Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of today

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Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of today

Postby Noel Weaver » Sat Sep 17, 2011 8:44 pm

Following is a comparison of passenger trains as they existed in the Official Guide for January, 1970 and Amtrak in their timetable dated May 9, 2011. A lot of work went into this project and although I finished it months ago, I wanted to clear its content with certain people before I posted it. It reflects my experience on a good number of these trains and in some cases experiences of others or what I became aware of. It is not perfect and I suppose some might not agree with this but I did what I thought was fair to both the railroads of 1970 and Amtrak of 2011. I hope you find it interesting. It is a long file and a lot of reading.
Noel Weaver


Noel Weaver, June 18, 2011

Amtrak timetable dated May 9, 2011 and the Official Guide for January, 1970

I once stated that Amtrak was a downgrading of the best and an improvement over the worst.

Comparison of the Amtrak train or trains on a given route to what the railroad(s) operated on that same route in January, 1970. In the case of long distance service only one railroad operated train is shown to compare with one Amtrak train. Usually this means the best or fastest railroad operated train or in some cases the train that most resembles the Amtrak train(s) on May 9, 2011. Time zones are not figured in any case. The reason I am using January, 1970 is simply because it is the last copy of the Official Guide in my collection before day one of Amtrak although I do have many timetables showing later service and changes still occurred then too.
Which was better service, there are several things that I considered in reaching my opinion regarding higher marks for the railroad operated train(s) or Amtrak operated trains. Among these factors were: running time, facilities on the train, food, sleepers if any and the overall convenience for passenger travel. In cases where there was no service on Amtrak or no service offered over a route as of January, 1970, nothing is mentioned here.
In the case of corridor operations I listed the total number of round trips offered by one or more railroad compared with the number of round trips offered by Amtrak and also again the running time, facilities, food, convenience of service and other factors.
In most cases the running time is slower under Amtrak today than it was in the days of railroad operations, I did not factor this in very much because in practically all cases both long distance and corridor it can not be considered the fault of Amtrak that the trains take longer to reach their destination. Some railroads still regarded passenger trains as their showpiece, you could call them their “pride and joy” and the equipment and scheduling showed, other railroads had enough by this time and again the equipment and schedules showed this too.


Chicago – Seattle Empire Builder

CB&Q/GN train 31 Chicago 1:00 PM, Sunday - Seattle 7:45 AM, Tuesday
42 hours and 45 minutes
Amtrak 7 CP/BNSF (Milw./GN) Chicago 2:15 PM, Sunday – Seattle 10:25 AM, Tuesday
44 hours and 10 minutes
This one is rather hard to compare, Amtrak has established a rather high standard of service on this one but the Great Northern also had a very high standard of service. As a note, the Great Northern had at least two daily round trips over this entire route but only the Empire Builder remains. As with Amtrak the GN also maintained through service to Portland with this train. Some things better on GN and some things better on Amtrak, I am going to call this one a draw.

Chicago – Oakland California Zephyr

CB&Q/DRGW/WP 17 Chicago 2:40 PM, Sunday – Oakland 3:10 PM, Tuesday
48 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak 5 BNSF /UP (CB&Q/DRGW/WP) Chicago 2:00 PM, Sunday – Emeryville 4:10 PM Tue.
50 hours 10 minutes
The three railroads involved in the California Zephyr of January, 1970 still maintained a high standard of service on this train and I rode portions of it in both the railroad and Amtrak days. By a very slim margin, I will say that the train was better in January, 1970 than it is today. Having said that, Amtrak still maintains a good standard of service on this train too.

Chicago – Los Angeles Super Chief/ Southwest Chief

ATSF 17 Chicago 6:30 PM (Sunday) – Los Angeles 9:00 AM (Tuesday)
38 hours and 30 minutes
Amtrak 3 BNSF (ATSF) Chicago 3:00 PM (Sunday) – Los Angeles 8:15 AM (Tuesday)
41 hours 15 minutes
Pretty much the same situation here as the California Zephyr, the Santa Fe had cut a lot of trains by 1970 but this was the “pride of the fleet” and it still showed. By this time Santa Fe service between Chicago and Los Angeles was down to this one great train and trains 23 and 24 which were what remained of the Grand Canyon. Amtrak could not possibly improve on the standard of service that the Santa Fe set for the Super Chief.

Portland – Oakland Cascade/Coast Starlight
I have split the Coast Starlight into to segments to make this more realistic with what was offered in 1970.

SP 11 Portland 4:15 PM (Sunday) – Oakland (16th St.) 9:05 AM (Monday
16 hours 50 minutes
Amtrak 11 UP (SP) Portland 2:25 PM (Sunday) – Oakland (Jack London Sq.) 8:40 AM (Monday)
18 hours 15 minutes
The Southern Pacific still maintained a decent standard of service on the Cascade right up until day one of Amtrak. The train still had a diner and a lounge as well as sleepers and good coaches. I rode it in 1965 and at that time it set a very high standard for service. I often wonder why Amtrak does not split the operation of this train at Oakland and run a day train between there and Portland as it is an especially scenic ride. All in all this train was every bit as good as what is operated today but I think Amtrak has done a good job on this route today; I’ll give them a draw on this one.

Los Angeles – San Francisco/Oakland Coast Daylight/Coast Starlight

SP 99 Los Angeles 8:30 AM (Sunday) – San Francisco (3rd St.) 6:15 PM (Sunday)
9 hours 45 minutes
Amtrak 14 Los Angeles 10:20 AM (Sunday) – Oakland (Jack London Square) 9:32 PM (Sunday)
11 hours 12 minutes
Above two trains to San Jose from Los Angeles SP 99 8 hours 35 minutes, Amtrak 14 10 hours 7 min.
Here the Southern Pacific had downgraded service on the Coast Daylight and while I do not know if they were using Automat cars on it or diners, I rode this line in 1962 and 1963 and in both cases they were using the Automat cars and they were the “pits” for food in my opinion. Although the running time is slower and they no longer go into San Francisco and Amtrak service is definitely better than what was offered in 1970 by the Southern Pacific. In fairness to Amtrak, too, the line north out of Los Angeles has way more passenger trains both Amtrak and commuter on it than it did under the SP in 1970.

New Orleans – Los Angeles Sunset/Sunset Limited
Note by 1970 the Southern Pacific had dropped the word Limited from the name, Amtrak restored it.

SP 1 New Orleans 12:01 PM, Sunday – Los Angeles 6:30 AM, Tuesday
42 hours 29 minutes
Amtrak 1 BNSF/UP (SP) New Orleans 11:55 AM, Sunday (Monday timetable) – Los Angeles 8:30 AM, Tuesday (Wednesday timetable) 44 hours 35 minutes
Service in 1970 on the Sunset (no Limited, it did not deserve it) was a disgrace. A couple of “F” units, baggage car, automat car and 3 coaches on a departure from New Orleans around this time, I am glad I did not bother to ride it back then. Sometime between January, 1970 and May, 1971 the Southern Pacific got an OK to drop it to three days a week in exchange for restoration of dining, lounge and sleeping car service and they even agreed with the Southern Railway to operate a through New York – LA sleeper via New Orleans but this is based again on January, 1970 and on January, 1970 it was a “no brainer”, Amtrak service today is far, far better than what the SP offered on January, 1970. The SP ran decent coaches on this train but imagine two days and nights on the road with nothing but an automat with vending machines, ridiculous is the best description.

St. Louis – San Antonio Texas Eagle

MP 1 St. Louis 5:30 PM, Sunday – San Antonio 12:40 PM, Monday
19 hours 40 minutes
Amtrak 21 UP (MP mostly) St. Louis 8:00 PM – San Antonio 9:55 PM, Monday
25 hours 55 minutes
Service in January, 1970 on the Missouri Pacific was pretty dreadful. This once fine train was down to a dining car and coaches and the railroad still had the gall to charge for seats. Amtrak is far better on this route. The slower running time might be the result of the mixed up routes that this train operates over today, I am not going to try to figure out this route today.

Chicago – New Orleans Panama Limited/City of New Orleans

IC 5 Chicago 5:00 PM, Sunday – New Orleans 9:30 AM, Monday
16 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak 59 CN (IC) Chicago 8:00 PM, Sunday – New Orleans 3:32 PM, Monday
19 hours 32 minutes
Amtrak started out with this route retaining the City of New Orleans schedule of a daytime coach train with dining and lounge facilities but ended up making it an overnight train with sleepers etc which probably made a lot of sense considering the length of the trip. Under the Illinois Central the City of New Orleans was probably the longest non overnight coach ride anywhere and they maintained a high standard of service on this train. When I rode it in 1963 it had an observation lounge car on the tail end but by 1970 this car was gone, instead it carried a couple of dome cars. Mixed feelings here, I think Amtrak probably was an improvement over the IC City of New Orleans but the operation today is more like the Panama Limited and the IC maintained a very high standard of service in the Panama Limited. I guess we could say that Amtrak was better than the City of New Orleans at the end but not quite as good as the Panama Limited.

New York and Boston to Chicago via Albany Penn Central train 61/Amtrak Lake Shore

PC 61 New York 6:30 PM, Sunday – Chicago 11:30 AM, Monday
PC 427 Boston 4:00 PM, Sunday – Chicago 11:30 AM, Monday
New York Section 17 hours, Boston Section 19 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak 49 CSX/NS (PC) New York 3:45 PM, Sunday – Chicago 9:45 AM, Monday
Amtrak 449 CSX/NS (PC) Boston 11:55 AM, Sunday – Chicago 9:45 AM, Monday
New York Section 18 hours, Boston Section 21 hours 50 minutes
After several years of late departures and especially late arrivals in both directions, this train is running much better in more recent months. In Penn Central days the train was sometimes called the
“Great Steel Fleet” a carryover from the days of the New York Central. Actually Penn Central service on this train was not as dreadful as some imagined but Amtrak service on this route with this one train is definitely an improvement.

New York – Miami Silver Meteor

PC 143/RF&P/SCL 57 New York 2:10 PM, Sunday – Miami 4:05 PM, Monday
Via Columbia and Wildwood all former SAL route 25 hours 55 minutes
Amtrak 97 Amtrak, CSX (PC/RF&P/SCL) New York 3:15 PM, Sunday – Miami 6:55 PM, Monday
Via Charleston, Orlando and Auburndale 27 hours 40 minutes
This train in recent months is running much better after problems getting over the road south of Washington, DC. The schedule has been lengthened to a more realistic level considering conditions on CSX. This is still a good train today under Amtrak but I think the service offered on this and most of the other New York – Florida trains was better in SCL days, SCL was a railroad that cared about their passenger operations right up until the Amtrak takeover in 1971. Seaboard Coast Line had enough equipment to run as many cars up and down the east coast as needed and 18 plus car consists were very common on Florida trains in the busy winter season. Today Amtrak’s two Florida round trips are sometimes sold out in the winter time, there just is not enough equipment and the railroad does not have enough reserve to handle capacity situations on some days. SCL was better on this one.

New York – New Orleans Southerner

PC 173/Southern 47 New York 3:00 PM, Sunday – New Orleans 8:40 PM, Monday
29 hours 40 minutes
Amtrak 19 Amtrak/NS (PC/Southern) New York 2:15 PM, Sunday –New Orleans 7:38 PM, Monday
29 hours 23 minutes
This was about the only example of a long distance train where the running time is actually shorter than it was in 1970. Looks like the reason was slightly fewer stops today than in 1970. In 1970 W. Graham Claytor was the president of the Southern and under his leadership this railroad took off a fair number of passenger trains but the ones that remained had a very high standard of service and this train was class in every respect. Amtrak maintains a good standard of service on this route but I think the train was a bit better under Southern than today.

Washington – Chicago Capitol Limited

B & O 5 Washington 4:45 PM, Sunday – Chicago 9:10 AM, Monday
16 hours 25 minutes
Amtrak 29 CSX/NS (B &O) Washington 4:05 PM, Sunday – Chicago 8:45 AM, Monday
16 hours 40 minutes
This was the class train on the Baltimore and Ohio, unfortunately by 1970 the service standards on this train had gone downhill, no more separate lounge car, no more domes on a regular basis, only one
“ChessieTavern” a combination diner and lounge car that just did not offer the services that had been offered just a few years previous. I have not ridden this train since Amtrak started up but I have to think that the level of service under Amtrak is better than what the B & O offered in 1970. The running time is right up there too although the train does not use the same route west of Pittsburgh.

Washington – Cincinnati George Washington/Cardinal

C & O 1 Washington 4:35 PM, Sunday – Cincinnati 7:35 AM, Monday
15 hours
Amtrak 51 Washington 11:05 AM, Sunday – Cincinnati 1:13 AM, Monday 14 hours 8 minutes
This route I have never ridden at least most of it under either C & O or Amtrak. Looking at the guide and the Amtrak timetable I can only say that I think the level of service is probably similar, with Amtrak the running time is better but that is probably because there is no more pick up and drop of cars enroute, the train leaves Washington and arrives Cincinnati with the same consist. The C & O switched the train at Charlottesville and at Ashland and this takes time. Unfortunately under Amtrak the train runs three days a week each way instead of the daily operation under C & O. I am going to give this one a draw.


New York – Montreal, Penn Central/Delaware and Hudson, Amtrak

Penn Central/Delaware and Hudson 2 9 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak CSX/CP (Penn Central/Delaware and Hudson 1 10 hours 59 minutes

I have mixed feelings on this one; I have ridden this route many different times over the years.
The day train of 1970 provided essentially the same service provided today by Amtrak and today I don’t think there would be enough demand for an overnight train on this particular route so it will not be considered a loss. The Penn Central provided a “Buffet Bar Car” between New York and Albany while the Delaware and Hudson provided a full dining car between Albany and Montreal and their food was good and the service was good too. The food on Penn Central could be summed up as forget it. On the other hand Amtrak provides what is probably today better facilities for the passengers and food that is not fancy but at least it is decent and the food Penn Central provided was in some cases not even fit to eat.
Another thing is the dramatic increase in running time, this is not the fault of Amtrak but is caused by the long delays by customs and immigration in clearing the train at the border. A better comparison of time would be New York – Rouses Point (at the border) where the PC/D & H did it in 8 hours and 5 minutes while Amtrak today does it in 7 hours and 45 minutes. Although I liked the food on the D & H very much my nod goes to Amtrak on this one.

Seattle – Vancouver, Great Northern, Amtrak

Great Northern 1 3 hours 55 minutes NB, 3 hours 45 minutes SB
Amtrak 2 4 hours NB, 4 hours 25 minutes SB

The Great Northern ran a good train with comfortable accommodations on this scenic route but food service was limited to a push cart through the coaches which I think was somewhat lacking on this trip of 156 miles. By 1970 the service had been reduced to one round trip too. Amtrak on the other hand has two round trips, reasonably decent food and good accommodations. My nod goes to Amtrak here.


For corridor operations I did it a bit different: There were cases in 1970 where a pair of cities was served by passenger trains of more than one railroad so all were totaled in the count, I did not usually do short turn points such as New Haven or Philadelphia but I did Albany and some places in the west where short turn points had more meaning. Philadelphia was simply too much work for now. As for running times, in some cases the shortest running time between end points was only accomplished by one train but I counted it anyway. End points, number of round trips, shortest running times. Through trains running in the corridors are not shown in the total count unless they make one or more stops in the corridor and handle passengers between stations in the corridor.

Boston – New York; Penn Central – Amtrak
Penn Central 8 4 hours 15 minutes with 5 intermediate stops
Amtrak Metro-North Amtrak (PC) 19 3 hours 25 minutes Acela Express with 4 intermediate stops
Many of us at the time wondered just how bad the service between Boston New York could become, this was the lowest level that it reached. A couple of these trains ran with just one engine and one coach. Some of these trains had no meal service of any kind and none of them had services anywhere near as good as Amtrak is providing today. Actually Amtrak is providing better service out of Boston today on this route than had been provided for a long time previous to Amtrak.

New York – Washington; Penn Central – Amtrak

Penn Central 17 2 hours 30 minutes with one non stop Metroliner
Other Metroliners with an average of 5 stops 2 hours 59 minutes
Amtrak Amtrak (PC) 36 SB, 37 NB 2 hours 45 minutes – Acela Express with 5 intermediate stops
This also is a no brainer, Amtrak service today is light years ahead of Penn Central service in 1970 or before or after. Trains are better, food service is better, everything is better.

Washington – Richmond; Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac/Amtrak

RF&P 5 Total 2 hours 10 minutes
Amtrak CSX (RF&P) 9 Total LD and corridor 2 hours
Service between Washington and Richmond today is the best that it has been since long before Amtrak got in to place and in fact it is almost like an extension of the Northeast Corridor. Much of the RF&P service was in late night hours and travel between these two cities was somewhat limited. Amtrak is a big improvement here.

New York – Albany; Penn Central/Amtrak

Penn Central 8 2 hours 40 minutes
Amtrak Metro North CSX (PC) 13 2 hours 20 minutes
Again, a big improvement in a very important corridor. Amtrak today is recognized as the best way without exception to travel between Albany and New York. The ride is fast and smooth, on time performance is generally excellent and the equipment is well maintained. The ONLY downside to the Amtrak operation is the lack of food service on trains that originate or terminate in Albany. Food is available on trains that operate beyond Albany and it is also available at both New York and Albany before boarding the train. Amtrak is far better on this route too.

New York – Buffalo; Penn Central/Amtrak

Penn Central 5 7 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak Metro North CSX (PC) 4 8 hours 1 minute
This one is a little bit harder to define, ridership west of Albany is much less and of a different nature than between Albany and New York. The train missing today was an overnight operation between Buffalo and New York which originated and terminated in Chicago. Under today’s scheme I do not think this train was that important and I guess Amtrak did not think so either. Improvements since the start up of Amtrak include two new stations in Buffalo in place of Central Terminal which was huge, way more than Amtrak needed and very expensive to operate plus new or refurbished stations elsewhere on this route as well. Although the improvement here is not as dramatic as between New York and Albany I still think Amtrak service today is better than Penn Central service of January, 1970.

Philadelphia – Harrisburg; Penn Central/Amtrak

Penn Central 15 WB, 16 EB 1 hour 39 minutes
Amtrak Amtrak (PC) 14 1 hour 35 minutes
In the Penn Central period some of these trains were long distance trains between New York and either Chicago or St. Louis or Pittsburgh or whatever and went through this area in the wee hours, these trains had limited value between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The Penn Central total above includes trains that came through to or from New York and served Philadelphia only at North Philadelphia while others originated at or operated via 30th Street Station. Availability of food service on this run was not really considered because it is only 104 miles end to end and of a little less than two hours travel time.
For this corridor Amtrak service is a definite improvement over Penn Central in January, 1970.

New Haven – Springfield; Penn Central/Amtrak

Penn Central 10 1 hour 18 minutes
Amtrak (PC) 6 1 hour 25 minutes
On this route the service offered by Penn Central was probably superior to what today is offered by Amtrak. Not only was there more trains but some of them ran right through to Grand Central Terminal and there was good coverage during mid day periods as well. Soon after Penn Central made some major cuts to service on this line but the timetable we are working with here is January, 1970. Only thing I will say for Amtrak here is that the cars are probably cleaner, more comfortable and in better shape than they were in 1970 but only six trains a day during the week is not a good level of service in this case. This is the only example in this whole study where Penn Central provided better service in 1970 than Amtrak does today.

Chicago – St. Louis, Norfolk & Western, Gulf, Mobile and Ohio/Amtrak

Norfolk and Western 1 6 hours
Gulf, Mobile and Ohio 3 5 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak UP (GM&O) 5 5 hours 30 minutes

The N & W left both Chicago and St. Louis within an hour of GM&O so it was mostly a preference for through travel which determined which route one would use. Today’s Amtrak service is an improvement over both the GM&O and N&W combined.
Detroit – Chicago, Grand Trunk Western, Penn Central/Amtrak

Grand Trunk Western 2 (one required a change at Durand) 5 hours 53 minutes
Penn Central 3 4 hours 55 minutes
Amtrak Penn Central (PC) 3 5 hours 36 minutes

Even though the Grand Trunk Western was a slower route, it probably was a better ride with cleaner and better equipment and good track. Amtrak today is better than either the GTW or PC or even the combined total of both.

Port Huron – Chicago, Grand Trunk Western, Amtrak

Grand Trunk Western 2 5 hours 15 minutes
Amtrak GTW 1 5 hours 59 minutes

The schedule might be slightly more convenient under Amtrak but the GTW provided a quality operation with decent meal service and very comfortable cars. I am going to call this one a draw.

Grand Rapids – Chicago, Chesapeake and Ohio, Amtrak

Chesapeake and Ohio 1 3 hours 20 minutes
Amtrak CSX/NS (C & O) 1 2 hours 58 minutes

The running time today is shorter with Amtrak than it was in 1970 on the C & O and I think the service is probably better too. Amtrak today is an improvement over the C & O of 1970.

Chicago – Carbondale, Illinois Central, Amtrak

Illinois Central 5 5 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak CN (IC) 3 5 hours 30 minutes

Both the Illinois Central of 1970 and Amtrak today maintained high standards on this route. I give the nod to Illinois Central simply because they had more trains with a better variety of departure times from both Chicago and Carbondale.

Chicago – Quincy, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, Amtrak

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 2 4 hours 50 minutes
Amtrak BNSF (CB&Q) 2 4 hours 28 minutes

In the CB&Q days one of the two trains was a through overnight service between Chicago and Kansas City and served Quincy during the wee hours while the other one was a Quincy – Chicago operation. My nod goes to Amtrak on this one simply because the Amtrak schedules are set up especially for Quincy and are very convenient for a Chicago trip.

Chicago – Milwaukee, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific, Chicago North Western, Amtrak

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific 6 NB, 7 SB 1 hour 25 minutes
Chicago North Western 5 1 hour 35 minutes
Amtrak CP (C.M.St.P & P) 7 1 hour 29 minutes

I favor Amtrak on this one, the service is well spaced out throughout the day from early morning until evening with no more than 3 hours between trains. The two railroads combined in 1970 had a higher number of trains but the service with both railroads even with a greater number of trains did not match the service offered by Amtrak today.

Chicago – Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific, Amtrak

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 3 6 hours 35 minutes
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific 3 NB, 4 SB 7 hours 10 minutes
Amtrak CP (C.M.St.P. & P) 1 8 hours 16 minutes

Although both railroads had made some cuts in service by 1970, the Burlington still ran a very good service between Chicago and both St. Paul and Minneapolis and not like Amtrak does with just one station not that convenient to either city. Burlington’s time was fast, the roadbed was smooth and the ride was superb. It is too bad that Amtrak decided to run on the Milwaukee rather than the Burlington in 1971.
Order of finish on this one was C.B.& Q first, C.M.St.P. & P second and Amtrak third. Even though the Empire Builder is an excellent train, the service it provides between Chicago and the Twin Cities comes in third in my opinion.

St. Louis – Kansas City, Missouri Pacific, Amtrak

Missouri Pacific 2 5 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak UP (Missouri Pacific) 2 5 hours 40 minutes

By January, 1970 the once proud passenger carrier Missouri Pacific was down to these two trains and the Texas Eagle which was reviewed previously and had been badly downgraded by this time. These trains had coaches and a “grill coach”. If I remember correctly, their “grill coach” was a counter set up in one end of a coach with stools and a grill, the food was not too bad but I don’t think it was as good as what is offered by Amtrak on their corridor trains and the schedule times are better today too. My nod goes to Amtrak on this route.

Fort Worth – Oklahoma City, Santa Fe, Amtrak

Santa Fe 1 4 hours 12 minutes
Amtrak BNSF, (Santa Fe) 1 4 hours 14 minutes

The Santa Fe train on this route was the Texas Chief which was a classy through train between Chicago and Houston but the schedule was scheduled more for through travel than for travel between these stations. That train had dome cars, sleepers, a diner, a lounge and was an excellent train. Amtrak provides an ideal type train to serve this territory and the schedule is more suited to this too so my nod goes to Amtrak here.
Seattle – Portland, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, Amtrak

Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Union Pacific 1 each, total 3 3 hours 45 minutes
Amtrak BNSF (Northern Pacific) 5 total corridor and through 3 hours 30 minutes

In 1970 Union Station was kept in use at Seattle for the one Union Pacific train on this route. The three trains were well scheduled to provide a morning, mid day and late afternoon departure from each city and two of the three round trips had dining cars too. I can’t ignore the facts here that Amtrak today provides 5 departures out of each end, new or fairly new equipment and a slightly shorter running time. Amtrak provides better service on this route today.

Portland – Eugene Southern Pacific, Amtrak

Southern Pacific 1 2 hours 25 minutes
Amtrak UP (Southern Pacific) 3 2 hours 35 minutes

By 1970 the Southern Pacific was down to one round trip a day just about everywhere except on their commuter operation between San Francisco and San Jose. It wasn’t a bad train and in fact to compare it with the present Coast Starlight, I gave them a draw. Here we are dealing with a corridor type service and on this Amtrak provides far better service today than that provided by the SP in 1970.

We wind this up with CALIFORNIA

Oakland – Sacramento, Southern Pacific, Amtrak

Southern Pacific (16th Street) 1 2 hours 10 minutes
Amtrak UP (Southern Pacific) Jack London Square 18 (16 corridor, 2 through) 1 hour 51 minutes

Excellent corridor service here today, Amtrak gets high marks here. Many years previous to 1970 Southern Pacific had a number of daily round trips here but I don’t think it ever came close to the service provided here today.

Oakland – Bakersfield, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Amtrak

Santa Fe (Richmond Station, 11 miles shy of Oakland) 1 5 hours 25 minutes
Southern Pacific (16th Street Station) 1 6 hours 4 minutes
Amtrak UP, BNSF (Southern Pacific, Santa Fe) 4 6 hours 5 minutes

Santa Fe the San Francisco Chief and Southern Pacific San Joaquin Daylight was the total service between these points in 1970. Again the nod to Amtrak.

Sacramento – Bakersfield Southern Pacific, Amtrak

Southern Pacific 1 (combined with the Oakland train at Lathrop) 5 hours 44 minutes
Amtrak UP (SP) 2 5 hours 10 minutes

Another operation supported by the State of California like all of the other corridor services in that state are. More service is available on both San Joaquin routes to Bakersfield by bus connections at Stockton. Big improvements here too.

Los Angeles – Santa Barbara – San Luis Obispo, Southern Pacific, Amtrak

Southern Pacific 1 Santa Barbara 2 hours 9 minutes, San Luis Obispo 4 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak UP (Southern Pacific) Santa Barbara 6 (5 corridor, 1 through) 2 hours 29 minutes
Amtrak UP (Southern Pacific) San Luis Obispo 3 (2 corridor, 1 through) 5 hours 10 minutes

Probably the reason these trips take longer is the heavy passenger operations, especially in the Los Angeles commuter zone, over this busy single track route. Again Amtrak

Los Angeles – San Diego, Santa Fe, Amtrak

Santa Fe 3 2 hours 55 minutes
Amtrak mostly BNSF (Santa Fe) 11 2 hours 45 minutes except for one NB 2 hours 28 minutes

Again a huge increase in the number of passenger trains over some single track. Santa Fe was down to three round trips in 1970 although they were decent trains. They were somewhat tailored to connecting with eastbound through trains at Los Angeles. The Santa Fe at the time allowed a 35 minute connection to the Super Chief eastbound from one of these trains. Today the service is much more tailored to commuters and corridor type travel and I think it is safe to say that today’s service is the best ever on this very important route.

This completes this study. It took me many days to do this one. Some interesting points, in January, 1970 many points in the guide had only one round trip. Big cuts had already taken place during the past few years. I think the largest city in the US with no passenger service at that time was Dallas which had a good number of railroads, fortunately they held on to their beautiful passenger station which today is a transportation center with light rail service, commuter trains to Fort Worth and a stop on the Amtrak Texas Eagle. Some more cuts occurred after January, 1970 some of which were:
Missouri Pacific cut back the Texas Eagle to little more than a night horror show between St. Louis and Texarkana with a coach or two and the Western Pacific finally got permission to cut their portion of the California Zephyr. There were some railroads which in general maintained a very high standard in their passenger trains and among these were the
Santa Fe, Great Northern, Southern, Seaboard Coast Line and Illinois Central. There were others that let their remaining trains continue a downhill slide and among these were Penn Central (of course), Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific.

As I stated at the start; Amtrak was a downgrading of the best and an improvement over the worst.

Noel Weaver, June 18, 2011
Noel Weaver
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby Alloy » Sat Sep 17, 2011 10:14 pm

Thanks, Noel, that's very interesting to look at. I appreciate the time that went into all of those comparisons!
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby D.Carleton » Sun Sep 18, 2011 12:53 am

Wow. And here I thought I spent too much time in the family library. Kudos to you and your research and willingness to share with the rest of us.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Sep 18, 2011 6:37 am

Very interesting re: running times. I'd guess that the slower times of today are due to (1) heavier freight traffic and (2) some capacity reductions? (E.g., much of the Southern line that the Washington-Atlanta trains took through South Carolina and Georgia was double-tracked in 1970 but is single-tracked now.)
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby afiggatt » Sun Sep 18, 2011 12:23 pm

Thanks for posting the detailed and thoughtful comparisons. For the Downeaster, you would have to go further back for comparisons. Was there a comparable service to the Piedmont in NC at one time or was that corridor part of a longer route at one time?

The trip time comparisons are quite interesting - and depressing to see how many trains now take measurably longer than they used to. It will be interesting to pull this out in 4+ years because by then, the track and equipment improvements funded by the combined $10.1 billion of stimulus and FY10 money should be mostly done (assuming all the currently selected projects move forward). Or make it 5 years given how long it takes to get started on construction projects these days. Chicago to St. Louis and Chicago to Detroit should see the most significant trip time improvements with nice new bi-level cars. More of the Chicago CREATE projects will have been completed to fix some chokepoints.

In the east. if NY, the FRA, and CSX can ever hash out an agreement, the Empire corridor will see trip time improvements and better service. The NEC may see some modest trip time reductions on both halves. Same goes for Keystone East and the Piedmont corridors. A Boston to Montreal train may be running or close to starting. In the west, California will have more bi-levels, some track and capacity improvements and may have started the Coast Daylight service. In the Pacific NW, increased frequency and reliability on the Cascades service.

On the other hand, several of the LD trains may not be running anymore. But those that are, may see some modest trip time improvements as the Class I freight companies continue to invest in upgrading or restoring their tracks along with federal & state funding for frieght rail improvements.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby CNJ » Sun Sep 18, 2011 12:55 pm

Mr. Weaver....Outstanding job!

Thank you for your hard work in putting this list together. It really does give a clear picture of how badly passenger service was on some line before the start of Amtrak.

Additionally, it also shows how Amtrak for all its faults has at least brought in some consistency to its service standards.

Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Sep 18, 2011 4:43 pm

afiggatt wrote:Was there a comparable service to the Piedmont in NC at one time or was that corridor part of a longer route at one time?

Oddly, neither.

The Southern Railway had a local train or two through the middle of North Carolina (east-west) until the '60s but the Carolinas were mostly states through which north-south long distance trains traveled. The Washington-Atlanta Southern Railway line (along today's Crescent route) had a bunch of trains, with offshoots to Asheville and other cities; the Southern Railway also had trains south from Cincinnati; and the Seaboard even had a Washington-Atlanta train (through the countryside of the Carolinas, missing direct stops at Charlotte and Greenville, SC, etc.), but there was little if any intra-Carolinas corridor service.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby jamesinclair » Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:17 pm

Excellent job.

I do find it amusing that for the majority of the runs, the amtrak rule of thumb has been "add 2 hours"
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby jobtraklite » Sun Sep 18, 2011 9:12 pm

Noel Weaver wrote:Chicago – Quincy, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, Amtrak

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 2 4 hours 50 minutes
Amtrak BNSF (CB&Q) 2 4 hours 28 minutes

In the CB&Q days one of the two trains was a through overnight service between Chicago and Kansas City and served Quincy during the wee hours while the other one was a Quincy – Chicago operation. My nod goes to Amtrak on this one simply because the Amtrak schedules are set up especially for Quincy and are very convenient for a Chicago trip.

Wow! What a fascinating dissertation! Just one comment.

I would agree that the Illinois Zephyr - the legacy train - with it early departure from and late arrival at Quincy are ideal for a day trip to Chicago for business, a concert, or heaven forbid a Cubs game, not to mention connecting with other trains or flights.

On the other hand the newer Carl Sandburg runs an almost opposite schedule, and seems to be designed more for Chicagoans. To do anything in Chicago, a down-stater would have to spend 2 nights in Chicago.

Both seem to be well patronized.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby GWoodle » Mon Sep 19, 2011 7:53 pm

One nod for improvements in the Amtrak era is the consolidation of service to & from CUS.

Moving GTW & ATSF trains from Dearborn to CUS is a definite improvement. Having C&O & B&O services to CUS from Grand Central is a huge improvement with fewer wasted miles. Moving NYC services to CUS is also a huge improvement over LaSalle & the bad Rock Island track. This leaves the IC service moving from Central Station to CUS that is somewhat of an improvement at the expense of a longer route via the St Charles Air Line to get out of town.

Another huge improvement is the ability to easily transfer from one train to another. No longer is a crosstown taxi service required to get from one station to another. In sum, Amtrak has made the best use it can out of the old track of CUS.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby HoggerKen » Tue Sep 20, 2011 4:47 am

Noel, this is the most interesting posting here in the last eight years of my subscribing to It was well done and researched, Thanks for your time in this.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby JimBoylan » Tue Sep 20, 2011 7:45 am

Noel Weaver wrote:IC 5 Chicago 5:00 PM, Sunday – New Orleans 9:30 AM, Monday
16 hours 30 minutes
Amtrak 59 CN (IC) Chicago 8:00 PM, Sunday – New Orleans 3:32 PM, Monday
19 hours 32 minutes
The accident report for Amtrak's City of New Orleans on the Illinois Central at Tonti, Ill. 6/10/71 mentions that the train was running near its allowed speed of 100 m.p.h. when it derailed. Has this speed limit since been reduced, partly explaining the increased travel time?
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Tue Sep 20, 2011 8:51 am

Mr. Boylan, while I'm sure Tonti was a factor, the IC has deactivated all of its ATS systems so now the max passenger train speed is the "usual" 79mph. Additionally, the double track prevalent when I went to UofI has been reduced to single track - and I think we both know what effect that has on train operations - especially passenger.

Almost any trip over the IC will have an Amtrak passenger train meet with a freight that will entail a 'back out' move. While a very efficient move that results in a passenger train not only clearing an opposing freight, but also permitting a run around of a slower freight in same direction of travel, the average passenger will be wondering WTF's going on.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby NellieBly » Tue Sep 20, 2011 3:00 pm

Thanks, Mr. Weaver, for the comparisons. I have personal memories of riding many of the trains you describe in the 1968-1971 time frame. The SCL Florida service puts anything Amtrak has run since to shame. I get almost physically ill when I see those eight-car trains running during the winter peak season.

Amtrak's "San Francisco Zephyr" needs another name. It is no match for the *real* CZ, and never has been. I feel the same about the Southwest Chief, and the Empire Builder. There is nothing that compares to a dome, and the dining service on all three railroads far exceeds anything Amtrak has ever done (except perhaps for one brief period in 1981-82, in the new Superliner diners).

The "Capitol Ltd." was pretty threadbare by 1970, but when I rode it in the summer of 1969, we had a dome, a full diner, and an obs. That, again, beats anything Amtrak has ever operated on that route, and so does B&O's dining service.

The "George" was a nice little train when I rode it in 1970. It had a diner-lounge-obs that provided a great view as we climbed Afton Mountain at dinnertime. There were still two sleepers (one WAS-CIN and one NPN-LVL), and a lounge-snack car that apparently went to Detroit from Ashland. By the way, at least one of those diner-lounge-obs cars is still around. I had breakfast and dinner in it on the "Polar Bear Express" from Cochrane to Moosonee last summer.

I never rode the Daylight, the Sunset, or the Eagle until after Amtrak, so I'll concede that the Amtrak trains are better. But otherwise, in my experience the predecessor roads had it all over Amtrak.

The difference was that the railroads of 1970 did not constitute an integrated national network. Interline ticketing was difficult and time-consuming, charge cards generally could not be used, and it was a general pain in the a** to book travel. I and a friend took a "farewell" trip in March of 1971, and it must have taken a month or more to make all the reservations and procure tickets. I can still recall my mother calling to me, "Union Station is on the phone again!"

The one area in which Amtrak has truly excelled is corridor service. Every time I ride the NEC (pretty much weekly, these days), I marvel at just how fast, how smooth, and how frequent and reliable Amtrak's service is. The same is true of Seattle-Portland and the California corridors. These are much nicer trains than the predecessor railroads operated, especially the "California cars" and Acela Express.
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Re: Comparison of service - January, 1970 and Amtrak of toda

Postby Greg Moore » Tue Sep 20, 2011 3:22 pm

NellieBly wrote:The one area in which Amtrak has truly excelled is corridor service. Every time I ride the NEC (pretty much weekly, these days), I marvel at just how fast, how smooth, and how frequent and reliable Amtrak's service is. The same is true of Seattle-Portland and the California corridors. These are much nicer trains than the predecessor railroads operated, especially the "California cars" and Acela Express.

I have to agree, having ridden the Empire Service and the NYP-WAS portion of the NEC almost weekly for the past few years. The level of service is excellent and the fact that I can pretty much show up at almost any time and know I can get a train within an hour simplifies travel plans.

And as for Acela, even when not riding first class, all I can think is, "this is the way travel should be." Smooth, elegant and modern.
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