Did the Private Railroads consider not joining Amtrak?

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AM_ROAD

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I've heard numerous of times that the Santa Fe considered to run the Super Chief/El Capitan and the Grand Canyon well after 1971. However, I really haven't found anything that wasn't speculative about the Santa Fe not joining Amtrak. Has anyone found anything that seems this belief is legitimate? If so why? My understanding is the Rio Grande did so due to fear of congestion on the Moffett Route, did the Santa Fe go to this philosophy or was it more like the Southern's use of prestige?
 

BCL

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I don't believe there was anything that stopped the big railroads from continuing passenger service that wasn't shifted to Amtrak. Southern Pacific continued the Peninsula Commute for years, although they eventually moved it to Caltrain and were contracted for operations until Amtrak took over in the 90s. Quite a few of the conductors on Capitol Corridor used to work on Caltrain wearing Caltrain uniforms.
 
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I’m always curious as to why some of the Class I’s don’t run a single luxury route to harken back to their history, and become slightly more relevant to the general public. I could envision it being almost a time machine type experience, with all of the splendor, food and glamour of the olden days. Given that dispatching isn’t nationalized, they could reduce delays by having a heavy hand, making it kind of an appealing mode of travel for some.

they could easily charge the correct high price, and be in direct competition with Amtrak. I’m sure there are reasons as to why they don’t do this, but the US is really prime “land cruise” territory if you make it as such. This could help Amtrak by making the LD trains seem more utilitarian and less fancy.
Just an idea.
(I am aware that there was an attempt at the orient express in the US that failed)
 
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jis

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I've heard numerous of times that the Santa Fe considered to run the Super Chief/El Capitan and the Grand Canyon well after 1971. However, I really haven't found anything that wasn't speculative about the Santa Fe not joining Amtrak. Has anyone found anything that seems this belief is legitimate? If so why? My understanding is the Rio Grande did so due to fear of congestion on the Moffett Route, did the Santa Fe go to this philosophy or was it more like the Southern's use of prestige?

Here is a fair use excerpt from "History of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway" by Keith L. Bryant Jr. and Fred W. Frailey, regarding the Santa Fe situation:
John Reed loved his passenger trains and didn't really want to give up those that remained. They were among the best passenger trains in the world, and, as far as Reed was concerned, the soul of his railroad. He asked Jack Berringer, the director of Staff Studies and Planning, to head a committee to study the financial consequences of joining Amtrak or continue to run the Santa Fe trains for at least another three years. Said Barringer later: "He saw those trains as the symbol of the railroad. And he, like me, had a love for that part of the business." Barringer reported back that Santa Fe's real, after tax losses on passenger trains would rise above $35 million a year if it stood pat, but its cash flow would increase by $117 million if it joined Amtrak. As Barringer put it, "Within three years our passenger losses would wipe out the earnings of the entire company." The Santa Fe joined Amtrak.

As it turned out Santa Fe sold ten full domes to the Auto Train corporation for $1.4 million, and the rest of its passenger rolling stock to Amtrak for $12.3 million.

I don't believe there was anything that stopped the big railroads from continuing passenger service that wasn't shifted to Amtrak. Southern Pacific continued the Peninsula Commute for years, although they eventually moved it to Caltrain and were contracted for operations until Amtrak took over in the 90s. Quite a few of the conductors on Capitol Corridor used to work on Caltrain wearing Caltrain uniforms.
Indeed, a lot of commuter service remained with private railroads including things like commuter service in NJ, subsidized by NJ but operated by PC, which finally got transferred to NJTransit upon the formation of its Rail Operations close to the time when PC morphed into Conrail.
 
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joelkfla

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I’m always curious as to why some of the Class I’s don’t run a single luxury route to harken back to their history, and become slightly more relevant to the general public. I could envision it being almost a time machine type experience, with all of the splendor, food and glamour of the olden days. Given that dispatching isn’t nationalized, they could reduce delays by having a heavy hand, making it kind of an appealing mode of travel for some.

they could easily charge the correct high price, and be in direct competition with Amtrak. I’m sure there are reasons as to why they don’t do this, but the US is really prime “land cruise” territory if you make it as such. This could help Amtrak by making the LD trains seem more utilitarian and less fancy.
Just an idea.
(I am aware that there was an attempt at the orient express in the US that failed)
I don't know who runs the railroads, but I would think that, like most all corporations these days, they're run by MBA's and bean counters beholden to hedge fund managers, not by railroad lovers.
 

sttom

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Why some passenger services were kept had to do with what was to be considered an intercity service and what wasn't. Amtrak was meant to save intercity services and some commuter operations did make some money, so its not like they all universally wanted to get rid of them. Along with various subsidy arrangements with states and cities could have been an issue should Amtrak have been responsible for them as well.

As to why the railroads didn't try to offer luxury services was down to them not being able to. Part of the initial Amtrak legislation was that they couldn't. Part of the deal of handing their trains over to Amtrak was that Amtrak would get the ability to use their track for essentially cost. Amtrak was not allowed to run trains where their still was private operations. If Santa Fe was still running passenger trains, which were a public service like Amtrak, there wouldn't be Amtrak trains. Amtrak was also barred from running services like the Auto Train at first. I am also not sure if the prohibition against their being no Amtrak operations run by the railroads passenger services has been undone entirely. But given that Brightline exists now, I wouldn't be surprised if it still was.

Assuming the railroads could run something like Rocky Mountaineer on their own now, why would they? By the time the Staggers Act passed, the railroads had largely sold their equipment to Amtrak, other operators or had given it to museums. They wouldn't want to waste money that could be better spent on fixing track after the Staggers Act past on tour services. There were plenty of operators who did that and just rented time slots from the railroad as time went on. So there was no need for them to do that independently.
 

ehbowen

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Walter Simms, a former Santa Fe manager of my acquaintance who was a branch-line station master in Kansas at the time, tells me that Santa Fe WOULD have kept its passenger trains if only they could have dumped the ex-Grand Canyon and other low-performing secondary trains. There was a formal proposal, filed with the ICC, to consolidate the Super Chief, El Capitan, San Francisco Chief, and Texas Chief into one enormous train (shades of UP's 'City of Everywhere', I personally refer to it as the 'Super-Duper Chief'!) out of Chicago which would have traveled as a unit to Newton, Kansas, and then split into three sections. The Super Chief/El Capitan section would have proceeded from Newton to Albuquerque via Raton, the San Francisco Chief from Newton to Albuquerque via Amarillo and Belen, and the Texas Chief south to Fort Worth and Houston. The two west coast sections would re-combine in Albuquerque and proceed combined to Barstow, where they would have split for southern and northern California respectively.

This plan was contingent upon all other passenger service being dropped, however, and the ICC declined to permit this. Rumors exist that the nascent Amtrak management had its eye on Santa Fe's treasure trove of passenger rolling stock and exerted pressure to have the decision be all or nothing...keep ALL passenger service for the next five years as per Amtrak's enabling legislation, or else turn it all over to Amtrak and run nothing under their own name. But that's just a rumor, no real sources for it. Whatever the truth behind the scenes the petition was turned down and Santa Fe opted to turn all passenger service over to Amtrak.

As for why private railroads did not continue to operate some premium services, there was a non-compete clause in Amtrak's enabling legislation which prevented any member railroad from offering any common carrier passenger services under its own name. This was dropped in the 1980s, IIRC, but no railroad wanted to take a chance on going back to the old days by that point. It's why Auto-Train had to require all passengers to travel with an auto or vehicle...if they sold a simple passenger ticket it would violate the non-compete, but by requiring a shipped auto they could call it a freight train and say that any carriage of passengers was simply incidental to the freight...back in the day railroads had special tickets for "drovers" to accompany livestock shipments and "banana messengers" to travel with fresh fruit, so there was precedent.
 
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I’m always curious as to why some of the Class I’s don’t run a single luxury route to harken back to their history, and become slightly more relevant to the general public. I could envision it being almost a time machine type experience, with all of the splendor, food and glamour of the olden days. Given that dispatching isn’t nationalized, they could reduce delays by having a heavy hand, making it kind of an appealing mode of travel for some.

they could easily charge the correct high price, and be in direct competition with Amtrak. I’m sure there are reasons as to why they don’t do this, but the US is really prime “land cruise” territory if you make it as such. This could help Amtrak by making the LD trains seem more utilitarian and less fancy.
Just an idea.
(I am aware that there was an attempt at the orient express in the US that failed)
CP continues to run the Royal Canadian Pacific as a charter service with occasional public availability. I lacked the funds the last time an opportunity came up (pre-Covid of course). It is not cheap. Check out @Seaboard92's excellent review in the trip reports forum.
 

Cal

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CP continues to run the Royal Canadian Pacific as a charter service with occasional public availability. I lacked the funds the last time an opportunity came up (pre-Covid of course). It is not cheap. Check out @Seaboard92's excellent review in the trip reports forum.
Did not know about this, if it survives the KCS merger it is a new thing added to my bucket list. What is the scenery like compared to the Candian?
Walter Simms, a former Santa Fe manager of my acquaintance who was a branch-line station master in Kansas at the time, tells me that Santa Fe WOULD have kept its passenger trains if only they could have dumped the ex-Grand Canyon and other low-performing secondary trains. There was a formal proposal, filed with the ICC, to consolidate the Super Chief, El Capitan, San Francisco Chief, and Texas Chief into one enormous train (shades of UP's 'City of Everywhere', I personally refer to it as the 'Super-Duper Chief'!) out of Chicago which would have traveled as a unit to Newton, Kansas, and then split into three sections. The Super Chief/El Capitan section would have proceeded from Newton to Albuquerque via Raton, the San Francisco Chief from Newton to Albuquerque via Amarillo and Belen, and the Texas Chief south to Fort Worth and Houston. The two west coast sections would re-combine in Albuquerque and proceed combined to Barstow, where they would have split for southern and northern California respectively.
This is aligned with what I have read too. Even after Amtrak took over they cared about their train's name, when they felt service went down to an inadequate level they revoked Amtrak's permission to use "Chief" in their names (When superliners were rolled out Amtrak re-gained the permisison to use Chief). I'd think they would be horrified at Amtrak's trains today.
 
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Did not know about this, if it survives the KCS merger it is a new thing added to my bucket list. What is the scenery like compared to the Candian?
First, don't forget that this is not a merger, although the press may portray it as that, this is a takeover. CP is a huge company with huge resources. There will be no change at that end. Secondly, the route blows the Canadian out of the water. The RCP traverses the original Canadian route through the spiral tunnels, with the best scenery in Canada. Watch this video: This is the same route the Rocky Mountaineer uses. Finally, the RM will be cheaper. The RCP I passed on was over $5800CAD pp in 2018, with no overnight on the train. I can't find it right now, but look up Seaboard's review of the route and service in this forum.
 

Seaboard92

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Did not know about this, if it survives the KCS merger it is a new thing added to my bucket list. What is the scenery like compared to the Candian?

This is aligned with what I have read too. Even after Amtrak took over they cared about their train's name, when they felt service went down to an inadequate level they revoked Amtrak's permission to use "Chief" in their names (When superliners were rolled out Amtrak re-gained the permisison to use Chief). I'd think they would be horrified at Amtrak's trains today.

Well the question about scenery really depends on your style. But also the fact that anyone can charter the RCP to go anywhere inside the CP System, and with CEO Approval and other railroad approval off network as well. It has previously ran a charter for someone to the Kentucky Derby which is off network.

Personally I find the CP Route to be the vastly superior route not just in terms of population but the scenery as well. It also doesn't hurt CP still knows how to dispatch their railroad so you wouldn't have to have that god awful long time table that you have over CN. It is supposed to be doing public trips again soon. And actually the cost of it isn't as bad as you might think. The Gold Leaf service on Rocky is only a fraction under what RCP costs for a majorly less product. Consider RCP Caps the train at 36 passengers for five or six cars, whereas one Gold Leaf car seats over 58 passengers. You get more personalized service, and it's the same scenery. And you have the run of all the cars minus the power car versus just your car on Rocky.

At one point you could make the argument RCP didn't have a dome but they now have a lovely EX Southern Pacific 3/4 Dome, plus all of the heavyweight observation cars with platforms. So you really have all of the same luxury that you get on Rocky just in a nicer surrounding.

RCP also offers some really cool rare mileage routes in the Rocky's too. Like down on Crowsnest Pass which is the original routing and I think vastly more scenic than the mainline further north.
 
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Did not know about this, if it survives the KCS merger it is a new thing added to my bucket list. What is the scenery like compared to the Candian?

This is aligned with what I have read too. Even after Amtrak took over they cared about their train's name, when they felt service went down to an inadequate level they revoked Amtrak's permission to use "Chief" in their names (When superliners were rolled out Amtrak re-gained the permisison to use Chief). I'd think they would be horrified at Amtrak's trains today.
I remember back in the late '70s or early '80s when taking the Amtrak from Albuquerque and the discussion by the conductors onboard about Santa Fe taking the rights to the name from Amtrak because they violated the agreement and were spoiling the name of the famous Chief. Apparently, that happened in '74 per this article:
Amtrak couldn't use the Chief name any more
 

Willbridge

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An added note - the private railways were also regulated by the states for intrastate travel. A luxury cruise train is an excursion and there is little problem. Regular scheduled operation would have continued state oversight of schedules, tariffs, etc.
 

cirdan

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I understand UPRR, who are not exactly known for their friendliness towards passenger trains, still keeps a notable fleet of working historic locomotives (including of course the recently restored Big Boy) as well as working passenger cars of various types for goodwill, charter and corporate entertainment purposes. Many other railroads do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. I doubt these operations come anywhere near to breaking even financially and are thus presumably covered by PR and advertising budgets. This shows that there is an awareness of history even among the alleged bean counters and a pride in being associated with that history.
 
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In the Northeast operation of trains both commuter and some that bordered in intercity such as the former Reading RR services from Philadelphia to Reading/Pottsville and Bethlehem continued into Conrail up to the early 1980s. I believe there was some kind of mandate where Conrail had to divest itself of passenger operations by a certain date in the early 80s; as a result services had to be picked up by commuter agencies such as Metro North or by local governments. Unfortunately some services such as the aforementioned ex RDG services even though well patronized ended up being dropped as local authorities did not want to subsidize them. Interestingly enough the local bus companies that operated from Philadelphia to Reading and Bethlehem who lobbied against the services being subsidized found that after the trains went away their patronage actually dropped as many people eho had using a mix of train and bus whichever had the more convenient schedule, now chose to drive instead as bus only was less convenient. A lesson in be careful what you wish for.
 
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I understand UPRR, who are not exactly known for their friendliness towards passenger trains, still keeps a notable fleet of working historic locomotives (including of course the recently restored Big Boy) as well as working passenger cars of various types for goodwill, charter and corporate entertainment purposes. Many other railroads do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. I doubt these operations come anywhere near to breaking even financially and are thus presumably covered by PR and advertising budgets. This shows that there is an awareness of history even among the alleged bean counters and a pride in being associated with that history.
Per the latest issue of Trains Magazine, UP accepts requests from three groups for running those trains - government affairs [i.e. to buy off politicians?], top managers [To impress their friends with their influence?] and public relations [Tease the foamers].
 

Barb Stout

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Walter Simms, a former Santa Fe manager of my acquaintance who was a branch-line station master in Kansas at the time, tells me that Santa Fe WOULD have kept its passenger trains if only they could have dumped the ex-Grand Canyon and other low-performing secondary trains. There was a formal proposal, filed with the ICC, to consolidate the Super Chief, El Capitan, San Francisco Chief, and Texas Chief into one enormous train (shades of UP's 'City of Everywhere', I personally refer to it as the 'Super-Duper Chief'!) out of Chicago which would have traveled as a unit to Newton, Kansas, and then split into three sections. The Super Chief/El Capitan section would have proceeded from Newton to Albuquerque via Raton, the San Francisco Chief from Newton to Albuquerque via Amarillo and Belen, and the Texas Chief south to Fort Worth and Houston. The two west coast sections would re-combine in Albuquerque and proceed combined to Barstow, where they would have split for southern and northern California respectively.
A lot of ABQ action. That would have been nice.
 

George Harris

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Southern stayed out of Amtrak for several years. One of the provisions of the initial Amtrak act was that a railroad that stayed out had to continue all passengers for some minimum period. I think it was 5 years, but it may have been less. By Amtrak time Southern was down to four trains, three trains out of DC, one, the Southern Crescent, going to New Orleans, but only 3 days per week south of Atlanta, one ending in Atlanta, and one, the remnant of the Birmingham Special which had been turned over to N&W at Lynchburg and ending at Bristol VA/TN where before being cut back it was turned back over to Southern for the rest of its trek. The Crescent was maintained as a high quality run, normally having 4 E-units on the front, the Atlanta train which operated as a day train was also well kept, but normally had a string of piggyback cars added at their Alexandria yard, which was south of Alexandria passenger station, not at Potomac Yard, and the third a single coach which was hauled by a single engine out of DC to their Alexandria yard where it became part of a piggyback train for the rest of the way. The coach was not even pulled off at Lynchburg so as to save switching. (I rode this one once.) The other train ran Salisbury NC to Asheville NC as a connection to the Atlanta day train. Westbound it was after dark, but eastbound it was a beautiful scenic ride. After they were allowed to start cut offs again, the Asheville train disappeared along with Lynchburg coach in a freight train and the day train cut back to Charlotte NC.

Although 100% Southern owned, the Central of Georgia had maintained a separate corporate identity and did join Amtrak. There were squawks about that but they were able to make it stick. This allowed them to discontinue their Atlanta - Savannah train and their portion of the City of Miami.
 
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Southern stayed out of Amtrak for several years. One of the provisions of the initial Amtrak act was that a railroad that stayed out had to continue all passengers for some minimum period. I think it was 5 years, but it may have been less. By Amtrak time Southern was down to four trains, three trains out of DC, one, the Southern Crescent, going to New Orleans, but only 3 days per week south of Atlanta, one ending in Atlanta, and one, the remnant of the Birmingham Special which had been turned over to N&W at Lynchburg and ending at Bristol VA/TN where before being cut back it was turned back over to Southern for the rest of its trek. The Crescent was maintained as a high quality run, normally having 4 E-units on the front, the Atlanta train which operated as a day train was also well kept, but normally had a string of piggyback cars added at their Alexandria yard, which was south of Alexandria passenger station, not at Potomac Yard, and the third a single coach which was hauled by a single engine out of DC to their Alexandria yard where it became part of a piggyback train for the rest of the way. The coach was not even pulled off at Lynchburg so as to save switching. (I rode this one once.) The other train ran Salisbury NC to Asheville NC as a connection to the Atlanta day train. Westbound it was after dark, but eastbound it was a beautiful scenic ride. After they were allowed to start cut offs again, the Asheville train disappeared along with Lynchburg coach in a freight train and the day train cut back to Charlotte NC.

Although 100% Southern owned, the Central of Georgia had maintained a separate corporate identity and did join Amtrak. There were squawks about that but they were able to make it stick. This allowed them to discontinue their Atlanta - Savannah train and their portion of the City of Miami.
In 1972 when I was stationed in the USAF at Biloxi MS I drove up one day to Hattiesburg to witness the arrival of the Westbound Crescent which was quite impressive. I recall the conductor wiping down the handrails of a coach before passengers boarded. It was obvious they took pride in their operation.
 

TheVig

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Southern stayed out of Amtrak for several years. One of the provisions of the initial Amtrak act was that a railroad that stayed out had to continue all passengers for some minimum period. I think it was 5 years, but it may have been less. By Amtrak time Southern was down to four trains, three trains out of DC, one, the Southern Crescent, going to New Orleans, but only 3 days per week south of Atlanta, one ending in Atlanta, and one, the remnant of the Birmingham Special which had been turned over to N&W at Lynchburg and ending at Bristol VA/TN where before being cut back it was turned back over to Southern for the rest of its trek. The Crescent was maintained as a high quality run, normally having 4 E-units on the front, the Atlanta train which operated as a day train was also well kept, but normally had a string of piggyback cars added at their Alexandria yard, which was south of Alexandria passenger station, not at Potomac Yard, and the third a single coach which was hauled by a single engine out of DC to their Alexandria yard where it became part of a piggyback train for the rest of the way. The coach was not even pulled off at Lynchburg so as to save switching. (I rode this one once.) The other train ran Salisbury NC to Asheville NC as a connection to the Atlanta day train. Westbound it was after dark, but eastbound it was a beautiful scenic ride. After they were allowed to start cut offs again, the Asheville train disappeared along with Lynchburg coach in a freight train and the day train cut back to Charlotte NC.

Although 100% Southern owned, the Central of Georgia had maintained a separate corporate identity and did join Amtrak. There were squawks about that but they were able to make it stick. This allowed them to discontinue their Atlanta - Savannah train and their portion of the City of Miami.

I’m still relatively young, but as a resident of Charlotte, I hope to see NCDOT start running a train between Asheville and Salisbury. At the same time, I figure I’ll be worm food by the time it becomes reality.
 
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Tom Rice, SCL president, considered staying out of Amtrak too. At the time they had a strong Florida business with 18 car trains. But the economics couldn’t justify joining. A key factor was the cost to re-equip/rebuild the aging fleet. While Amtrak could grow their share of the market, it’s tough to compete with the $56 fare (bags, carry on extra) that United had on our recent trip to New York. And then there’s Allegiant and Spirit fighting for their share.

Perhaps Amtrak feels their future for Florida is with AutoTrain, given their current sale. Certainly it is a makert that there won’t be airline competition.
 
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