One Small Step for the Cardinal.

Amtrak has just announced that Business Class will now be an option for passengers on the Cardinal. Initial reaction has been positive, and why not? Certainly any upgrade in service anywhere these days is welcome. It’s not clear at the moment what the specifics are, but the best guess is half of a café car with 2-and-1 seating . . . that is, two wide leather-covered chairs on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other side. 

The Cardinal operates between New York City and Chicago, swinging to the southwest after departing Washington and passing through Charlottesville, Virginia, before crossing the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny mountains. After a stop at White Sulphur Springs, home of the famous Greenbrier Resort, the Cardinal travels for several hours through the lovely New River Gorge (photo above). From there it’s an overnight ride with an arrival the next morning in Chicago. It is a lovely ride and is, in my opinion, the most scenic of all the Eastern trains.
That said, I think it unlikely that someone would upgrade to Business Class for the entire 28-hour trip, but it does seem as though it could be a popular option for people traveling, for instance, from Philadelphia to the Greenbrier or from Charlottesville into Washington or from Indianapolis to Chicago. Business Class would certainly be my choice for one of those shorter, daylight segments. 

I do have the impression that Amtrak has rushed the announcement of this new service because the additional cost for Business Class is not yet on the Amtrak web site. Instead, there’s an alert informing us of the Business Class option and referring anyone interested to Amtrak reservations for additional information and booking. There’s some confusion along the route itself, too. As of this past Friday, at least one of the Amtrak station agents had not received any notification from Amtrak about the new option.
Business Class is certainly a welcome upgrade, but Amtrak still has not addressed the fundamental problem with the Cardinal: it only runs three days a week. I travel between Chicago and either Washington or New York at least twice a year and the Cardinal is my favorite eastern train, but I have trouble booking it because the odds are four-to-three that it won’t be operating on the day I need to travel. Sometime around the first of April, NARP—that’s the National Association of Railroad Passengers—will be sending two 30-second public service radio spots advocating daily service for the train to most of the radio stations along the Cardinal’s route. Best case scenario: enough positive public response to alert the politicians and convince Amtrak that the demand is there.