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Old December 10th, 2012, 03:45 PM   #1

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The American railways


I was thinking, we probably all know about the Western films like ''once upon a time in the west'' where the railway and locomotives play a central part.

But nowadays I rarely hear anything about the American railway lines.
So did something happen? Or am I just saying nonsense because I have never been to the US?
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Old December 10th, 2012, 03:55 PM   #2

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They still exist, but sadly they aren't all that popular in the U.S. anymore. Other forms of transportation are preferred. It's still on my bucket list though, to take a train ride out west someday.
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Old December 10th, 2012, 04:11 PM   #3

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When traveling from Richmond, VA to points north, sometimes we take the train. Counting the drive to the airport, layovers and such the travel time isn't that much different, and the train is far more comfortable. Cost wise it's about the same, though. If trains were cheaper more people would ride.

Freight trains are alive and well. It's passenger trains that have been in decline for decades.

I would love to travel across the country and back by train.
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Old December 10th, 2012, 04:33 PM   #4

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There is an important traffic on the railways in hauling raw materials such as coal, ores, grain, etc. They also "piggyback" trailers long-distance with tractors hauling them from origin and to final destination from the RR depots. These will long be viable uses for the railways.

I think you are talking about passenger service. In the 1950's I travelled occasionally by train, but only for distances of less than 400 miles. In 1948, I remember that Archbishop McIntyre arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago to replace the late Archbishop Cantlwell. He stopped at all the local depots once he got within the archdiocese and greeted the Catholic School children bussed to the stations to see him. By that time, it was becoming faster to fly than to travel by train, and overall the cheaper way to travel long distances, but airports were seldom as handy to the origin or destination as the train depot.

During the 1950's, the railroads had to get Department of Transportation approval before adjusting prices or changing service. DOT was very slow to allow them to discontinue service altogether, partly because it left many passengers without a public means of transportation and partly because they were still important to transporting the mail. Railroads, in order to break even, or to discourage passengers who would still travel by train, degraded service and comfort levels (even as many airlines have been doing the last few years). When passengers dropped below certain level, they could justify discontinuing service to DOT.

Finally, about 1970 the Federal Government, pressed to maintain a certain level of service, established AMTRAK for all general passenger service. What I've written is from my own memory, and a more historical narration of the events can be found in the Wikipedia article on
Amtrak Amtrak
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Old December 10th, 2012, 04:36 PM   #5

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Great Railway Revolution: Amazon.co.uk: Christian Wolmar: Books
Great Railway Revolution: Amazon.co.uk: Christian Wolmar: Books


I really want this book, but I'm waiting for the paper back.

One of my favourite memories of my trip to the Southwest USA when I was little is of the massive freight trains in the desert. They go on for miles!

I did catch the train from Boston to New York a few years ago. It was very pleasant, but not the epic railroad journey I dream of
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Old December 10th, 2012, 05:30 PM   #6

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Most people prefer to fly or drive to their destinations. But there is still
Amtrak Amtrak
for passenger service.
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Old December 10th, 2012, 05:30 PM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by botully View Post
Freight trains are alive and well. It's passenger trains that have been in decline for decades.
Very true. People are in a hurry and this isn't the days of Doris Day
and Cary Grant who could take a taxi to the train station, and then
ride into work. The world moves very rapidly and people just feel by
the time they prepare for the train trip, they'd already be at their
destination. Riding one today seems more for the nostalgic feel rather
than for practicality.
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Old December 10th, 2012, 07:30 PM   #8
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American railroads these days concentrate on long distant freight hauling. I don't know how true it is, but I read somewhere that the US commercial railroads are among the most efficient in the world for all freight.

As for passenger travel, Amtrack is supported mostly by government subsidies. It is profitable only in 2 areas, the East Coast corridor from Wahington, DC to New York, and on West Coast from San Diego to San Francisco. On long trips, trains weren't that much cheaper than flying, at least until recently, so it didn't make economic sense to take several days by train when you could get there by a few hours by flying. If you had the time, most people would travel by car, which would be cheaper and morenflexible.

For short trips (5 hours or less driving) a person will drive, or take a bus if they couldn't drive. And once you start getting fewer people taking the train, the trains offer fewer trips, which in turn discourages even more people from taking the train. Also, keep in mind a significant percentage of people flying are doing so for business, where time is critical. When I am traveling on business, I want to get home as soon as possible to see friends and family.
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Old December 10th, 2012, 08:20 PM   #9

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My wife travels almost weekly for business and flies 99% of the time. If she goes to DC or New York she'll take the train. Richmond is a small airport so there are few direct flights except to a hub. Flying to NYC via Atlanta makes for a long day, vs a relaxing train ride.
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Old December 11th, 2012, 03:08 PM   #10

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Not sure how it's working now, but when the economy was booming ten years ago Amtrak had scheduling problems because it owns just a small portion of the track it runs on (e.g., in the Washington-Boston corridor) and in places where it runs on freight company track the freight trains took precedence, so a passenger train might sit on a siding for a while until the freight train came through.

I took a train from Washington to Seattle ("The Capitol Limited" and "The Empire Builder") and then down to San Francisco ("The Coast Starlight) seven or eight years ago, and I'd recommend the experience. It's interesting figuring out how to turn a couple of seats into a couple of bunkbeds, The Empire Builder skirts along and stops at Glacier National Park, and the steaks on the Chicago-Seattle leg are about the best that you're ever going to taste.
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