Introducing Amstak

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, February 4, 2019

We need a new business model for the passenger train, and I’m here to provide it. Let’s start with an interesting fact: There are at least 23,000 origin-destination pairs for intermodal trains in North America. Therein lies our opportunity.

Over too much red wine during dinner on the Canadian last night, my tablemates and I began speculating. Our train’s schedule has been lengthened by a day, during this decade, and still we run late. (How late? Leaving Winnipeg this afternoon, 14 hours plus.) The schedule is now 95 hours. Canadian National and Canadian Pacific both run intermodal trains between Toronto and Vancouver ten hours faster.

Waiter, more wine! So we thought at first the solution was merely to tack the Canadian to the rear of a priority intermodal, such as 111 and 112 between Toronto and Vancouver. Then the number of O-D pairs was brought up and voila, we imagine hooking Amtrak trains between BNSF and Union Pacific Z trains . . . Chicago to Kansas City and LA eight times a day via three routes, Chicago to Oakland four times a day via either Ogden or Amarillo, Chicago to Fort Worth three times daily via Little Rock or Oklahoma City, Chicago to Seattle or Portland multiple times and on and on.

By now, other conversation in the diner had ceased. Everyone leaned our way to listen in. The steward unlocked the wine locker while the cooks folded their aprons and sat at the table behind ours.

That breakthrough in creative thought would have been awesome except that another bottle of Canadian wine was poured and we tumbled over the Niagara Falls of human imagination. Don’t just hook your wagons to the intermodal train, we told each other, but become the intermodal train’s lead client! Quickly, the guy across the table from me spread out his napkin and sketched the essentials.

You and your family want to celebrate your birthday by taking that special trip to the City by the Bay. You call Amstak intermodal and say, “This is Mr. Frailey. I want to book a Deluxe Container from Chicago to Oakland for February 13.” Julie at the other end asks if I want the 40-foot 0r 53-foot deluxe box and I reply 53, because it comes with three bedrooms, lounge and dinette. The charge for all this is standard container rate, or $1,800 for all six of you, plus $500 for pickup and delivery.

On the afternoon of the 13th, Amstak Intermodal shows up on your street with the deluxe 53-foot container, and your family locks the house and boards. You’re driven to Union Pacific’s Global 1, where a crane lifts you atop a 40-foot Amstak Intermodal coach container containing seats for 20 people traveling on a budget. From your panoramic view out your container’s wide windows you watch Chicago fade from view. Your spouse opens a bottle of wine while the kids warm your prepared dinner that had been preloaded.

And so it goes for 60 hours, at which time you reach Oakland, your container is plopped onto a chassis and an Amstak Intermodal tractor delivers it to the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. It was a trip so lovely you’ll never forget it.

This will change the way we live and travel. People will come back to trains, and railroads will again be relevant in the everyday lives of Americans. And just think: It all began in the dining car of a seriously late Canadian, and you were there.—Fred W. Frailey

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