By Noel T. Braymer
The National Limited, Floridan and Lone Star were 3 of the 5 trains Amtrak cut back in 1979 in an attempt to save money. Dropping these trains had no effect on slowing Amtrak’s growing deficit. The loss of these trains ended rail passenger service to many cities in the Midwest and the South along with connections between other Long Distance Trains. Many things have happened since 1979, so it won’t be possible to recreate exactly these services. In some cases the trackage no longer exists. Nor will it be cheap to upgrade the tracks and build stations that have since been lost and more equipment will be needed. But bringing back these services would go a long way to making Long Distance Rail Passenger service a truly National service.
The National Limited was originally a named train of the B&O Railroad from New York (Jersey City actually), Washington, Cincinnati and St.Louis. Under Amtrak the name was used for a service from New York with a section from Washington joining at Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Kansas City on a route mostly on the old Pennsylvania Railroad’s route of the old Spirit of St. Louis trains. At Kansas City Amtrak had connections with what then was called the Southwest Limited from Los Angeles with through sleeping cars for Coast to Coast service. This route at the time served 7 of the 20 largest cities in the Country. Many of the problems with this service stemmed for the poor shape of the line. Since 1979 several segments have been abandoned.
The easiest way to bring back Coast to Coast direct Rail Passenger service would be to run a daily Cardinal with a section splitting at Cincinnati to St. Louis and Kansas City. This would be the route of the original B&O’s National Limited with service extended to Kansas City. This though would leave out service and connections to much of the upper Midwest. One way to fix this problem is to run another section of the new National Limited to Pittsburgh. From there it could go to Cleveland, Columbus and meet the Cardinal at Cincinnati to join with the section on the Cardinal to St. Louis and Kansas City. Traveling to Cleveland may seem a little round about. But with transportation adding markets is more important than direct service. The airlines learned that when they added hubs to most of their flights and passenger counts went up. This also connects the trains and cities on the Cardinal, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited to the new National Limited.
Amtrak’s Floridian was its only train to connect Chicago and the upper Midwest to Florida. Many critics point out that a major problem with this train was that it didn’t serve Atlanta. There have many attempts to create a decent Chicago-Florida service since then. Former NARP President, the late Jack Martin, a resident of Atlanta had as his priority creating such a service in time for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The most logical route for such a train from Chicago would be via Terre Haute, Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta down to Florida. Besides the connections at Chicago, this train could connect with a new National Limited, the Crescent, a likely new rail service on the Gulf Coast and the other Florida trains.
The Lone Star was the name Amtrak gave the Texas Chief after the Santa Fe demanded that Amtrak not use that name. As the Lone Star, Amtrak ran the train from Houston to Oklahoma City and Kansas City. At Kansas City, Amtrak had connections from the Lone Star to the Southwest Limited to Chicago. The Santa Fe Texas Chief had direct service from Galveston, Houston, Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Chicago. A reborn Texas Chief could serve Houston, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas City, then be extended to Omaha and St. Paul Minnesota before ending up in Chicago.
Would anyone travel from Chicago to Houston via St. Paul besides railfans eager to increase their rail mileage? Maybe not many, but that is not the point. Adding this and the other rail services would greatly increase the number of destinations people could travel in America by trains with more connections. This new Texas Chief or whatever you want to call it would have connections to the Sunset, the Texas Eagle, the Southwest Chief, the New National Limited, California Zephyr, Empire Builder, a new Floridian and the other trains at Chicago.These plus the many new stations for a new Texas Chief, National Limited and Floridian.
So, why would or should the railroads cooperate to run more passenger trains on their tracks? Track improvements would be needed for these new services. The railroads are now suffering while most of the rest of the Country is doing fairly well. This is because of the decline and likely future death of the coal market for the railroads and the decline and likely end to major oil train service. The railroads are looking to expand their market into the high priority freight market held by the trucking industry. But this will likely require major improvements on their infrastructure for improved, faster service and congestion reductions at their yards.
The United States as a whole has major transportation problems. Its road network is falling apart, underfunded and often congested. These problems are not going to be solved with major new road construction because more roads cause people to drive more making congestion worse. Also where congestion is at its worst, there is not enough land to expand roads if the local residents have their say. An economical solutions to these problems is to get greater use of the railroads for carrying both freight and passengers. Upgrading existing railroads will be cheaper than new road construction. For the railroads to provide even more service competitive with trucks, they need railroads with extensive double tracking, high levels of signalling and speeds of 70 miles per hour. Such railroads would also work for good Long Distance Rail Passenger service.
Trucks cause many problems. Trucks on busy urban roads make traffic congestion worse since they are large and often slow. Trucks are very heavy and cause major damage to roads and bridges Truck accidents are common and often cause major injuries and massive traffic blockages. The trucking industry admits it has trouble hiring enough truck drivers for long haul trucking. The reality is most people would rather sleep in their own bed than spend many nights in a truck cab sleeper or at motels at truck stops. Hauling more trailers and containers will also mean less energy used for hauling freight and less pollution. This is not an original idea of mine. For much less money with Federal Grants to upgrade and expand freight and passenger rail service rather than expanding roads, we can have a better transportation system.