The Southern Crescent 1978- What it was like. Onboard Video

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dlagrua

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While Amtrak has maintained the service; after seeing this video it is obvious that train travel has changed. In this video they show what is was like onboard the 1978 Southern Crescent. There are nice dome lounges, a dining car where all food is fresh prepared, silverware, flowers and china, white tablecloth on the tables, thick large mattresses in the bedrooms and a staff that was impeccably dressed. We will probably never see service like this on Americas Passenger trains again but if Amtrak keeps growing like it has who knows.

Hope that everyone likes this video:

 
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dlagrua

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Thanks MrFSS for correcting the link and posting another terrific video of this wonderful route. We last rode the Crescent from CUL to New Orleans in 2011 and the old Southern vintage (Heritage) diner (as shown) was as we remember it. The great chef on that route also cooked Crawfish Etoufee (at a time when Amtrak Chefs were allowed some leeway to cook "Chefs specials" ). Perhaps we caught the last of a changing era but I hope that some of the flair will return as passenger train ridership continues to grow. The Crescent was certainly a worthwhile trip and the final 30 minutes of the trip over Lake Ponchartrain just before Dusk was breathtaking.
 

jphjaxfl

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I have had the pleasure of riding The Crescent LTD operated by the Southern, AWP/WRA, and L&N, The Southerner operated by the Southern, Southern Crescent operated by the Southern and Amtrak's Crescent. The train has long history of excellent service. While the Amtrak Crescent does not provide the same service as The Southern and the other private railroads, it provides 21st century long distance passenger service. In 1970 there were those who were predicting the Long Distance Trains would be gone by 1985 except for Excursion Trains.
 

Bob Dylan

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Thanks for posting the videos! Those of us old enough to remember when crack trains rode the rails and even got to ride them especially appreciate this!

I used to ride the old Southern Run Green and Gold Southern Crescent overnight in Slumber Coaches between Washington and Greenville, SC or Atlanta and would usually have one meal in the Diner which was always excellent!

After Amtrak took over from Southern ( was it 1978?) I still rode regulary to/from Atlanta and New Orleans and remember what a deal the Slumber Coach was! The Paid for Meals were still very good in the Diner till that horrible mandate to standardize and cheapen the food came out of WAS.

After the Heritage Cars were replaced by Viewliners ( which I like,) and Amcans it just wasn't the same even though the Heritage Diners were still used. Perhaps the fact that the Diner crews were New York based while the other OBS were out of New Orleans made a difference.

One thing that hasn't changed is that between WAS and ATL the Trains would generally be Full and then almost Empty between ATL and NOL.

Also nice to see the Sunset Ltd. #1 ( my first LD Train) on the Huey Long Bridge out of New Orleans!
 
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dlagrua

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Those that remember the Golden Age will probably never see train service like that again. Years back everyone traveled by train and there was competition for your ticket. The private railroads would entice you to travel on their routes with gourmet food and superior service. Today there is only Amtrak. .

While I do not remember the slumber coach, I toured one at the Illinois Railroad Museum a few years ago. The up over and down under arrangement of the staggered single sleeper rooms (all with a sink and toilet) on both sides of the car was an amazing utilization of space. Those cars also went through all the tunnels to NYC BAL, PHL etc. They had a capacity of like 44 people per sleeper car and most everyone enjoyed a private small room or a double bedroom. Today the Viewliner sleeper capacity is only 30. Point is that the old slumber coaches, although technically single level height, could generate more sleeper revenue
 

Anderson

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Well, and Amtrak has tried quite hard to avoid competition for your ticket as of late (witness the Iowa Pacific situation).

I agree that Slumbercoaches would be a reasonable investment. Also, do remember that while the notional capacity of a Viewliner is 30, the effective capacity is down in the mid-20s since a lot of roomettes only achieve single occupancy.
 

xyzzy

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In the first video, the mountains scene is crossing Wells Viaduct immediately south of Toccoa, Ga. The dome ran only Atlanta-New Orleans because of clearance limitations. The b&w photo at the end was taken at Peachtree Station a/k/a/ Brookwood in Atlanta before everything changed because of the I-75/85 rebuild.

Yes, the dining car was everything people say it was. I lived in Atlanta in those years and rode the train many times.

However, the handwriting was on the wall for Southern. Both the locomotives and the passenger cars were worn out, and there was no financial motivation to rebuild or replace them. Furthermore several accidents had reduced the number of locomotives and cars. Like the RGZ, the Southern Crescent was great while it lasted, but it couldn't last forever.
 

Anderson

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The losses cited were about $6m/yr ($20-24m in 2013, depending on your measure). Per the measuring of the graph Boardman put in that testimony to Congress, the Crescent now runs with a direct loss in the range of about $7m/yr if I'm not mistaken...and most of that loss can probably be found south of Atlanta. The Crescent was, I believe, tri-weekly BHM-NOL at the time.

Edit: As to the cars...I think those diners are still in use!
 
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railiner

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Loved that first video...thanks so much for posting it. The great shot of the chef's cooking freshly prepared food brings to mind the famous ads that the Southern ran in magazines touting the freshly prepared muffins baked by SR chef Louis Price...

Sadly, Mr. Price was cooking in the diner when the train suffered a major wreck later in 1978...
 
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neroden

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Frankly I think the Slumbercoaches would run into ADA problems these days. You're supposed to try to make things as accessible as possible for people with mild disabilities, and that design, yeeowch, my fiancee would want nothing to do with it.

The dining car? There's no reason in the world why it couldn't run pretty much the way it did then. By all accounts the serving procedure was actually *more* efficient than today's is. You just need high volumes on the train to get the high turnover to support the fixed costs.

The losses cited were about $6m/yr ($20-24m in 2013, depending on your measure). Per the measuring of the graph Boardman put in that testimony to Congress, the Crescent now runs with a direct loss in the range of about $7m/yr if I'm not mistaken...and most of that loss can probably be found south of Atlanta. The Crescent was, I believe, tri-weekly BHM-NOL at the time.
I've been fiddling around with a spreadsheet relating to the direct losses. We know that the Auto Train, Palmetto, and Silver Meteor are already profitable on direct costs. It looks like ordinary growth over a few years (5% total, perhaps) should get the Silver Star and the Lake Shore Limited to the same status.
The Cardinal has an obvious problem; it's three-a-week. After correcting that and getting the proportional revenue and cost changes, it looks like it would need a slightly more substantial additional growth in revenue (maybe 10% total) to achieve the same status. This would probably happen; revenue growth when going from three-a-week to daily is generally *more* than the 7:4 ratio of frequency, due to greater convenience.

The Crescent would need more improvement than that; it seems clear that it is bifurcated into north-of-Atlanta and south-of-Atlanta markets, and that cut-off cars at Atlanta are badly needed. In the PIP in 2011, based on 2010 numbers, this was estimated to save $0.3 million in costs and increase revenues by $1.2 million. (The lounge and two or three coaches would have been detached at Atlanta, with a coach added north of Atlanta.) But ticket prices are up (north of Atlanta anyway!) -- Crescent revenues overall are up by 10% since then, so we can probably estimate it to be worth at least $1.32 million in revenue now (the PIPs generally lowballed their revenue increase estimates). With new Viewliners, another sleeper could be added north of Atlanta only, and this would probably be worth at least another half million, probably much more.

Anyway, I figure that if the Crescent gets a new Atlanta station which isn't overcrowded (allowing more passengers), and where it is possible to store rolling stock overnight, then the Crescent could probably achieve the same profitable-before-overhead status. But unfortunately a new Atlanta station seems to be unlikely to happen in any reasonable timeframe.
 
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NativeSon5859

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I worked for Amtrak for a about a year recently and I worked on 19/20 extensively. I can tell you that NOL isn't the problem. The towns and cities between NOL and ATL are. I'd say on average we boarded about 100 in NOL...about the same in ATL...but in between, not many...20 or 30 at most usually. Usually going northbound the train was sold out between, say, Spartanburg and Washington D.C. Southbound, more or less the same. I'd say New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington D.C were the cities which put the most butts in seats. Some of the Carolina and Virginia cities did quite well, as well.
 

NativeSon5859

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As far as cutting back equipment goes between NOL and ATL, for most of the year, they could probably get away with something like this:

2 Viewliners (generally both sleepers book well out of NOL, and BHM is usually good for a few rooms)

1 Diner

1 Lounge

2 Coaches (3rd added seasonally...the 4th is just dead weight until leaving ATL)

But since ATL can't get its act together, the best that can be done is just to close off one or two of the coaches if they aren't needed.
 

xyzzy

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At times since 1979 Amtrak did shorten the southbound consist at Atlanta and lengthen the northbound. Operationally it's a pain in the neck. Of the two wyes near Peachtree Station, one is at Atlanta's most busy railroad interlocking and the other NS would be happy to abandon entirely (the pre-1910 main line). Worse, Peachtree Station obstructs the main tracks which don't have a convenient crossover at either end of the station. Combine that with no passenger car facility in Atlanta for car cleaners to operate from -- after Amtrak took over in 1979, Southern promptly demolished its passenger car facility near Georgia Tech -- and as NativeSon5859 said, the net effect is that Atlanta can't get its act together. So, Amtrak puts lots of mileage on some mostly empty coaches and sleepers between Atlanta and New Orleans.
 

neroden

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After really staring at railroad maps, it seems to me that the ideal thing (in a nationalized, unified, rationalized system) would be to route the train Atlanta-Montgomery-Mobile-New Orleans, which looks to be less twisty and therefore shorter. And also has more online population. And would run the train right past the former Terminal Station and Union Station sites, where there's room to build a new larger station. But of course, that would involve CSX with the attendant change-of-host delays. :-(
 
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NativeSon5859

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Neroden, I was actually thinking the same thing. The combination of MOB, MGM, plus casino traffic to GPT, could lead to full trains in this segment. Right now NOL-ATL is basically 12 hours. I wonder if the routing via MOB/MGM could be competitive time wise?
 

xyzzy

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The route via Montgomery and Mobile will be at least 2 hours slower than the current route, absent a large investment in track improvements. Even in the 1950s the Birmingham route was faster, but Atlanta-Montgomery has been a 50-mph railroad for decades now (and the passenger main in Montgomery was torn out). If the timings are kept the same at NYP, the train would have a very unattractive departure time northbound from New Orleans. Keep the same time out of New Orleans, and the train gets caught in rush hour at NYP. Also, a late arrival into New Orleans could mean a late departure the next morning.

Populations along the routes are roughly the same. Mobile, which has the largest population along the route you proposed, lost its station in Katrina.
 

railiner

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If rerouting via Montgomery and Mobile is too complicated, how about cutting off the excess coaches at BHM? I don't know if BHM has better facilities than ATL under the present setup, but the current schedule would allow about a two and a half hour layover for the cars, if they were turned from 19 to 20......
 

northnorthwest

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BRING IT BACK! BRING IT BACK!

Having ridden the Crescent PHL-ATL a few times annually the last couple years, I would LOVE to see some of these former improvements brought back. I don't see any excuse for not having a high quality product.
 

xyzzy

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Birmingham is, in theory, a better site for this because the ex-L&N station has, or had, tracks on which cars could be stored for cleaning. They would still have to be turned, though, and that would be tricky because (as in Atlanta) the only wye involves traversing the very busy NS/CSX interlocking in the heart of the city. And given the propensity of 19 to run late, the three-hour turnaround is way too risky.

I think Southern had the right idea: either don't run the train south of Atlanta on a daily basis, or bite the bullet and put extra miles on the cars.
 
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Anderson

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The route via Montgomery and Mobile will be at least 2 hours slower than the current route, absent a large investment in track improvements. Even in the 1950s the Birmingham route was faster, but Atlanta-Montgomery has been a 50-mph railroad for decades now (and the passenger main in Montgomery was torn out). If the timings are kept the same at NYP, the train would have a very unattractive departure time northbound from New Orleans. Keep the same time out of New Orleans, and the train gets caught in rush hour at NYP. Also, a late arrival into New Orleans could mean a late departure the next morning.

Populations along the routes are roughly the same. Mobile, which has the largest population along the route you proposed, lost its station in Katrina.
What about sliding the train to arrive late enough into NYP to avoid rush hour? Assuming you shoot for a 1900 arrival at NYP, you'd have a daylight run from CLT (0658) to NYP (1900). Your time at Atlanta would stink, true, but everything else would be good...and if you back everything up an hour from there, Atlanta becomes lousy-but-feasible (while CLT becomes a bit more obnoxious).

Edit: Such a train would probably be slam full north of CLT (and particularly from LYH/CVS northwards). The southern end would, as usual, be a bit problematic...but you could probably justify cutting cars at CLT given the passenger loads which seem to materialize on the north end of that route.
 
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dlagrua

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Lots of good ideas posted here and I am sure that people at Amtrak Corporate read them. Budget constraints probably prevent measures to improve service but it is always good to look back and see how nice it was. The railroads had some really excellent chefs and onboard personnel back then. Amtrak does as well. Its just that today they are not allowed to practice their trade the way that they are capable of doing.
 

xyzzy

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Problem is, ATL is the major source of traffic for the train. CLT already has a day train to NYP (the Carolinian).
 
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railiner

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Birmingham is, in theory, a better site for this because the ex-L&N station has, or had, tracks on which cars could be stored for cleaning. They would still have to be turned, though, and that would be tricky because (as in Atlanta) the only wye involves traversing the very busy NS/CSX interlocking in the heart of the city. And given the propensity of 19 to run late, the three-hour turnaround is way too risky.

I think Southern had the right idea: either don't run the train south of Atlanta on a daily basis, or bite the bullet and put extra miles on the cars.
 

MikefromCrete

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The route via Montgomery and Mobile will be at least 2 hours slower than the current route, absent a large investment in track improvements. Even in the 1950s the Birmingham route was faster, but Atlanta-Montgomery has been a 50-mph railroad for decades now (and the passenger main in Montgomery was torn out). If the timings are kept the same at NYP, the train would have a very unattractive departure time northbound from New Orleans. Keep the same time out of New Orleans, and the train gets caught in rush hour at NYP. Also, a late arrival into New Orleans could mean a late departure the next morning.

Populations along the routes are roughly the same. Mobile, which has the largest population along the route you proposed, lost its station in Katrina.
What about sliding the train to arrive late enough into NYP to avoid rush hour? Assuming you shoot for a 1900 arrival at NYP, you'd have a daylight run from CLT (0658) to NYP (1900). Your time at Atlanta would stink, true, but everything else would be good...and if you back everything up an hour from there, Atlanta becomes lousy-but-feasible (while CLT becomes a bit more obnoxious).

Edit: Such a train would probably be slam full north of CLT (and particularly from LYH/CVS northwards). The southern end would, as usual, be a bit problematic...but you could probably justify cutting cars at CLT given the passenger loads which seem to materialize on the north end of that route.
So, you would screw around with Atlanta, probably the biggest source of revenue, to what, increase short-haul ridership?
 
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