Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in 1979’

Momentous Month

April 26, 2019

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.

Festive, But Sad Day in Roanoke

September 28, 2016

hilltopper-at-roanoke

It’s festive yet sad day in Roanoke, Virginia, on Sept. 30, 1979, as the city is about to lose its only Amtrak service.

The Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society marked the occasion of the last eastbound by operating three of its passenger cars on the rear of Amtrak train No. 66, the Hilltopper.

I don’t remember where the cars were added. They were painted in the colors of the Norfolk & Western, which of course, had a major presence in Roanoke.

I had boarded No. 66 in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, in the pre-dawn hours. I had ridden Amtrak’s Cardinal to Catlettsburg for the purpose of riding the last eastbound trip of the Hilltopper.

The Hilltopper was something of a laughing stock at the time. Wags noted that the two-car Amfleet train began and ended in the middle of nowhere.

The ancestor of the Hilltopper was a Chicago-Norfolk, Virginia, train named the Mountaineer, which had combined with the James Whitcomb Riley at Catlettsburg.

Serving a largely rural region of West Virginia and Virginia, the Hilltopper was doomed due to its low population base.

As this is written in fall 2016, there are plans to extend a Northeast Regional train to Roanoke, with funding help from the state of Virginia. Work has begun on the Roanoke station.

But on this day in 1979, no one could foresee that happening. For all they anyone knew, Roanoke would never see Amtrak again.