Now Leaving the Station?

Posted by George Hamlin
on Friday, March 31, 2017

Photo by George W. Hamlin
In this case, neither arriving nor departing, as Amtrak’s Silver Star is passing the joint Amtrak/VRE (Virginia Railway Express) station at Woodbridge, Virginia, on its way south on January 6, 2013.  Astute observers will note that there have been a couple of changes since then in the Star’s equipment: the heritage baggage car –a vestige of the pre-Amtrak passenger train – has been replaced with a new Viewliner II version, and now, there is no diner; only the Amfleet II lounge.

At the time this photo was taken, it would have been easy to mistake the Star for its running mate, the Silver Meteor.  Both had the same consists, and ran in similar timeframes over the portion of the New York-Florida route between New York City and Selma, North Carolina.  For that matter, this tradition went back to the pre-Amtrak era, although as of the late 1960s, there were significant “spotting” clues evident to distinguish the two trains.  

The Meteor continued to run with sleepers forward and coaches to the rear, ending in the classic round-end tavern observation car.  The Star of the SCL era had its coaches up front, in more ‘conventional’ fashion, and while it retained its tavern-observation, it was operated mid-train, and the cars had been modified with a diaphragm on the round-end, to facilitate this placement in the consist.  Furthermore, only the Meteor had the sun-room lounge sleeper.  

In reality, all of Amtrak’s eastern long-distance trains that utilize single-level equipment, including the Cardinal, Crescent and Lake Shore Limited, as well as the Silver trains, look quite similar, and are about to benefit from the addition of additional Viewliner II equipment, including baggage-dorms, diners and additional sleeping cars.  That is, if they survive.

The new Administration’s initial budget proposes that long distance trains be eliminated.  If you are on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the graphic including the map indicating that Amtrak would only be operating in the Northeast, as far south as Virginia; certain states in the Midwest; and California, Oregon and Washington, in the far west.  

This wouldn’t be the first time that the political process has eliminated long-haul Amtrak services.  As some of you will recall, there used to be trains including the Broadway Limited; Desert Wind; North Coast Hiawatha; Pioneer, and even the little-noted Shenandoah in Amtrak’s timetable (itself no longer extant, although I don’t think that politicians can be blamed for that).  

Of course, the nature of politics being what it is, there may be some sort of compromise possible that could keep some, or hopefully, all of those operating now in place.  Still, the threat of losing these trains is serious, and they could disappear. 

So, all things considered, now would be a good time to view and photograph, or even better, to ride, this potentially-endangered species while it still exists.   Paraphrasing English poet Robert Herrick, my message “To the Railfans, to Make Much of Time” is simple: gather ye Amtrak experiences, including seeing, photographing and riding, while ye may.  In retrospect shouldn’t this have been the case all along?

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