Monday, March 17, 2014

War Stories - Episode 17: The Amtrak Eraser

"Fill this out.  It's for your Amtrak pass." said our Training Coordinator on the first day of work.


I get an Amtrak pass?  Cool.

So, what's a pass?

One of the age-old benefits of working for a railroad was being issued a pass.  A pass let you ride on your "home road", that is, the railroad you worked for, for free.  Exactly how that worked with Pullman accommodations I don't know, but it was still a pretty good perk, especially if your railroad went interesting places.

Once Amtrak took over the intercity rail passenger service in 1971, things changed.  The rule for who could ride where and when changed, but for those who hired after April 1, 1976, like me, got a pass that was good for 50% off any Amtrak train, including accommodations.  Good deal...

...for me. Maybe not so good for Amtrak.  The "problem" was that I used the pass.  I also tended to use Amtrak for business whenever I could.

  • I rode the Floridian between Chicago and Birmingham AL in the Spring of 1979.
  • I rode the Broadway Limited from Philadelphia to Chicago and back (via PRR mainline: Crestline and Fort Wayne) in the summer of 1979.
  • I rode the Lake Cities from Toledo to Ann Arbor (via Detroit) in the early 1980s.

So, big deal.  I rode all those trains.  Now, go to The Museum of Railroad Timetables and look at Amtrak's route map in 1979 and then in the late 1980s.

See what happened?  Everyone of these rides, I'm pretty sure, caused Amtrak to take the train off shortly after I rode!  The route just vanished from the map!  I'm not sure why, but I became a "human eraser" to Amtrak's route map.

In the early 80s, they changed my pass to be nearly useless - just 25% off coach fare for tickets purchased within 24 hours of departure - and no discount on accommodations.  I was sad to see the changes, but I never really understood why I was ever entitled to anything in the first place.

It's probably a good thing.  If they'd have left it alone, Lord knows how much more of Amtrak's route map I'd have wreaked havoc on.

Full disclosure:  I have ridden many non-NEC Amtrak trains since they changed the pass and every single route is still operating.  Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Crescent, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, SW Chief, California Zephyr, Adirondack, San Diegan, Cascade and Pennsylvanian.

Apparently the power was in the pass.

I still have my pass.  Might even use it again someday, when time is more flexible.

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