travel in the 1980s, thus relegating the 747 to cargo service. But the Boeing SST lost government support and the project was shelved.

The Concorde was a fuel hog, and the 1973 fuel crisis prompted the cancellation of all orders save for British Airways and Air France. Scheduled flights commenced in 1976. U.S. service began in May of that year when both airlines deployed on flights to Washington, DC. (Dulles). Court action delayed service to New York (JFK) until late 1977.

Braniff saw an opportunity by offering Concorde service between DFW and London and Paris. Service began January 13, 1979 with Braniff crews working the SST flights between DFW and Washington, DC and Air France and British Airways crews taking over for the overwater flights to Paris and London, respectively. Service to London operated thrice-weekly, Paris just twice-weekly. Concordes remained in BA or AF paint (despite Braniff promotional brochures).

Unfortunately, SST service began just before the second energy crisis in five years. Concordes had to operate at subsonic speeds over land, and offered no substantial time advantage. Premium fares were eventually eliminated. Load factors were well below break-even and Braniff ended SST service in May 1980.

The 747, not the SST, had a bright and long future.

Over-expansion, increased competition, rising fuel prices and recession inflicted massive losses on Braniff during 1980. Asia service was cut that year, and European routes were reduced to a lone DFW-London service, with tag-ons to Brussels and Frankfurt.

A deeper recession from late 1981, and the effects of the PATCO strike and aggressive competition from American Airlines at DFW continued to plague Braniff. Route cuts and cost reductions were made, but proved futile. The end came May 12, 1982 when the airline ceased operations and filed for Chapter 11. The airline’s trustee disposed of the 747 fleet over the next two years. Operations restarted March 1, 1984 but the carrier never again operated 747s. Ironically, similar issues caused Braniff’s second shutdown and bankruptcy in September 1989.

– David P. Jordan

Union Pacific MPECL at Pottstown and Speer, 9-13-16

Tuesday afternoon was a good one.

Enroute home after chasing the BNSF coal train between Ipava and Dunfermline, I caught Union Pacific’s MPECL (Manifest, PEoria IL to CLinton IA).

UP 4052 and UP 3978 led 95 cars, which is unusually lengthy for this train. But the last 50 of those cars were sand empties that had probably been in storage (maybe from TP&W, but I can’t confirm).

The other 45 cars consisted of the usual traffic from IMRR, KJRY, TZPR and TP&W. Most notable were the ten Caterpillar loads (five D11s and five blades) bound for India.

I shot the first scenes just south of Harmon Highway. Video is at Pottstown and thanks to slow drivers and long-winded traffic lights, Speer. I preferred Brauer Road at the top of Pioneer Hill, but oh well.

– David P. Jordan