Blogs

  • Blog Post: Bad dreams and late trains

    I had That Dream again last night. In That Dream, it is late in the school semester and I have not bothered attending the biology/geometry/chemistry class I had enrolled in. Now the final examination is coming up and I will not be able to answer a single question. Disaster looms. Panic and depression...
  • Blog Post: Lake Shore Limited races the clock

    When last you heard from me, the Lake Shore Limited had left Toledo more than two hours late, and the pregnant question was whether I would have gourmet pork belly for lunch at Blackbird or settle for a tuna sandwich from a Chicago Union Station newsstand. For pork belly, the train would need to get...
  • Blog Post: This is how it all ends

    I left you with these questions: Would the Lake Shore Limited reach Chicago before the connecting Texas Eagle leaves, and if not, would the Eagle wait? We do get, more or less, a perfect shot from South Bend, "more or less" meaning we cross over at 45 mph between main tracks a lot, but the Chicago East...
  • Blog Post: Bouncing through The Great State

    When last you heard from me, Mark the Amtrak red cap in Chicago had met my four-hours-late Lake Shore Limited and hustled me onto the Texas Eagle , which was being held for our tardy train. Also held were all the other westbound streamliners trains that afternoon. Good hustle! I was impressed. But what...
  • Blog Post: Why your next trip will induce heartburn

    I’ve said before that any train I’m on can be as late as you like. I believe my exact words were “more train-riding pleasure for the same low price.” Well, forget that. I’ve changed my mind. Even idiots like me have their limit, and mine has been breached. Any train more...
  • Blog Post: Help Mr. Big save the Auto Train

    The alienation of Auto Train passengers continues unabated. It’s now the only long-distance train (other than the Cardinal , which has neither kitchen nor dining car) on which you cannot be served a grilled flat iron steak, accompanied by a baked potato. This is what Amtrak calls its “signature...
  • Blog Post: Recommended: “21st Century Limited”

    Novelist Kevin Baker’s report on the present state of the American passenger train, in the July issue of Harper’s Magazine that goes on sale next week, begins thusly: “We start in darkness. After fighting our way through the dingy, low-ceilinged, crowded waiting room that serves as...
  • Blog Post: The passenger train as you know it is dying

    About a decade ago the Editor of Trains Magazine asked if I would like to write a monthly column. Before answering no, not yet, I tried to think of provocative ideas. Two came immediately to mind. One I called “Why Doesn’t Dick Davidson Know It’s Time to Go?” The chief executive...
  • Blog Post: A Train Journey of Discovery, Innovation and Action

    Picture yourself traversing the spectacular and storied Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited routes, all the way from Portland, Ore., to New York City, in a Budd-built short dome car, originally part of the Rio Grande Zephyr fleet, and sleeping in a roomette or double bedroom on a vintage streamlined...
  • Blog Post: Telling Trans-Regional Stories Through Train Travel

    Margaret Kargbo in the Silver Lariat dome in eastern Utah, behind Amtrak's eastbound California Zephyr . Photo by Malcolm Kenton. Stories are the stuff of railroading, as they are the stuff of our lives and, indeed, the stuff of the universe. It is writers’ and journalists’ job to tell...
  • Blog Post: The Journey Begins in the City of Roses

    [caption image="/cfs-file.ashx/__key/communityserver-blogs-components-weblogfiles/00-00-00-07-48-Malcolm+Kenton/3362.photo-1.JPG" position="right"]Mount Hood is seen from the south-facing window of a United Airlines Airbus A320 descending into Portland International Airport on Aug. 5. Photo by Malcolm...
  • Blog Post: Last-minute decisions (and the Dining Car From Hell)

    How would you solve this problem? You've used a jillion Guest Rewards points to book bedrooms on the Coast Starlight from San Jose, Cal., to Los Angeles, the Sunset Limited to New Orleans and the Crescent to Washington, D.C. The Starlight arrives in LA at 9 p.m., the Sunset leaves at 10 p.m., and therein...
  • Blog Post: Cuff notes* on a rainy day

    I'm writing this in western Pennsylvania, less than an hour after leaving Pittsburgh. Out my window is a dark day, with rain and mist--not the best way to end a four-day trip across the country. I'd rather it be the other way around, that is, raining across the Sierra Nevada range and sunny in the Alleghenies...
  • Blog Post: Millennials Bounce Ideas Off of Amtrak Official

    Because our private cars could not be parked in Milwaukee nor easily taken back there from Chicago to pick us up, the Millennial Trains Project (MTP) participants and crew traveled to Chicago this morning aboard a reserved Horizon coach car on Amtrak’s 8:05 AM Hiawatha departure from Milwaukee’s...
  • Blog Post: Outrages on the rails: The real story

    Be on notice: Any rational observer would predict that American railroads are in for a terrible winter a few months hence — that is, if it is a normal, mild winter of the sort we had before last winter. How can I say that in the middle of August? Follow the trail of evidence, please. My correspondent...
  • Blog Post: The Joe Boardman-David Gunn summit

    In many respects, Joe Boardman couldn’t be less like David Gunn, his predecessor twice removed as president of Amtrak (there was a former Union Pacific vp between them, but he came and went before anyone bothered to ask his name). Boardman is skilled at maneuvering through the political jungles...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak has stalled out, and here's why

    Thanks to all of you who read and responded to my blog The Joe Boardman-David Gunn Summit . I enjoyed all your comments. C.P. Crosby, in particular, made me reflect on something: Why haven’t states that subsidize Amtrak trains lavished more attention on them? To my knowledge, only Washington and...
  • Blog Post: Lessons from Indiana’s experiment with intercity passenger train competition

    Corrected on October 7, 2014 Thanks to the power granted to the states to oversee the provision of short-distance (750 total route miles or fewer) intercity passenger train service by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, several states are investigating the possibility of contracting...
  • Blog Post: From lines on a map to more punctual trains

    Before returning to Washington, DC after meeting with regional transportation leaders around the southwestern US, FRA Administrator Joe Szabo stopped in Salt Lake City to address the annual fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP, for which I serve on the national advisory...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak food service doesn’t make money on its own. But that’s not its purpose.

    On-board food & beverage (F&B) service is expensive to provide, particularly in terms of labor, and dining cars on the long-distance trains (source of over 90% of Amtrak’s F&B losses) will probably never completely cover their costs through direct revenue. But diners are an essential...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak's Autumn Express: Rare mileage in hot demand

    On Sunday, I was aboard only the fourth special rare-mileage trip that Amtrak has operated and offered to the public on its own (as opposed to operating charter trips for which tickets are sold by another entity, usually a railroad historical society), each of which sold out quickly — three sold...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak loses patience (finally)

    About time, I say. During an interview with D.J. Stadtler, Amtrak’s VP operations, for a story to appear in the January issue of Trains, I asked why Amtrak hadn’t taken Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation to court over their mishandling of the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited...
  • Blog Post: Of dome cars and sentiment

    [caption image="/cfs-file.ashx/__key/communityserver-blogs-components-weblogfiles/00-00-00-07-48/1200.fromdome.jpeg" position="right"]As seen from dome car 'Ocean View,' Amtrak 'Lincoln Service' train No. 303 rolls south through Illinois. (Photo by David Lassen.)[/caption][caption image="/cfs-file.ashx...
  • Blog Post: Realizing trains’ natural advantage in serving passengers with disabilities

    Note: This is an update of a report I authored for the February 2013 issue of the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ NARP News , while I was employed by the Association. Americans with physical disabilities face challenges in getting from A to B from a combination of factors that people...
  • Blog Post: Justices hear arguments in case that could shift US passenger train landscape

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a case that could have a lasting impact on Amtrak’s status and the shape of the passenger rail industry in this country. The main question in the case, about which I wrote in October , is whether Section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment...