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  • 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Will Fred ever grow up?

    I am a man in full. I am photographed with presidents. Corporate boards desire my input. Younger women steal glances at me as we pass. I know the secret formula for Classic Coke and possess Michael Ward’s cell phone number. Yet when it comes to a passenger train, I simply turn to putty, a 10-year...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak up and down and up and down

    One of the benefits of not punching a clock but instead being a gentlemanly freelance writer is the ability to just get away for a day. I’ve wanted to do a circle trip from Washington to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and back to Washington. You go up and over the Alleghenies going west via Sand Patch...
  • Blog Post: North America's finest passenger train

    In a blog titled Amtrak’s Best Train? We’ve Got a Winner , I wrote that the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle has become the premier U.S. passenger train. And I promised, in the due course of time, a bake-off between it and VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian, which operates between...
  • Blog Post: Blues in the night: The whistle to end all whistles

    To my way of thinking, the wail of an Amtrak locomotive horn whistling in the distance is as good as it gets. It’s how we should all be beckoned to heaven. Next to an Amtrak whistle, every other locomotive horn emits just an out-of-tune screech. But for years I’ve been frustrated in my desire...
  • Blog Post: Amtrak's future: The short-distance network

    Amtrak and states that support its short-distance trains earned bragging rights over the past seven years. Between 2003 and 2010, ridership on this network of trains exploded, rising 77 percent. The honor roll goes like this: Chicago-St. Louis trains, up 192 percent in ridership; Chicago-Carbondale,...