Need More Passengers? Run More Trains!
This is about two of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, each one offering a fabulous ride through country that ranges from beautiful to stark, from interesting to spectacular. And each with something else in common.
The Cardinal (at Charlottesville, VA, Union Station, above) takes a leisurely southern route between Chicago and New York. It is, in my book, the most scenic of all Amtrak’s eastern trains, with highlights of the trip being its run through West Virginia’s New River Gorge and crossing the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia.
After departing New Orleans, the Sunset Limited crosses the Mississippi on the Huey Long Bridge, rolls through the bayou country of Louisiana, crosses the Pecos River in West Texas (photo above), comes within a few feet of the Mexican border in El Paso, then snakes through the buttes and mesas of New Mexico and Arizona on the way into Los Angeles.
Both are great rides, yet both of these trains have for years come under criticism—from passengers for not providing adequate service and, especially in the case of the Sunset Limited, from the geniuses in Congress for having poor ridership.
The thing is, while the criticisms are legitimate, the reason is pretty obvious: both trains only operate three days a week in each direction. That’s certainly a valid reason to complain about poor service. I’ve often tried to work each of those trains into an itinerary, but the three-days-a-week schedules haven’t meshed with mine.
As for the poor ridership, I’m far from being an expert, but if it’s more passengers you want, wouldn’t it make sense to run each of those trains every day? In fact, run this situation by any real passenger rail expert and dollars-to-donuts you’ll be quoted an old railroad axiom: double the frequency, triple the ridership.
In the next few weeks, radio stations all along the Sunset Limited’s route will be airing public service radio spots which call for an upgrade to daily service for that train. The spots were produced by the National Association of Railroad Passengers and I’ll post a link so you can hear them as soon as they start to air.