Three Days a Week Doesn’t Cut It.
Two of Amtrak’s long-distance trains—the Sunset Limited and the Cardinal—currently run on a three-days-a-week schedule. I’m sure the appropriate people at Amtrak would be able to provide their reasons in support of that, but it’s still a bad idea.
The Sunset Limited operates between Los Angeles and New Orleans; the Cardinal takes a meandering route between Chicago and New York City, passing through Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Charlottesville and Washington.
I like the Cardinal a lot. It’s probably the most scenic route of all Amtrak’s eastern trains and I try to schedule it whenever I can. And that’s the problem, because the chances are 4-in-7 that I can’t ride the Cardinal without adjusting my schedule, if I can. And next month I can’t.
In early April I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC, for the annual Spring meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. As is my usual indulgence, I’ll fly to the West Coast and take Amtrak to Chicago, arriving there on Thursday, April 7th. I would love to just connect that same day with the Cardinal and continue right on to Washington, but it’s a bit less than a three-hour connection. If I don’t make it, getting to Washington will be an annoyance at best and a major hassle with additional expense at worst. So I’m staying overnight in Chicago.
But the Cardinal only runs three days a week, remember? And it doesn’t operate the next day. Once again, I’m unable to fit one of my favorite trains into my schedule. If the Cardinal ran daily, ridership would increase dramatically. How do I know? Because I keep trying to book it and at least half the time it’s schedule doesn’t mesh with mine. And I am not alone . . . not by a long shot. And, as I have mentioned here before, there’s an old tried-and-true rule of thumb in the passenger rail business that says, “Double the frequency, triple the ridership.”
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is about to launch a radio campaign advocating a daily Cardinal. We’ll be sending 30-second public service announcements with that message to as many as 200 radio stations all along the Cardinal’s route. Let’s hope it starts a movement . . . a DAILY movement.
I just saw the Cardinal’s new menu. There’s now no vegetarian option for dinner. Is this a policy change?
Don’t know, but I’ll check.
The Cardinal badly needs a real dining car. We rode it from Chicago to Washington arriving today. The food quality was extremely uneven. Some were pretty good and some were pretty bad. There was only one person to prepare and serve. He gallantly did his best but today at lunch we waited for an hour before our orders were taken. For the premium price we paid for a roomette, not a good value even considering the great scenery.
It’s a damn shame. Amtrak is doing everything possible to cut costs in their dining cars since it was mandated by Congress that they must break even on food service within five years. Their approach is to reduce labor costs and you got the brunt of that. Sorry, but I have to get political here: the Republicans constantly complain about government intrusion and here they are telling Amtrak how to run their business. Amending a funding bill to require Amtrak to accept pets is just one of many examples.
I don’t know if I agree with you completely on that, Jim. I don’t mind politics getting involved in something as vital for a country as public transportation, but I do agree that, when you force your own company or administration to do something, you should allocate the adequate funding. It’s not easy to find the right balance between meddling with internal affairs, and keeping so much distance, you’re no longer involved…
Unfunded mandates are a big problem. Especially so for Amtrak. Requirements are laid on them by Congress–requirements that cost money–then Congress will turn around and demand that Amtrak must break even on their food service within five years. What the hell are they thinking?