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.
Actually I’m currently considering a variety of options for a trip to the east coast late this summer, and spending going overnight in business class sounds rather appealing. It would certainly be quieter and more comfortable for sleeping than coach, at a much lower cost than the Viewliner sleepers. When I’ve taken the Cardinal before, the coach cars have been crowded and noisy, and the Cardinal seems to have the priciest sleepers of any train Amtrak runs (probably because it’s limited to three times weekly).
I assume the perks will be similar to business class on other trains based in Chicago–unlimited free coffee and one free juice or soft drink, plus free newspaper(s). The website says wi-fi will also be available, though I assume this is just in the Midwest and East Coast–not in the mountains. Another perk is that business class class tickets also now allow access to the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge. They would do well to also allow Club Acela access in the east.
You are certainly right that the Cardinal should be a daily train. I’ve often thought that another change Amtrak should make is re-scheduling the Lake Shore Limited so it travels by day (leaving NY and Chicago early in the morning and arriving around midnight). I’d love to take a train to the east coast and just go to a hotel and collapse when I arrive. That train could easily be reconfigured with business class instead of sleepers if it traveled primarily in daylight hours.
You’re absolutely right about the pricey accommodations in the Cardinal’s sleeper, caused at least in part because there is usually only one sleeper and at least four of the roomettes are occupied by crew members. I have never understood why this train seems to be unwanted by the Amtrak people. Add a sleeper, give it a full-on dining car, reduce the fares by 20-25 percent, and promote it! What’s not to like about that?
My sense is the addition of Business Class can be viewed as one, or, both of the following:
1) Although the “Hoosier State” has not increased its ridership under Iowa Pacific (as I was recently informed), is this B Class an attempt to provide some continuity on the CHI-IND route, or, a competitive response to the possibility of Iowa Pacific evidencing an untapped interest in B Class?
2) As “The Cardinal” schedule clearly is included on the Northeast Corridor between Richmond-DC-NYC, is this merely an effort to provide some uniformity with the “Northeast Regional” trains also offering B Class?
In response to daily operations, and perhaps even a full diner, I was informed years ago that although the late Sen Byrd (D-WVA) passed legislation requiring Amtrak to preserve rail service thru West Virginia, he did not stipulate frequency; the tri-weekly schedule was Amtrak’s response to being legislated.
Perhaps this move was made in order to keep a “similar” (but obviously not equal) level of service so that one could travel any day of the week between Indianapolis and Chicago. But yes, the way it was put together does seem a bit hurried. If it is a car with a cafe and half of the car is 2 on 1 seating, maybe another upgrade to this train could be a full service dining car. Maybe that would be on the order of wishful thinking.