Serving Chicago, Glenview, Zenda, and Janesville
Amtrak train numbers: 343 and 344
Predecessor railroad train numbers: None
In the late 1990s, Amtrak came up with the Network Growth Strategy, the idea that they could create new passenger trains on new routes that would pay for themselves by carrying freight in addition to passengers. One of the key components of this strategy was to have short-distance trains in the Midwest feed freight into Chicago to connect with a new train to New York, to be called the Skyline Connection.
The first new train to be created in anticipation of the Skyline Connection was the Lake Country Limited, which began running between Chicago and Janesville, Wisconsin, on April 15, 2000, over the former Milwaukee Road route to Madison, which had not seen passenger train service since April 30, 1971, the day before Amtrak began.
Initially, the Lake Country Limited was serving a temporary platform on the outskirts of Janesville, but there was going to be a brand new station built downtown in the future. A mere two months later, a stop was added at Zenda, Wisconsin, to serve the nearby Lake Geneva resort area. Plans were made for another stop in Walworth, Wisconsin, which had lost commuter train service to Chicago during the 1970s. Most importantly to Amtrak's bottom line, there were plenty of potential freight customers along the route, notably a General Motors plant in Janesville, and once the Skyline Connection began, business would no doubt be booming.
It never worked out. The Skyline Connection didn't happen. Since the track was in such poor shape, the Lake Country Limited almost literally crawled over its route until it got to where the Metra Milwaukee District North line began at Fox Lake, Illinois, which would have made an extension to Madison insufferable. Amtrak decided they didn't want to take an extra 20-30 minutes to go all the way to downtown Janesville. The city of Walworth said "no thanks" to the potential stop there. No one had any idea where Zenda was. Not enough people in Janesville wanted to spend the day in Chicago, and even fewer people in Chicago wanted to spend the night in Janesville.
The Lake Country Limited quickly gained a reputation as a passenger train that was carrying no passengers, even being featured in the "NBC Nightly News" "The Fleecing of America" series, with the spin in the report being, of course, "your Federal tax dollars are going to pay for empty trains" (rather than the more correct "because your Federal tax dollars are going disproportionately to aviation and highways, Amtrak feels they have to run trains based on potential freight business, not passenger business").
The final nail in the coffin was in January 2001, when the Lake Country Limited was pulled out of service for several weeks because severe weather conditions in the Chicago area had resulted in Amtrak not having enough working train cars to go around. Amtrak posted the legally-required 180-day discontinuance notice in March, and simultaneously cut back the schedule from daily to Saturday only. As promised, the train made its last run on Saturday, September 22, 2001.
Condensed historical timetables:
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8:15P Dp Chicago Ar 9:05A
8:39P Glenview 8:50A
9:55P Zenda 7:00A
11:05P Ar Janesville Dp 6:00A
The Amtrak Train Names Project