Why Not A Daily Cardinal?


“Double the frequency; triple the ridership.”

old railroad adage

Amtrak’s overnight train, the Cardinal, is the most scenic of the long-distance trains running in the eastern part of the country. It operates between Chicago and Washington, DC, on a southerly route through Indianapolis and Cincinnati, passing through the amazing New River Gorge (photo above) and stopping at the famous Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It crosses the Shenandoah Valley, climbs over the Blue Ridge Mountains, stops in Charlottesville, Virginia, and finally terminates in Washington, DC.
The problem with the Cardinal isn’t the route—which is wonderful—it’s the schedule. The train operates only three days a week in each direction.
For the past several years, there have been several efforts aimed at convincing Amtrak to make the Cardinal a daily train. Friends of the Cardinal, an informal volunteer organization, has been pressing Amtrak on that subject for years. The Rail Passengers Association (formerly NARP) produced several 30-second public service radio spots promoting a daily Cardinal; they aired on many of the radio stations located in towns all along the train’s route.
The Cardinal is my favorite eastern train, but the thrice-weekly schedule makes it hard to book. Case in point: in going from Chicago to Washington for the RPA Spring meetings, I couldn’t book the Cardinal. We have a board meeting scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, but the Cardinal isn’t scheduled to arrive in Washington until 6:00 that evening. And, because the train operates only three days a week, there is no train the previous day.
So far, there is no indication that Amtrak is even considering a daily Cardinal. What a pity.