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Pioneer and Desert Wind

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Guest guest Jon

Can anyone here explain briefly why the Pioneer and Desert Wind trains stopped running?

Was it because of really bad Amtrak budgets? Or low ridership? Or equipment breakdowns and shortages? Or some other reason(s)?

It just seems odd that such obvious links in a national system don't exist.

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The Pioneer and Desert Wind were cut in (IIRC) 1997 during the period of $-0- budgets and "self-sufficency". In fact the 180 day rule for cutting a route was put into place, because these routes shut down without warning!ohmy.gif

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The Pioneer and Desert Wind were cut in (IIRC) 1997 during the period of $-0- budgets and "self-sufficency". In fact the 180 day rule for cutting a route was put into place, because these routes shut down without warning!ohmy.gif

 

I'm pretty sure the 180-day rule predates Amtrak.

 

There certainly was warning that the Desert Wind and Pioneer would be shut down. In fact, there was a discontinuance notice posted for the Texas Eagle, which would have shut down at the same time, if not for a grassroots effort by residents along the line to convince the Texas to provide Amtrak a loan to keep the route running.

 

The $0 proposed budgets were during the Bush era, and (I think) the Reagan era.

 

The Desert Wind and Pioneer were cut, in part, because Amtrak needed the equipment to make other trains (the Empire Builder and California Zephyr to Emeryville) daily. If they hadn't been cut, and no new equipment was acquired in the mean time, then you'd have 4x/week service west of St. Paul, and 3x/week service on a lot of the other lines. There simply wouldn't be enough equipment to do anything else.

 

Even though there are some connectivity gaps in the system, being able to offer daily service along the rest of the routes has resulted in significantly improved revenue and efficiency.

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The Pioneer and Desert Wind were cut in (IIRC) 1997 during the period of $-0- budgets and "self-sufficency". In fact the 180 day rule for cutting a route was put into place, because these routes shut down without warning!ohmy.gif

 

I'm pretty sure the 180-day rule predates Amtrak.

 

There certainly was warning that the Desert Wind and Pioneer would be shut down. In fact, there was a discontinuance notice posted for the Texas Eagle, which would have shut down at the same time, if not for a grassroots effort by residents along the line to convince the Texas to provide Amtrak a loan to keep the route running.

 

The $0 proposed budgets were during the Bush era, and (I think) the Reagan era.

 

The Desert Wind and Pioneer were cut, in part, because Amtrak needed the equipment to make other trains (the Empire Builder and California Zephyr to Emeryville) daily. If they hadn't been cut, and no new equipment was acquired in the mean time, then you'd have 4x/week service west of St. Paul, and 3x/week service on a lot of the other lines. There simply wouldn't be enough equipment to do anything else.

 

Even though there are some connectivity gaps in the system, being able to offer daily service along the rest of the routes has resulted in significantly improved revenue and efficiency.

The 180 day rule was instituted as part of the National Railroad Passenger Act of 1970 establishing Amtrak. Prior to Amtrak, on interstate trains, the railroads had to post a Notice of Discontinuation, which were usually set for 30 days from the date of the posting. Then somebody, sometimes many somebodies would protest the notice and the ICC would stay it until a hearing, usually some months away. Then there was the hearing and there was another wait until the ICC ruling from the hearing, and frequently the RRs were turned down, had to keep running the train, and start over again. Sometimes the ICC would direct that the railroads perform some action and reapply. Sometimes the notices were not contested, such as Santa Fe's Fast Mail, in which case the train just came off on the stated date. Once ICC approval was given, the trains were usually gone in a week or two after the ruling. I think the Chief came off about 1 week after the ruling.

 

Amtrak would have been subject to the same regulation and protests and hearings had Congress not changed it for Amtrak. All Amtrak had to do was post the 180 notice and wait it out. Congress wanted to give Amtrak the flexibility to control its routes (under Congressional supervision, of course, see The Hilltopper). The remaining RR intercity trains on the Southern, the D&RGW, and the Rock Island were not included and their train-offs had to go through the old procedure. Also the Act also made law that directed the ICC to not consider ANY train-offs from non-participating carriers until 1975. If they didn't joing Amtrak, they'd be stuck with whatever they were running. That was the stick. In point of fact, the ICC did not grant many train off petitions until an RR joined Amtrak (I think Southern was able to get of some they started with in 1971, but not all of them), although they did not have jurisdiction over the Rock Island, because their trains ran within Illinois only and they were able to get rid of them in the late 70s. The D&RGW tried many times to get rid of the RGZ entirely or cut it back to Grand Junction before deciding to join Amtrak, effective April 1983. Then the ICC immediately approved the discontinuation in conjunction with the start of Amtrak service (which didn't actually start over the route until some months later because of the Thistle slide severing the line in Utah).

 

Had the railroads had the same 180-rule that Amtrak has, there would have been virtually no intercity passenger trains at all by April 1968 at the latest. That being 6 months after the infamous October 1967 action of the Post Office removing most First Class mail from the trains, which kicked the last financial legs out from under the passenger train. They all would have headed for the exits then, if they hadn't earlier.

 

As to the Desert Wind and Pioneer, the reasons were the "Glidepath to Self Suffiency", the damage done by the infamous Mercer cuts when most western LD trains, at least, were reduced to less than daily operation (the Builder ran 4 days a week, the Pioneer ran 3 days a week, for example. On the days the Pioneer/Desert Wind ran, there was no California Zephyr, no train west of Salt Lake to Oakland). That played havoc with ridership because no one knew when the trains ran. Finally, Amtrak retired most of the Hi-Level fleet inherited from Santa Fe that had been padding out the Superliner fleet when they made the Mercer cuts. When it became obvious the Mercer cuts were a horrendous mistake and the trains should run daily (except those like the Sunset and Cardinal that had been less than daily before the cuts), they no longer had the equipment to run all trains daily that had run before the Mercer cuts because the Hi-Levels were mostly gone.

 

By the way, the "Carter Cuts" in 1979, such as the National Limited, the Floridian, the North Coast Hiawatha were done using the 180-day notice. It was in the law and available to Amtrak from day 1.

Edited by zephyr17

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The Pioneer and Desert Wind were cut in (IIRC) 1997 during the period of $-0- budgets and "self-sufficency". In fact the 180 day rule for cutting a route was put into place, because these routes shut down without warning!ohmy.gif

 

I'm pretty sure the 180-day rule predates Amtrak.

 

There certainly was warning that the Desert Wind and Pioneer would be shut down. In fact, there was a discontinuance notice posted for the Texas Eagle, which would have shut down at the same time, if not for a grassroots effort by residents along the line to convince the Texas to provide Amtrak a loan to keep the route running.

You are correct. The ICC under its enabling legislation had rule making authority and had a 180 day rule prior to 1996. In 1995 the ICC was disbanded by the ICC Termination Act (PL 104-88, 109 Stat 803) and created the STB. The STB repealed the relevant ICC regulations by 49 CFR 1153 effective 1st Jan 1996, as required by the Act. Then it proceeded to write new regulation. The STB regulations can be found in Title 49 CFR parts 1000 to 1332. It is not clear to me who actually administers the 180 day notice requirement these days, but possibly STB has something to do with it.

Edited by jis

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The Pioneer and Desert Wind were cut in (IIRC) 1997 during the period of $-0- budgets and "self-sufficency". In fact the 180 day rule for cutting a route was put into place, because these routes shut down without warning!ohmy.gif

 

I'm pretty sure the 180-day rule predates Amtrak.

 

There certainly was warning that the Desert Wind and Pioneer would be shut down. In fact, there was a discontinuance notice posted for the Texas Eagle, which would have shut down at the same time, if not for a grassroots effort by residents along the line to convince the Texas to provide Amtrak a loan to keep the route running.

 

The $0 proposed budgets were during the Bush era, and (I think) the Reagan era.

 

The Desert Wind and Pioneer were cut, in part, because Amtrak needed the equipment to make other trains (the Empire Builder and California Zephyr to Emeryville) daily. If they hadn't been cut, and no new equipment was acquired in the mean time, then you'd have 4x/week service west of St. Paul, and 3x/week service on a lot of the other lines. There simply wouldn't be enough equipment to do anything else.

 

Even though there are some connectivity gaps in the system, being able to offer daily service along the rest of the routes has resulted in significantly improved revenue and efficiency.

The 180 day rule was instituted as part of the National Railroad Passenger Act of 1970 establishing Amtrak. Prior to Amtrak, on interstate trains, the railroads had to post a Notice of Discontinuation, which were usually set for 30 days from the date of the posting. Then somebody, sometimes many somebodies would protest the notice and the ICC would stay it until a hearing, usually some months away. Then there was the hearing and there was another wait until the ICC ruling from the hearing, and frequently the RRs were turned down, had to keep running the train, and start over again. Sometimes the ICC would direct that the railroads perform some action and reapply. Sometimes the notices were not contested, such as Santa Fe's Fast Mail, in which case the train just came off on the stated date. Once ICC approval was given, the trains were usually gone in a week or two after the ruling. I think the Chief came off about 1 week after the ruling.

 

Amtrak would have been subject to the same regulation and protests and hearings had Congress not changed it for Amtrak. All Amtrak had to do was post the 180 notice and wait it out. Congress wanted to give Amtrak the flexibility to control its routes (under Congressional supervision, of course, see The Hilltopper). The remaining RR intercity trains on the Southern, the D&RGW, and the Rock Island were not included and their train-offs had to go through the old procedure. Also the Act also made law that directed the ICC to not consider ANY train-offs from non-participating carriers until 1975. If they didn't joing Amtrak, they'd be stuck with whatever they were running. That was the stick. In point of fact, the ICC did not grant many train off petitions until an RR joined Amtrak (I think Southern was able to get of some they started with in 1971, but not all of them), although they did not have jurisdiction over the Rock Island, because their trains ran within Illinois only and they were able to get rid of them in the late 70s. The D&RGW tried many times to get rid of the RGZ entirely or cut it back to Grand Junction before deciding to join Amtrak, effective April 1983. Then the ICC immediately approved the discontinuation in conjunction with the start of Amtrak service (which didn't actually start over the route until some months later because of the Thistle slide severing the line in Utah).

 

Had the railroads had the same 180-rule that Amtrak has, there would have been virtually no intercity passenger trains at all by April 1968 at the latest. That being 6 months after the infamous October 1967 action of the Post Office removing most First Class mail from the trains, which kicked the last financial legs out from under the passenger train. They all would have headed for the exits then, if they hadn't earlier.

 

As to the Desert Wind and Pioneer, the reasons were the "Glidepath to Self Suffiency", the damage done by the infamous Mercer cuts when most western LD trains, at least, were reduced to less than daily operation (the Builder ran 4 days a week, the Pioneer ran 3 days a week, for example. On the days the Pioneer/Desert Wind ran, there was no California Zephyr, no train west of Salt Lake to Oakland). That played havoc with ridership because no one knew when the trains ran. Finally, Amtrak retired most of the Hi-Level fleet inherited from Santa Fe that had been padding out the Superliner fleet when they made the Mercer cuts. When it became obvious the Mercer cuts were a horrendous mistake and the trains should run daily (except those like the Sunset and Cardinal that had been less than daily before the cuts), they no longer had the equipment to run all trains daily that had run before the Mercer cuts because the Hi-Levels were mostly gone.

 

By the way, the "Carter Cuts" in 1979, such as the National Limited, the Floridian, the North Coast Hiawatha were done using the 180-day notice. It was in the law and available to Amtrak from day 1.

 

EXCELLENT Summation! er, "Summary" laugh.gif I had totally forgotten about the "less than daily service". Yeah, the cutbacks and train-offs suck(ed) but at least we still have the bare-bones of a National System. Unlike Mexico. (that is still hard for me to believe that buses took over virtually all of the non-tourist routes in Mexico)

Edited by rrdude

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Zephyr,

 

Excellent summary. So is it the STB that administers the NRPC Act 180 day rule today? Or is it some other body? Thanks.

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With the exception of the line from Vegas to LAX who the heck would take the rest of that route? While a bit longer there still is a good way to go from LAX to SLC and the the other lost stops in the middle of Utah were VERY small. Lastly how many people would want to travel from Mormon SLC to sin city Vegas? A bus line is more than enough.

 

 

As for the Pioneer some potential there but I believe the study report indicated it would require a significantly higher subsidy to run than most LD routes. That I dont think will fly today without some serious changes and state support.

 

Personally if a western route would be reinstated I would want the North Coast Hiawatha, just saying :rolleyes:

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I rode the Pioneer and Desert Wind (and the bus connection between Odgen and Salt Lake) less than a year before they were discontinued. Amtrak personal clearly stated the reasoning for the planned discontinuance was to allow the CZ and EB to go to daily service.

 

The comment about "who would ride anyway" is valid if a stand alone train is considered. Interestingly enough, if passenger timetables from the early 1960's are compared the time to go from Portland, OR to Los Angles by UP via Salt Lake was only a couple of hours more than SP. UP also was sucessful at competing with SP for piggyback freight in the 1970-80's, supposedly being able to deliver quicker than SP. So if passenger demand warrented a second SEA/PDX to LAX train routing it via SLC might just make sense.

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With the exception of the line from Vegas to LAX who the heck would take the rest of that route? While a bit longer there still is a good way to go from LAX to SLC and the the other lost stops in the middle of Utah were VERY small. Lastly how many people would want to travel from Mormon SLC to sin city Vegas? A bus line is more than enough.

 

 

As for the Pioneer some potential there but I believe the study report indicated it would require a significantly higher subsidy to run than most LD routes. That I dont think will fly today without some serious changes and state support.

 

Personally if a western route would be reinstated I would want the North Coast Hiawatha, just saying :rolleyes:

 

While I wouldn't mind seeing the reinstatement of the NCH as well, I certainly would like to see the return of both the Pioneer and DW, for traveling from Iowa/Nebraska/Colorado to either PDX/SEA or to Vegas/LAX, respectively. It's not so much about the specific route, but what it can connect to.

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With the exception of the line from Vegas to LAX who the heck would take the rest of that route? While a bit longer there still is a good way to go from LAX to SLC and the the other lost stops in the middle of Utah were VERY small. Lastly how many people would want to travel from Mormon SLC to sin city Vegas? A bus line is more than enough.

 

 

As for the Pioneer some potential there but I believe the study report indicated it would require a significantly higher subsidy to run than most LD routes. That I dont think will fly today without some serious changes and state support.

 

Personally if a western route would be reinstated I would want the North Coast Hiawatha, just saying :rolleyes:

 

While I wouldn't mind seeing the reinstatement of the NCH as well, I certainly would like to see the return of both the Pioneer and DW, for traveling from Iowa/Nebraska/Colorado to either PDX/SEA or to Vegas/LAX, respectively. It's not so much about the specific route, but what it can connect to.

The North Coast Hi was included in the routes directed to be studied for reinstatement by PRIIA. The report was issued in October 2009. It is posted on the Amtrak site, here is the link to it:

http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/BlobServer?blobcol=urldata&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobkey=id&blobwhere=1249200498076&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobheadername1=Content-disposition&blobheadervalue1=attachment;filename=Amtrak_NorthCoastHiawathaServiceStudy.pdf

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I don't foresee Amtrak, under the current philosophy, adding any new long distance routes without financial support from the states that the train traverses.

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With the exception of the line from Vegas to LAX who the heck would take the rest of that route? While a bit longer there still is a good way to go from LAX to SLC and the the other lost stops in the middle of Utah were VERY small. Lastly how many people would want to travel from Mormon SLC to sin city Vegas? A bus line is more than enough.

 

That's really a narrow & self-centered view.

The route from Salt Lake City to Vegas isn't that much longer (or different) from SLC to Reno, and offers similar population.

The route was a valid route & needs reinstatement, to return LV to the national system & provide it connections to the East & to Southern Calif.

 

 

 

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I took the Desert Wind several times when I was doing work in Denver and SLC, and needed to meet with southern California customers. I also, attended two conferences in Las Vegas, where had the DW still been running I would have taken it. This is a needed route, that I think many would take.

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With the exception of the line from Vegas to LAX who the heck would take the rest of that route? While a bit longer there still is a good way to go from LAX to SLC and the the other lost stops in the middle of Utah were VERY small. Lastly how many people would want to travel from Mormon SLC to sin city Vegas? A bus line is more than enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas alone to me is justification for the Desert Wind. Today we can't take a train to Vegas and if the DW existed we could.

 

If we can run through cars SLC-LAX via Vegas off the CZ that would be great. Amtrak did discuss it on the PRIAA for the CZ back earlier in the decade. That's less than 1000 train miles and adds a big market, one of the largest that Amtrak doesn't serve.

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I think it would be great to bring the Desert Wind back into service. A lot of people from CHI-OMA-DEN areas would use it. They love Vegas, and what a great way to get there. Although Union Pacific could be a major obstacle in reviving the service.

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I don't foresee Amtrak, under the current philosophy, adding any new long distance routes without financial support from the states that the train traverses.

I would agree with this statement as there is poor support for LD trains in Washington, in most states or for that matter in the general population. Amtrak LD service has been on an austerity budget for as long as I can remember. I often wonder how long the service can keep going with the existing pool of equipment that has been badly depleted from recent accidents. While I see a good future for commuter and intercity rail, my optimism is shared for LD passenger rail.. I wish the Pioneer and Desert Wind would come back. Don't see it happening.

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When the Pioneer was originally introduced it was a Coach and Cafe only Regional train from Salt Lake City to Seattle. It took a while for it to acquire a Sleeper. I don't believe it ever acquired a full Diner. Also the through cars from the Zephyr came later. It was a cross platform connection 5 to 25 at around 11pm and 26 to 6 at around 7am. Been there done that.

 

If anyone proposes such a Coach only 23 hour train today they be laughed at and drummed out of the room. There is a reason that it is so much harder to get anything started anymore. Expectations are higher and available funding and ready to use equipment is lower

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When I took the Pioneer, it originated in Denver, and it did not have a full dining car. This would've been some time in 92-93 IIRC.

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When I took the Pioneer, it originated in Denver, and it did not have a full dining car. This would've been some time in 92-93 IIRC.

That would be Pioneer version 4.

 

Very roughly speaking, the versions were (AFAIR)

 

1. SLC - SEA Coach and Cafe train (single level) connecting cross platform with the San Francisco Zephyr at Ogden

2. SLC - SEA Coach, Sleeper and Cafe train (single level) connecting cross platform with the San Francisco Zephyr at Ogden

3. CHI - SLC - SEA Coach - Sleeper - Lounge/Cafe (Superliner)

4. CHI - DEN - SEA Coach - Sleeper - Lounge/Cafe (Superliner)

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One of my favorite Amtrak trips was on the Desert Wind from Los Angeles to Chicago. I was in the Sleeper at the end of the train and remember the wonder scenery I saw standing at the railfan window as the train went through the Cajon Pass. And, seeing the bright lights of Las Vegas as we went through that city was a highlight as well.

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We went via Borie, Rawlins and Green River as well. Very good trip.

Before they shortened the route via the Borie Amslab for the San Francisco Zephyr it used to go all the way into Cheyenne, backing one way and then forward the other from the Borie area. That used to be fun since Cheyenne has a passable downtown around the station.

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If you make a business case for these trains... it's terrible. Even if you include state and local subsidies. The population density is horrifically low, with the sole exception of Las Vegas.

 

The NCH business case is a lot better (and has more state and local support). The Gulf Coast business case is better than that (and has more state and local support). The business case for a second frequency on the LSL route from Chicago to NY (...though preferably routed via Detroit) is much better than any of those business cases, even without state and local support.

 

I'd rather prioritize the routes with decent business cases, as it allows for future expansion later.

 

Las Vegas-LA as a standalone route might have an OK business case. Las Vegas - Salt Lake doesn't.

Edited by neroden

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