• Amtrak 50th Anniversary (May 1, 1971) memories: The first five years...

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

Everyone: With Amtrak's 50th Birthday 8 weeks away as of this post I checked to see if anyone had posted a topic
about early Amtrak - especially the first five years (May 1, 1971-May 1, 1976) of their history this year (2021).

I will begin this discussion by mentioning one word: CHANGES - the David Bowie song title from back then
is appropriate to describe Amtrak's first five years. Amtrak established legitimacy during those initial years.

Does anyone have memories of Amtrak's first five years to share for this topic?
I will thank all Amtrak Forum responders in advance...MACTRAXX
  by JimBoylan
My memory of early Amtrak, say late 1972 and early 1973, is that 1st class rail fares had been abolished, and I could book a Parlor (Club) car seat for the Seat Charge plus the lowest rail fare that I could find. I no longer had to stand coming back from New York to Philadelphia on a Sunday night, and dinner was also included in the fare.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Not too much point in having a "Where were you on A-Day" topic anymore, as the answer for most around here nowadays would simply be...……........."I wasn't".
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Thu Mar 11, 2021 2:11 pm Not too much point in having a "Where were you on A-Day" topic anymore, as the answer for most around here nowadays would simply be...……........."I wasn't".
GBN: I agree with you about "Where were you on May 1, 1971?" I was in elementary school then...

This topic is better about the changes Amtrak experienced during their first five years - which may arguably be
the most interesting time period in Amtrak history. For the majority of members that were not around back then
those in the know (such as GBN) can remember those years and the changes they brought to intercity passenger
rail in the US during the decade of the 1970s...MACTRAXX
  by bill613A
When Amtrak rolled in I was stationed at Ft Ord in California. On April 30 I made it into Monterey to see the final arrival of the southbound DEL MONTE which had numerous Harriman commuter coaches attached for all the last riders. On several occasions I flagged the DEL MONTE down at the shack that was the "station" across from the Fort Ord main gate for day trips up to San Jose or San Francisco. Later that summer during the national tour of the United Aircraft Turbotrain Amtrak made a stop in Salinas which was very well received (I could not attend). Upon my discharge in October I took the COAST STARLIGHT from Salinas to Seattle and then headed east on the EMPIRE BULDER, LAKE SHORE and DUQUESNE. It was long ago and far away.
  by electricron
1971 to 1976, I was just graduating from high school and going to college and eventually joining the navy. During that time, much like it is today, Amtrak was not a part of my life what-so-ever because it did not go where I wanted or needed to go. Most of that time I was living in Little Rock, and the places I would want to go were Memphis, Branson, Fort Smith, Pine Bluff, Hot Springs. Even today, 50 years later, Amtrak does not go to any of these locations from Little Rock. The Eagle visited Little Rock after the sun sets, or before the sun rises, depending upon your point of view. I have never taken Amtrak for a business trip because even though I live in Texas today, Amtrak still does not go where I need it to.
All my memories with Amtrak occurs much later, where I used Amtrak for vacations with it being the main destination, as a land cruise. Compared to the atmosphere aboard cruise ships, Amtrak makes a poor choice. About the only place on an Amtrak train that had any atmosphere at all was the smoking lounge on a Superliner train. If you were lucky, another passenger brought a guitar with them and played it down there amongst all the smoke. The food service was at one time fairly good, with freshly prepared food cooked to order like one could get at any local diner across America. But that does not exist anymore on the trains. The only thing Amtrak excels at anymore is grand views of America - mostly of back yards of farms and ranches - that you can not get from a plane tens of thousands of feet above the ground. But here is the rub, you can get those same views driving you own car; even "grander" views where Amtrak dares not go. Las Vegas, Branson, Great Smokies, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Denali, etc.

So, having Amtrak around these past 50 years has been nice, but it has never been a necessity.
  by StLouSteve
I grew up on the Empire State route in Rochester NY and the only change on Amtrak Day that I recall is the hanging of a pointless arrow banner over the ticket window in our decrepit station. Most everything else seemed similar to service under Penn Central. A few years later, coaches were "refurbished" which meant brightly colored seat covers and carpeting going up the walls.
Long distance travel was always an adventure on early Amtrak because your train could feature cars from many legacy railroads--which was fun for a young railfan. Unfortunately, the heat and ac systems were all different and as you moved through the train the temperature could vary greatly from car to car, depending on what was working. Roadbeds (especially in the east) were terrible and it was common to see seat checks or timetables folded up and shoved into window or cabinet door openings to cut down on rattles. Back then, I also recall that every train ran late--it was the only thing that was uniform on Amtrak. Things didn't settle down until Amtrak starting getting Amfleet (1976?) and rebuilding heritage cars to electric heat along with F40s to pull them (the early SDP40Fs didn't pan out).
Bear in mind that flying back then was very different too. It was highly regulated with very expensive fares (really only available to the well to do--most Americans likely had never flown) and the planes (sometimes with props) would bounce all over the place due to weather (I suspect they flew lower then) and first timers would routinely get airsick and use the bags in the seatbacks plus you would have folks smoking heavily during the flight making the cabin air stinky. Plane crashes were regular happenings and the life insurance desk at the airports did a brisk business before any flight. Cars were also different and far less reliable. You would never expect to get 100k miles out of a car and breakdowns and frequent maintenance were the rule along with the stink of leaded gas--air conditioning in cars was a rare option and radios were usually AM only. Back then bus systems (Greyhound, Trailways, etc.) were also much more robust and a true alternative to Amtrak --often with more reliable service.
Last edited by StLouSteve on Sat Mar 13, 2021 7:42 am, edited 7 times in total.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Thu Mar 11, 2021 2:11 pm Not too much point in having a "Where were you on A-Day" topic anymore, as the answer for most around here nowadays would simply be...……........."I wasn't".
Hard as it is for someone like myself, whose next birthday starts with "Ocho", that "those of us on the photo lines" on A-Day Eve (I was aboard "City of Everywhere, MILW 103, to Savanna, returning on BN #10, Zephyr) and A-Day (at Nashotah, WI), are now at their youngest, sixty eight. If someone had family, say Father or Uncle, with an interest in trains, then they could be as young as, say, fifty five, and have some memories of the day.

For myself, I can recall being told by my Mother: "President Roosevelt has died; we now have President Truman"; "We've dropped a terrible bomb"; and "The War is over".
  by rcthompson04
Well before my time, but I am looking forward to what those who were at least around at the time (even if kids) saw.

I am curious how service over the PRR Main Line was those days with all the maneuvering back and forth between Penn Central and Amtrak along with SEPTA and the state.
  by R&DB
I was stationed in Key West on A-Day. The only rails down there were guardrails (from Flagler's FEC) on the bridges. I didn't see or ride Amtrak until about 1977 when I took a ride from Newark, NJ to Culpeper, VA. Coach both ways. Nothing special, but it worked better than what was going on in NJ with Conrail running the passenger services from C-Day to 1983.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Thompson, I wasn't there, but I'd dare say that #235 (01MAY 71), an NY-Phil departing at 1205A, was business as usual - Penn Central!

If there was any passenger on that very first Amtrak train aware of the change, I'd be amazed. Likely, the train crew had a "Bulletin" reflecting the change, but it still was "get the fares up and get over the road". The Black PC GG-1 hauling a selection of "Puke Green" and Tuscan Red P-70's was any different than the prior night, I'd also be amazed.

Dare say the passengers were largely what Police Officers call the "3-D's" - drunk, doped, drowsy.

If there was "anything Amtrak" visible, I'd be astounded.
  by urr304
Was not near any line that got converted, nearest was Youngstown which lost The Capitol Ltd 4/30-5/1.

First contact with Amtrak was fall of 1974 in Chicago while at Great Lakes Naval Base. Could not get a ticket to Pittsburgh for Christmas and settled for Trailways whch I also had taken to Cleveland Entrance Station. As mentioned, both Greyhound and Trailways gave decent service those days. Air travel was not as bad as mentioned in an earlier post, though smoking was still allowed, you did get service and real meals. First time rode Amtrak was NEC out of New London in late Fall 1976 when the F40's and Amfleets were new. Took a coupe trips on Amtrak in 1978-80 when equipment quality varied.
  by Railjunkie
First contact with Amtrak for me was in 1975, had an Uncle who lived in Queens and used the train quite a bit to come back upstate. These where the days of the Colonie NY station. I still remember the black E8 and 3 PC coaches in tow. My first ride on Amtrak was in the mid 80s my dad had a stationary business at the time and we went to the annual show at the Javits center, I swear that cab driver used the sidewalks. Turbo sets round trip from Schenectady. Thought those things were junk then, sealed the deal when I hired out.
  by jonnhrr
A-Day happened to be the day that I and a couple of railfan friends at Lehigh University in Bethlehem PA had elected to travel to Philadelphia to ride streetcars, subways and commuter trains. Our big question was - will the Reading Company RDC's that ran from Bethlehem to Philly still be running or would it have gone the way of many other passenger operations that said "adios" on May 1? Back then no Internet or Railroad.net to consult. With our fingers crossed we trooped down to the Bethlehem station and waited. Train time came and went. Just as we were about to give up we heard the crossing gates go down and a string of RDC's rolled into view and sighed as they pulled into the station.

Once we got to Reading Terminal our first move was to jump on the Market St subway to 30th street and head for the information booth to get Amtrak System Timetables. Later we spent long hours poring over those schedules thinking of the cool places we could take a train to someday. I still have that timetable somewhere in my collection of stuff.

I didn't actually get to ride Amtrak for a while. That summer I went to England and checked out the delights of British Rail before reporting to USAF Electronics School in Biloxi MS. Four years spent in Mississippi and New Mexico did not lend to much train travel except for the Colorado Narrow Gauge. Finally in 1976 I did get to do some traveling, by then Amtrak was starting to get itself together and the Rainbow Era was being replaced by Amfleets.
  by Ridgefielder
My first encounter with "Amtrak" as a rider wasn't actually on an Amtrak train; it was on what everyone referred to as the "Amtrak Budd Car" i.e. the Budd SPV-2000s that the State of CT acquired for New Haven-Hartford-Springfield service in 1980. One of the cars configured for and leased to Amtrak showed up on the Danbury Branch and I remember (as a five year old) being fascinated by the individual reclining seats and fold-down tray tables. It was a big change from the beat-up ex-NH RDC's with their linoleum floors and vinyl-upholstered bench seats.