Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in 1971’

This Was Once a Big Deal

October 13, 2017

The image above is a newspaper advertisement from 1971. Amtrak was a mere seven months old and just finding its footing.

Now it had something it felt was worth talking about. It was the era when the company’s slogan was “we’re making the trains worth traveling again.”

That, of course, suggests that until Amtrak came along train travel wasn’t something you  wanted to do. That was true in some places, particularly on Penn Central, but not everywhere. Nonetheless, Amtrak recognized the public perception of train travel at the time and that it had to overcome that.

Although not obvious, the timetable that the customer service representative is holding was a major milestone in Amtrak history.

The first two timetables that Amtrak issued were cut and paste jobs with a Spartan design. The Amtrak logo was featured on the covers and nothing else.

But the November 14, 1971, timetable was the first that Amtrak actually designed.

Among other things, the timetable featured airline style city listings. Airlines in the early 1970s were held in high esteem.

If you read the text of this advertisement carefully, you’ll note the effort of Amtrak to market itself like an airline.

Note how the schedule change for the Chicago-New Orleans train is pitched in airline marketing language, e.g., leave after the end of the business day, arrive in the morning in time for appointments.

The claim that some trains were receiving “new” equipment is borderline deceptive. There was nothing “new” about any equipment that Amtrak was using in November 1971.

It might have been refurbished and the type of equipment might have been “new” to that route or train, but the equipment itself was far from new.

But this was where Amtrak was in 1971. It was trying to get attention, trying to build patronage and trying to reframe how the public thought about rail travel.

Sometimes it is helpful to see where you’ve been to understand where you are at today. When was the last time that Amtrak touted giving Chicago better train service? Yup, it’s been a while.

Inside Amtrak’s First ‘True’ Timetable

December 28, 2016
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Amtrak’s Nov. 14, 1971, timetable had a few errors that are humorous now, but were not so funny to Amtrak management at the time.

Amtrak issued three system timetables in 1971, its first year of operation. Two of those were just cut and paste jobs using graphics that the company that printed the folders already had on hand as a leftover from the days when the railroads operated their own trains.

But the first timetable that Amtrak could call its own came out on Nov. 14. Unlike the timetables issued on May 1 and July 12, the Nov. 14 folder featured more than minimal content and actually had been designed.

Reflecting the thinking of the an that the airlines did everything right and were role models to be emulated, Amtrak sought to create an airline-style timetable and a traditional railroad timetable.

In the front of the timetable were city listing that looked just like those of an airline timetable. The traditional linear railroading listing were relegated to the back.

Despite having had time to design the Nov. 14 folder, several embarrassing errors still crept in.

In the airline schedules section, Detroit was spelled “Detriot.” It was spelled correctly in the traditional railroad timetable section.

Also, the timetable for the Empire Builder had Fargo as a city in Indiana rather than North Dakota.

Despite the miscues, the Nov. 14 timetable was still one in which Amtrak could take pride and show that it was making the transition from the railroad era of passenger trains to the Amtrak era.

Dining on Amtrak Then and Now

December 26, 2016

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It can be interesting to compare Amtrak timetables, dining car menus and marketing materials across time. Shown above is a comparison of a bar menu from 1971 and a similar offering from 2015.

Aside from the prices having changed, another obvious difference is that in the early years of Amtrak the food and beverage service was still provided by the contract railroads and some of them did little more than take their existing materials and place the Amtrak logo on it.

That is the case with the 1971 bar menu, which looks much as it did when the Milwaukee Road ran its own trains.

Other than the Amtrak logo you might think that you were traveling in the late 1960s with trains being advertised that no longer ran in 1971 when this menu was offered aboard Amtrak.

Although the beverage offerings in 1971 are similar to those of 2015, there are some notable exceptions. Tobacco products are not longer sold on Amtrak and I’m not sure if they also sell decks of playing cards.

Coco Cola has been replaced with Pepsi products and what cost 30 cents in 1971 now costs $2.25. But look at the difference in price between a premium beer in 1971 (80 cents) and a regional craft beer in 2015 ($7).

(click on the image to enlarge it)