Amtrak in the Heartland

Amtrak in the Heartland

Amtrak in the Heartland

Amtrak in the Heartland


Craig Sanders has done an excellent job of research... his treatment is as comprehensive as anyone could reasonably wish for, and solidly based. In addition, he succeeds in making it all clear as well as any human can. He also manages to inject enough humor and human interest to keep the reader moving." --Herbert H. Harwood, author of The Lake Shore Electric Railway Story and Invisible Giants: The Empires of Cleveland's Van Sweringen Brothers

A complete history of Amtrak operations in the heartland, this volume describes conditions that led to the passage of the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, the formation and implementation of Amtrak in 1970-71, and the major factors that have influenced Amtrak operations since its inception. More than 140 photographs and 3 maps bring to life the story as told by Sanders. This book will become indispensable to train enthusiasts through its examination of Americans' long-standing fascination with passenger trains. When it began in 1971, many expected Amtrak to last about three years before going out of existence for lack of business, but the public's continuing support of funding for Amtrak has enabled it and the passenger train to survive despite seemingly insurmountable odds.


Like the steady drumbeat of a funeral procession, they marched into eternity. the Phoebe Snow … November 28, 1967. the Twentieth Century Limited … December 3, 1967. the Golden State … February 21, 1968. the Chief … May 15, 1968. the California Zephyr … March 22, 1970. Many surviving trains were pallid shadows of their former selves, often shorn of sleepers, diners, and lounges. When Missouri Pacific’s Texas Eagle quit serving Dallas on May 31, 1969, it left one of the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas without rail passenger service. South Dakota had no passenger trains after September 1969. Such railroads as Frisco, Kansas City Southern, Katy, and Monon carried only freight.

Once the ultimate in travel and the personification of their company’s image, passenger trains were dropping like flies. They lost money. Few rode them because buses, planes, and automobiles were faster or more convenient. Their time simply had passed. Or so the railroads said. When Santa Fe, one of the nation’s most pro-passenger railroads, said October 4, 1967, it would discontinue nearly half of its passenger trains, president John S. Reed recited the industry mantra: “Santa Fe did not abandon the traveling public; travelers show an increasing preference to fly or drive.”

How could an institution so ingrained in the public consciousness and celebrated in popular culture be on the verge of extinction? Passenger trains once symbolized progress. Now they seemed to symbolize futility. “Who shot the passenger train?” asked Trains magazine in April 1959. Many had helped to pull the trigger, but if there was no shortage of villains, where was the white knight riding to the rescue?

The Railpax Plan

The door to government involvement in rail passenger service began opening in 1965 with passage of the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act, which spawned two 1969 demonstration projects. Metroliner service began January 16 between New York and Washington, and the United Aircraft Turbo Train began April 8 between New York and Boston.

Although the concept of government funding of rail passenger service for social benefit or to provide a balanced transportation network had yet to take root, the seeds that would germinate into Amtrak had been planted. in a speech in Phoenix on October 16, 1968, Richard J. Barber, deputy assistant to the secretary of transportation, suggested creation of a quasi-public corporation patterned after comsat. Barber said railroads did . . .

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