Momentous Month

There have been times during the nearly 48 years of Amtrak’s existence when significant changes occurred. October 1979 was one of them.

The tenor of those times is shown by the covers of two timetables Amtrak issued that month.

Early in the month Amtrak discontinued several trains and routes, including the National Limited, Floridian, North Coast Hiawatha, Lone Star, Hilltopper, and Champion.

Discontinuance of those six trains had been in the works for some time.

Although the trains in question were to begin their last trips on Sept. 30 a few trains continued to operate for several days in early October under court orders before being discontinued.

Later that month, Amtrak assigned new Superliner equipment to the Empire Builder and instituted a new train between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah, known as the Desert Wind; and created a Houston leg of the Inter-American.

The timetables featured muted colors printed on newsprint. No four-color glossy covers and slick paper as had been the practice for much of the 1970s.

This subdued style had been the practice in the previous couple of years, probably a reflection of the period of austerity that Amtrak was in.

As massive as the train discontinuances of 1979 were, they could have been worse. A U.S. Department of Transportation report issued in January 1979 called for ending even more trains, but they were saved due to political wrangling in Congress.

The late 1970s were also a time of transition between the streamliner era equipment that Amtrak inherited when it was formed in 1971 and new equipment that began service in the middle of the decade.

That transition is reflected on the cover of the Oct. 28 timetable in which Amtrak tries to establish a continuous onward march of progress dating back to the introduction of the Metroliners by Penn Central.

By contrast, the cover of the timetable issued on Oct. 1 took a more pragmatic approach of announcing changes without giving much, if any, indication of how widespread they were.

Amtrak was using a traditional public relations strategy of seeking to put a positive face on a situation many viewed as adverse.

The bottom text refers to the fact that some routes or portions of routes were being saved through state funding. This affected the San Joquin in California and a portion of the National Limited route in Missouri.

Contrary to the impression created by the late October timetable, Superliner equipment was not being introduced that month.

Superliner coaches had gone into service early in the year on some Midwest corridor trains on a temporary basis.

The Empire Builder would be the first train to permanently get the equipment.

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