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1971-1979 Amtrak ridership


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#1 Swadian Hardcore

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 02:29 PM

Does anybody know the LD ridership figures from the inception of Amtrak to the 1979 cuts? There seemed to be a lot more routes back then and also some of the trains were really long. I heard that it was "over 10 milloin a year" but I don't know how much exactly and how much of it was LD. The SD ridership comes out if I know the total and then the LD figures.
I also heard that the Lone Star was Amtrak's seventh most popular LD, but that was from Wikipedia.

Anybody know the reason of the 1979 cuts? Some sources say "political reasons." The Floridian had low ridership but what about the NCL, NL, and LS? The Champion was definately popular in the winter.

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#2 Anderson

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:06 PM

I would actually second this and ask if anybody knows a good listing of route riderships pre-2003. I just don't have access to that data to compare longer-term performance or to compare present operations with those that went before.
Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#3 ehbowen

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:07 PM

Political. Jimmy Carter was an abject failure as a president, and with an election coming up he wanted to make it look like he was Doing Something. Amtrak had been sold with the notion that passenger trains could be "profitable", but in an environment where air and highway competition is both directly and indirectly subsidized that's just not possible without some form of direct subsidy. JC wanted to make a big show of chopping that subsidy. Considering that the Ayatollahs were preparing to reset the gas pumps yet again...can you say, "Penny wise, Pound foolish?"

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#4 afigg

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:44 PM

I would actually second this and ask if anybody knows a good listing of route riderships pre-2003. I just don't have access to that data to compare longer-term performance or to compare present operations with those that went before.

The total annual ridership numbers are listed in the Amtrak 40th Anniversary book for each decade. Along with total stations served, passenger miles, ticket revenue. The top fiscal year in the 1970s for ridership was 1979 with 21,406,768 with 571 stations served and $375 million in ticket revenue. The number of stations dropped to 525 in FY1980, which is presumably the result of the 1979 service cuts.

There may be an issue for the 1970s of how good Amtrak's record keeping is going that far back. Did they maintain separate records for the NEC, the short distance corridors, and the long distance trains back then that can be cleanly mapped to the current train service categories? They may done so back then, but the detailed records may have been kept on now obsolete computer format data files or on media (9 track tapes, punch cards, paper tapes, hard drives) that were never converted or transferred to newer computer files. One would hope that the data has been retained, but a lot of companies dump 20-30 year old records & media and only retain the top level financial data.

#5 Anderson

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:41 PM

There's a breakout between the "expanded NEC" and the "rest of the system" pre-2000s. What bugs me is that there's some scattershot data on Wikipedia for a few trains, but not for any of the big ones.
Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#6 Eric S

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:28 PM

Amtrak in the Heartland by Craig Sanders details the changes in Amtrak's various routes/trains which serve and have served the "Heartland," which he essentially defines as any trains operating to, through, or from the Midwest (basically all Chicago trains plus a few corridors that are appendages of Chicago trains). In the book, some ridership figures are listed, but unfortunately it does not list every train every year. With that in mind, here is what it has (with 2011 figures for comparison):
Cardinal
1975 - 111,965
1976 - 129,294
2011 - 110,923

Empire Builder
1973 - 363,100
1974 - 385,300
1975 - 324,639
1976 - 311,576
1977 - 297,180
2011 - 469,167

Floridian
1974 - 157,198
1975 - 139,670
1976 - 153,054
1977 - 146,500

Inter-American/Eagle/Texas Eagle
1974 - 48,851
1975 - 40,476
1977 - 144,477
2011 - 299,508

National Limited
1975 - 163,422
1976 - 179,213
1977 - 191,692

North Coast Hiawatha
1973 - 227,200
1974 - 280,800
1975 - 208,809
1976 - 191,615
1977 - 205,642

Panama Limited/City of New Orleans
1974 - 195,899
1975 - 174,014
2011 - 233,318

Super Chief/Southwest Limited/Southwest Chief
1974 - 327,000, with a note that most years in the 1970s hovered around 280,000
2011 - 354,912

Texas Chief/Lone Star
1973 - 257,800
1974 - 277,760
1975 - 255,881
1976 - 274,448

Hopefully this it at least somewhat helpful.

#7 Anderson

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:59 PM

Thanks a bunch. That is actually really helpful. The only route I'd love to see that's not listed there is the Silver Service (just because of the odd history there).

Also, in '74 was the Cardinal daily or three-times-weekly? And at that time wasn't it still running split between a NYP section and a NPN section?
Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#8 Anthony

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 10:11 PM

Political. Jimmy Carter was an abject failure as a president, and with an election coming up he wanted to make it look like he was Doing Something. Amtrak had been sold with the notion that passenger trains could be "profitable", but in an environment where air and highway competition is both directly and indirectly subsidized that's just not possible without some form of direct subsidy. JC wanted to make a big show of chopping that subsidy. Considering that the Ayatollahs were preparing to reset the gas pumps yet again...can you say, "Penny wise, Pound foolish?"


Careful with the politics... :lol: :lol:

#9 Anderson

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 10:15 PM


Political. Jimmy Carter was an abject failure as a president, and with an election coming up he wanted to make it look like he was Doing Something. Amtrak had been sold with the notion that passenger trains could be "profitable", but in an environment where air and highway competition is both directly and indirectly subsidized that's just not possible without some form of direct subsidy. JC wanted to make a big show of chopping that subsidy. Considering that the Ayatollahs were preparing to reset the gas pumps yet again...can you say, "Penny wise, Pound foolish?"


Careful with the politics... :lol: :lol:


And don't be shilling for him:-p
Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#10 afigg

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 11:07 PM

Hopefully this it at least somewhat helpful.

Yes, those numbers are very helpful. Thanks for posting them. Provides some insight into the ridership numbers and patterns from the 1970s compared to today. Some large year to year swing in the 1970s for some LD trains. Looks like the National Limited and North Coast Hiawatha would be getting good ridership numbers today if they had somehow managed to and survive. Bring them back! :)

The Cardinal variations over 1970s and 80s complicate any ridership comparisons. What would have been the typical consist and sleeper capacity back in those days?

#11 johnny.menhennet

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 11:57 PM



Inter-American/Eagle/Texas Eagle
1974 - 48,851
1975 - 40,476
1977 - 144,477
2011 - 299,508

Hopefully this it at least somewhat helpful.


First, Eric, that was incredibly helpful and fun to see, even though I'm not doing any of the calculations that Swadian and Anderson may or may not be doing.

On the TE, I am super impressed with the 2011 ridership. I had no idea that it was this high even though these stats were recently published. Since it is a train with only 1 consistent sleeper, I assume that the load factors must be pretty high. For the benefit of the doubt on the TE's side, I will assume that the 40,000 was with a tri-weekly train.

A few bright spots I noticed:

The Lone Star actually looks like it was very well patronized. It wouldn't surprise me if the 1979 LD routes that were selected were not actually only on ridership, probably much more political. I can now easily believe the 7th most popular LD claim, maybe even higher in some years. An this is assuming many more LD trains than we have now, so 7 probably meant more back then.

I also thought that the National Limited figures were decent in the later years posted

Other way around:

I know that 200K+ is good, but I did honestly think that the NCH's figures would have been higher, so I was disheartened a little bit.

Amtrak: Pacific Surfliner (100000000000), Southwest Chief (5), California Zephyr (1), Coast Starlight (6), Capitol Corridor (1), Empire Builder (2), Acela Express (1), LSL (1), NE Regional (2)
Non-Amtrak: NCTD Coaster (at least 20), Metrolink (4), SD Trolley (at least 20), LACMTA Red Line (at least 50), Seattle Streetcar (1), Chicago 'L' (probably 13), NYC Subway (probably 15), WMATA Mass Transit (probably 20), LIRR (1), Las Vegas Monorail (at least 12), MBTA Mass Transit (16), NJ Transit commuter rail (3), I'm sure there are more that I can't think of right now

upcoming Amtrak: Pacific Surfliner (10000000000 more)
upcoming non-Amtrak: Coaster, Red Line/Expo Line in LA, NJ Transit (5-10)

Pretty good for a 16 year old :)


#12 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:15 AM


Political. Jimmy Carter was an abject failure as a president, and with an election coming up he wanted to make it look like he was Doing Something. Amtrak had been sold with the notion that passenger trains could be "profitable", but in an environment where air and highway competition is both directly and indirectly subsidized that's just not possible without some form of direct subsidy. JC wanted to make a big show of chopping that subsidy. Considering that the Ayatollahs were preparing to reset the gas pumps yet again...can you say, "Penny wise, Pound foolish?"

Careful with the politics... :lol: :lol:

Ehbowen has left us a steaming pile of by-the-book political trolling. The exact sort of thing that supposedly is not allowed regardless of affiliation or lack thereof. I'm glad nobody took the bait, but it still smells like a double standard to me. Hopefully I'm wrong about that. <_<

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#13 johnny.menhennet

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:29 AM



Political. Jimmy Carter was an abject failure as a president, and with an election coming up he wanted to make it look like he was Doing Something. Amtrak had been sold with the notion that passenger trains could be "profitable", but in an environment where air and highway competition is both directly and indirectly subsidized that's just not possible without some form of direct subsidy. JC wanted to make a big show of chopping that subsidy. Considering that the Ayatollahs were preparing to reset the gas pumps yet again...can you say, "Penny wise, Pound foolish?"

Careful with the politics... :lol: :lol:

Ehbowen has left us a steaming pile of by-the-book political trolling. The exact sort of thing that supposedly is not allowed regardless of affiliation or lack thereof. I'm glad nobody took the bait, but it still smells like a double standard to me. Hopefully I'm wrong about that. <_<


Personally, I don't find it bad or offensive whatsoever. I don't like the fact we have to try to censor ourselves as much as we do. IMO, Ehbowen was trying to provide us with a logical explanation of why so many popular trains were cut in 79. Because that reason was politically motivated, it was mentioned in his post. Yes I see the part about him being an abject failure as a president, but I choose to overlook that because it really doesn't matter to me who has what to say about politics, and it doesn't affect me one bit. And yes I know that the reason may not seem "logical" but it was in Jimmy Carter's mind. Seriously, cut the "NO POLITICS" crap. This country right now entirely around politics, with everything connecting to it. If somebody came on and said "ALL REPUBLICANS ARE BAD" or "ALL DEMOCRATS SHOULD F*** THEMSELVES" sure reprimand them, but this is obviously not the case here. My point of view. Now open for cross-examination.

Amtrak: Pacific Surfliner (100000000000), Southwest Chief (5), California Zephyr (1), Coast Starlight (6), Capitol Corridor (1), Empire Builder (2), Acela Express (1), LSL (1), NE Regional (2)
Non-Amtrak: NCTD Coaster (at least 20), Metrolink (4), SD Trolley (at least 20), LACMTA Red Line (at least 50), Seattle Streetcar (1), Chicago 'L' (probably 13), NYC Subway (probably 15), WMATA Mass Transit (probably 20), LIRR (1), Las Vegas Monorail (at least 12), MBTA Mass Transit (16), NJ Transit commuter rail (3), I'm sure there are more that I can't think of right now

upcoming Amtrak: Pacific Surfliner (10000000000 more)
upcoming non-Amtrak: Coaster, Red Line/Expo Line in LA, NJ Transit (5-10)

Pretty good for a 16 year old :)


#14 Anderson

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 01:19 AM


Hopefully this it at least somewhat helpful.

Yes, those numbers are very helpful. Thanks for posting them. Provides some insight into the ridership numbers and patterns from the 1970s compared to today. Some large year to year swing in the 1970s for some LD trains. Looks like the National Limited and North Coast Hiawatha would be getting good ridership numbers today if they had somehow managed to and survive. Bring them back! :)

The Cardinal variations over 1970s and 80s complicate any ridership comparisons. What would have been the typical consist and sleeper capacity back in those days?


Three general points here:


1) The NCH/EB numbers are a bit of a tangle...but do remember that having an NCH and an EB covered a good deal more intermediate territory and likely drove up joint ridership a bit.

2) The wild gyrations are more or less down to the wild, wild swings in gas prices. Let's remember how much of a system shock the US got during the '73 embargo; things attempted to revert to the mean in the last half of the decade, but the second crisis triggered another swamping of Amtrak. '74 drove Amtrak to the edge of capacity, IIRC; '79 simply overwhelmed the system to the point that I believe that summer demand was somewhere around 115-120% of capacity (based on the 1.5 million or so riders turned away that summer per something I recall reading).

3) Finally, a point on the present situation versus those crises. While I am very nervous about the implication of those numbers, there is at least some anecdotal evidence that something has changed culturally in the last decade or so (note the lower youth-related car purchases being mentioned in the press); part of it may be the recession (something unlikely to change for a while) and part may be the longer period of sustained higher oil prices (a stable price around $3 would still be somewhere in the ballpark of 50% over pre-2004 prices, and about double those nominal prices...to say nothing of where the numbers were in 1999, with gas prices falling under $.90 for a bit!), but there certainly seems to be a trend at work that may be a bit harder to "walk back" with just a drop in oil prices.

One possibility that I will hazard to guess is this: There was a lot of pipe laid during the 70s for alternative fuels and whatnot, but the technologies didn't have time to come to fruition (i.e. electric cars and the like) before things returned to "normal". However, things had a lot more time to play out this time around (the 2008/9 crash notwithstanding), and that combined with the mess that the economy is in (to say nothing of highway congestion all over the place and the general misery of flying) have helped to push a variety of potentially more lasting behavioral changes.
Capitol Limited (7), CA Zephyr (4) Lake Shore Limited (1), Acela (2), NE Regional (2), Sliver Meteor (4)

Upcoming: Silver Meteor (1), Lake Shore Limited (1), SW Chief (2), MO River Runner (1), Texas Eagle (1)

Possibly Upcoming: Either Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (2) or Texas Eagle (1), Capitol Limited (1), Silver Meteor (1)

#15 jphjaxfl

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 03:55 AM

Keep in mind that the Floridian and National Limited in the 1970s were impacted by very bad Penn Central Trackage which drove away passengers. Both trains were frequently late. The Floridian trackage was bad from Chicago to Louisville. In 1975, they finally switched it to the former Monon routing and the schedule was more predictible. The National Limited trackage was bad from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. Much of the route is now abandoned. The St. Louis-Kansas City section west bound was so unpredictable that no one rode it. Missouri was not providing a subsidy at that point.

#16 Eric S

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 06:01 AM

Thanks a bunch. That is actually really helpful. The only route I'd love to see that's not listed there is the Silver Service (just because of the odd history there).

Also, in '74 was the Cardinal daily or three-times-weekly? And at that time wasn't it still running split between a NYP section and a NPN section?

The James Whitcomb Riley/Cardinal (renamed in 1977) had a NPN section 1971-1976, a Norfolk section (Mountaineer 1975-1977), and a seemingly constantly-changing route through Indiana. It appears the Cardinal did not switch to tri-weekly operation until 1982. (It was discontinued entirely Sep 1981-Jan 1982.)

#17 cirdan

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 06:34 AM

3) Finally, a point on the present situation versus those crises. While I am very nervous about the implication of those numbers, there is at least some anecdotal evidence that something has changed culturally in the last decade or so (note the lower youth-related car purchases being mentioned in the press); part of it may be the recession (something unlikely to change for a while) and part may be the longer period of sustained higher oil prices (a stable price around $3 would still be somewhere in the ballpark of 50% over pre-2004 prices, and about double those nominal prices...to say nothing of where the numbers were in 1999, with gas prices falling under $.90 for a bit!), but there certainly seems to be a trend at work that may be a bit harder to "walk back" with just a drop in oil prices.


Also, if you don't restrict trains to just Amtrak trains, but look at the bigger picture with commuter rail and urban rail, there is considerably more mileage being operated today than in the 1970s and considerably more ridership, and the trend is clearly continuing with several more projects either being built or likely to be built soon. That means more people are likely to either use rail service (of some sort) more or less regularly or even if they don't use it themselves, they may work with people who do or have family members or friends who do so the whole concept of passenger rail is becoming more and more normal and embedded in people's awareness. That means that whereas people once thought of the car as the first and basically only way of getting anywhere, with there having to be a very compelling reason to even consider any alternative, people are becoming more open minded.

#18 trainviews

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:48 PM


3) Finally, a point on the present situation versus those crises. While I am very nervous about the implication of those numbers, there is at least some anecdotal evidence that something has changed culturally in the last decade or so (note the lower youth-related car purchases being mentioned in the press); part of it may be the recession (something unlikely to change for a while) and part may be the longer period of sustained higher oil prices (a stable price around $3 would still be somewhere in the ballpark of 50% over pre-2004 prices, and about double those nominal prices...to say nothing of where the numbers were in 1999, with gas prices falling under $.90 for a bit!), but there certainly seems to be a trend at work that may be a bit harder to "walk back" with just a drop in oil prices.


Also, if you don't restrict trains to just Amtrak trains, but look at the bigger picture with commuter rail and urban rail, there is considerably more mileage being operated today than in the 1970s and considerably more ridership, and the trend is clearly continuing with several more projects either being built or likely to be built soon. That means more people are likely to either use rail service (of some sort) more or less regularly or even if they don't use it themselves, they may work with people who do or have family members or friends who do so the whole concept of passenger rail is becoming more and more normal and embedded in people's awareness. That means that whereas people once thought of the car as the first and basically only way of getting anywhere, with there having to be a very compelling reason to even consider any alternative, people are becoming more open minded.


Add more urbanization. The proportion of the American population living in urban areas is growing rapidly, and that means more people are living closer to possible rail service and more people are feeling the congestion making driving less attractive.

#19 Swadian Hardcore

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 02:43 PM

Amtrak in the Heartland by Craig Sanders details the changes in Amtrak's various routes/trains which serve and have served the "Heartland," which he essentially defines as any trains operating to, through, or from the Midwest (basically all Chicago trains plus a few corridors that are appendages of Chicago trains). In the book, some ridership figures are listed, but unfortunately it does not list every train every year. With that in mind, here is what it has (with 2011 figures for comparison):
Cardinal
1975 - 111,965
1976 - 129,294
2011 - 110,923

Empire Builder
1973 - 363,100
1974 - 385,300
1975 - 324,639
1976 - 311,576
1977 - 297,180
2011 - 469,167

Floridian
1974 - 157,198
1975 - 139,670
1976 - 153,054
1977 - 146,500

Inter-American/Eagle/Texas Eagle
1974 - 48,851
1975 - 40,476
1977 - 144,477
2011 - 299,508

National Limited
1975 - 163,422
1976 - 179,213
1977 - 191,692

North Coast Hiawatha
1973 - 227,200
1974 - 280,800
1975 - 208,809
1976 - 191,615
1977 - 205,642

Panama Limited/City of New Orleans
1974 - 195,899
1975 - 174,014
2011 - 233,318

Super Chief/Southwest Limited/Southwest Chief
1974 - 327,000, with a note that most years in the 1970s hovered around 280,000
2011 - 354,912

Texas Chief/Lone Star
1973 - 257,800
1974 - 277,760
1975 - 255,881
1976 - 274,448

Hopefully this it at least somewhat helpful.


Thanks for the info. This stuff is really interesting and gives me a lot to think about.

1. Looks like the EB has always been Amtrak's most popular LD, even when the NCL operated.

2. The I-A was doing really badly until the ridership jump in 1977. Persumably it only ran thrice-weekly previously, then became daily. No matter what, the I-A has far less riderhship than to day and also far less ridership thn the LS. I would think that they would have cancelled the I-A in 1979 instead of the LS.

3. The National Limited was not doing that bad until it was cancelled. Surely there would have been more passengers had there been improved tracks. If they had kept the NL then I would expect high ridership today. It would be good to have old BL and LSL ridership for comparison.

4. The NCL was doing a lot worse than the EB despite the proximity to Yellowstone. There was probably more competetition because of the airports and the Interstate nearby.

5. The CONO does not have much changes compared to 1974-1975. It would probably have more ridership today if the CONO had more cars.

6. Not much improvement for the SWC, especially considering that I was able to find some pictures of really long Southwest Limited consists from the 1970s. You can go to Railpictures to see them.

7. The Floridian was not doing too well. No surprise it got cancelled. It was late all the time and the trakcs were always damaged.

8. The Cardinal is really confusing because, as someone else noted, there were too many changes in the shcedules. At one point it even started in BOS. I can elaborate that the Cardinal consist was somewhere around nine cars each, compared to six cars today.

9. I think the last pieces in the puzzle would be the NYP-MIA trains, the NYP-CHI trains, the NOL-LAX train, and the LAX-SEA train, though the last one is not too important because the CS never had a parralelling train in Amtrak times. It looks like that the LD ridership in the 1970s could be around the same as the ridership today, but I have to know the SL figures, because that train also have some very long consists. It only ran thrice weekly back then.

edit: error

Edited by Swadian Hardcore, 22 June 2012 - 02:47 PM.

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#20 xyzzy

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 02:53 PM

7. The Floridian was not doing too well. No surprise it got cancelled. It was late all the time and the trakcs were always damaged.

DId you ride it? I did, a lot. It's a myth that the Floridian always ran over bad track. Truth is, the Floridian was a solid performer after three things were fixed. #1, it was put on decent track (the Monon) through Indiana. #2, the unwise deal with Auto-Train was canned. #3, the train was assigned appropriate locomotives (an F40/E8 combo). The track south of Louisville was never really the problem. Timekeeping in the final 18 months was pretty good.

Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of these pre-1978 mistakes -- plus the fact that Floridian often drew the bottom of the barrel in passenger car assignments compared to more favored LD trains.-- was to destroy a train that might still be running today.




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