What happened to the Sprints?

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Saturday, July 30, 2016

It’s my turn to ask questions. Those of us of a certain age, survivors of the era of full crews, surely recall the spate of trains that blossomed in roughly the early to mid 1980s. Sprints. Slingshots, Texas Special North/South and what-have-you. Santa Fe had a small network of Q-type trains. What bound them together was that they mostly trailer-on-flatcar intermodal trains operated over fairly short distances on extended crew districts with only an engineer and conductor and without the two brakemen or a fireman. This was before the rail industry essentially bought out the jobs of fireman and brakeman.

These were to be truck-competitive operations sometimes departing several times a day (three times daily between Chicago and St. Louis on Illinois Central Gulf, for example).

To my knowledge, not a single one of these services survived long term, into the 1990s.

So my question is: What happened?

Was fast, frequent service over relatively short distances too hard to sell? Too expensive to operate? Did the job buyouts make them obsolete? I recall an executive of the Katy saying the Texas Special South and North between Kansas City and Garland, Tex., begun in September 1985, in suburban Dallas, never attracted much traffic. So what’s the real story? And does the real story have any relevance today?

Some really smart gray beards read this blog. Tell us what went wrong with all these marketing experiments.—Fred W. Frailey

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