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Amtrak Historical Society


The Chiefs, the Limiteds, the Zephyrs. They were more than passenger trains. They surrounded us with impeccable comfort and tantalized our palates with elegant dining fare as they whisked into a world of romance and mystique.

During the 1940s the passenger train began fighting a battle against the airplane and private automobile. By the 1960s the passenger train was rarely considered as a means of travel. Schedules were erratic, trains were run down, and more often than not the journey was a miserable experience.

Then, in October, 1970, in an attempt to revive passenger rail service, congress passed the Rail Passenger Service Act. That Act created Amtrak, a private company which, on May 1, 1971 began managing a nation-wide rail system dedicated to passenger service.


A few of the initial press releases from the National Passenger Rail Corporation introducing Amtrak, a brief history of passenger rail, the organization and board of directors of the NPRC and an early letter to travel agents.


Today it is increasingly evident that the United States cannot rely solely upon further massive construction of highways and airports to meet its transportation needs. The strangulation of our central cities together with such environmental problems as air and noise pollution, excessive land use and dislocation of people make unrestricted expansion of these facilities impractical and hazardous.

To revitalize rail service, two things must happen: (1) Present downward trends of ridership and revenue must be reversed; and (2) Uneconomic services must be curtailed.

On May 1, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK) began operating the nation's intercity passenger railroads, aimed at doing exactly that.

For the first time in history, a unified, centrally-managed, nationwide rail passenger network will provide uniform and rising standards of service for all United States citizens.

The only viable means of insuring the survival and eventual expansion of intercity passenger service is to start out with a lean and muscular basic rail network, free of the duplicate services and hopelessly uneconomic routes, and the inevitable financial burdens they generate.

In the difficult and arduous process of selecting the routes to constitute the new system, a number of criteria were carefully applied.

What was resulted is a basic system that will serve all but one of the 29 cities over one million population, and all but one of the 27 cities of 500,000 to one million. Over 250 smaller communities will be served as well. In aggregate, the new rail system will serve 87 percent of the population and cut about one-half the present annual loss of $225 million.

As this system becomes operational, improvements will be made in routes, schedules and equipment.

AMTRAK has received many requests to make changes in routes, and is ready to cooperate with any state or regional group which agrees to assume at least two thirds of the costs of maintaining specific routes requested.

To capture its share of the travel market, AMTRAK aims at gradual restoration of public confidence in rail passenger service by clearly demonstrating its concern for passenger needs and by making service improvements wherever feasible. The initial effort will be to rebuild both the image and substance of rail passenger service, both on-train and in-station. This means clean passenger cars,on-time schedules,appetizing meals,prompt service, and a pleasant environment in trains and stations.

Eventually these amenities will be restored to all rail operations. Although some innovations can be undertaken in the next several months,others,such as newly ordered and refurbished equipment,will require some time.

In these beginning months,there is a need for public patience and understanding so that with public support, AMTRAK can develop a passenger service that is responsive to the traveler's needs and expectations.

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The romance of railroading has directly influenced the history of America since 1830 when the steam engine "Tom Thumb" pulled the first passenger car 13 miles from Baltimore to Ellicott's Mill, Maryland.

Today's railroad cars have come a long way since the first one in 1830. The initial "stage coach" type of passenger car quickly gave way to the double-track car that was the four runner of those we know today. Soon many of the larger cities along the Atlantic seaboard were visited by the travelers who arrived on the "exotic cars," as they were called.

The first passenger sleeping car was introduced on what was then known as the Cumberland Valley Railroad. It provided three tiers of bunks on one side of the car for weary passengers desiring a few hours' sleep while traveling between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and points in the Cumberland Valley region of Pennsylvania and Maryland.

In 1856 George M. Pullman gave his name to a new type upper and lower berth sleeping car. In 1859 he introduced an all-steel version that was a major contributor to railway passenger safety.

By 1850,railroads linked the Atlantic Coast with the Great Lakes; Chicago came in the line in 1853,and the rails stretched all the way from New York to the western side of the Mississippi River by 1856.

By Acts of Congress in 1862 and 1864,the construction of the first transcontinental railroad was undertaken. It was completed on May 10, 1869 when the Union Pacific running westward from Nebraska,and the Central Pacific coming eastward from California met at Promontory Point, Utah for the famous Golden Spike ceremony.

On long trips,passengers were required to change trains at several junction points,because of different track widths (gauge) which made through car service impossible. This inconvenience was eliminated in the 1880's when "standard gauge" of 4'-8 1/2" between the rails was adopted. Air brakes were patented by George Westinghouse in 1872,and were incorporated as standard equipment on passenger cars a few years later.

Starting with the American Civil War, which military historians sometimes call "the first railroad war," the nation's rail network became a major factory in military logistics. During the Spanish American and both World Wars, tremendous amounts of material and millions of troops were moved efficiently by train. During World War I the Federal Government assumed control of the nation's railroads,and directed their operation through the United States Railroad Administration. The railroads were returned to their owners in 1920.

A new chapter in railroad history began when the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK) - - a quasi-public corporation, dedicated to providing modern, efficient, attractive service, began operating the nation's passenger railroads on May 1, 1971.

As the nation moves toward tomorrow, new high speed ground transportation will supplement today's trains. The Department of Transportation is currently testing new modes of propulsion such as the linear induction motor, and a tracked air cushioned vehicle capable of speeds up to 300 miles per hour. Passenger car interiors and exteriors are being redesigned to permit easier boarding and exit as well as great comfort, safety, and convenience of passengers.

Sometimes regarded as an outmoded, vestigial form of transportation, doomed to extinction, the nation's passenger railroads, like the fabled Phoenix, have started to rise again from the ashes of the past to become a key element in the nation's balanced transportation system of tomorrow.

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The Rail Passenger Service Act signed October 30, 1970 by President Nixon authorized the National Railroad Passenger Corporation to manage the basic national rail network and operate trains under contracts with the railroads.

The corporation was incorporated by eight Presidential appointees: David W. Kendall,chairman; General Frank S. Besson, Jr.,vice chairman; David E. Bradshaw; John J. Gilhooley; Arthur D. Lewis; Charles Luna; Catherine May Bedell; and John P. Olsson.

On April 21, 1971, the President nominated eight people to serve on the corporation's Board of Directors. The remainder of the 15-person Board will be elected by corporation shareholders (three by railroads, four by preferred stockholders).

The Presidential appointments, subject to Senate confirmation, include six of the original incorporators. Mr. Gilhooley, chairman and president of Urban Industries, Inc., was nominated for a four-year term. Nominated for three-year terms were General Besson, former chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Logistics Review Board; Mr. Bradshaw, a Chicago attorney, and Mr. Luna, president of the United Transportation Union. Mrs. Bedell, former Representative (R., Wash.) , and Mr. Kendall, chairman of AMTRAK's incorporators, were the President's choices for two-year terms.

The two remaining Presidential nominations will be new to the corporation. Nominated to serve in place of Arthur Lewis and John Olsson are Roger Lewis, president of General Dynamics Corporation, nominated for a four-year term, and Transportation Secretary John A. Volpe, for a two-year term.

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MAY 19 , 1971 ATK-4

WASHINGTON,D.C.- - Louis W. Menk, Chairman of the Burlington Northern Railroad, William H. Moore, President of Penn Central and William J. Quinn, Chairman of Milwaukee Road are the three railroad members of the Board of Directors of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, AMTRAK President Roger Lewis announced today.

The three- - who join the present eight-man board appointed by President Nixon - - were elected by the railroads that agreed to take common stock equivalent to their specified payments to AMTRAK.

The eight presidential-appointed board members of AMTRAK are: Roger Lewis, chairman; Frank J. Besson, Jr.; David E. Bradshaw; John J. Gilhooley; Charles Luna; Catherine May Bedell; David W. Kendall; and John A. Volpe.

Mr. Menk, chairman and chief executive officer of the Burlington Northern, is former president of the Northern Pacific Railway. He began his railroad career as a messenger-telegrapher for the Union Pacific Railroad in 1937. In 1940 he joined the St. Louis- San Francisco Railway as a telegrapher, advancing through the ranks to the position of president and chairman of the board of that company in 1965. In 1965-1966, he was president and director of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company.

Mr. Moore has been president and chief executive officer of the Penn Central since September, 1970. Prior to assuming this position, he was vice president in charge of operations of the Southern Railway System since 1965. From 1963 to 1965, he was president of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, Missouri. Before this he held various posts with the Southern Railway, including general manager,western lines,and superintendent in various railroad divisions.

Mr. Quinn is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Chicago, Milwaukee,St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. From 1966 to 1970 he was president and chairman of the executive committee of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company. From 1958 to 1966 he was president of the Milwaukee Road and from 1955 to 1958 he was vice president and general counsel of the Milwaukee Road. He also served in various executive posts of the Soo Line Railroad and was a special agent with the FBI, U.S. Department of Justice.

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April 28,1971

Dear Travel Agent:

A new era in America rail travel is beginning, and we want you to be a vital part of it.

That's why we're sending you the enclosed poster - - to introduce you and your clients to AMTRAK, America's first nationwide passenger rail system,chartered by Congress as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation to operate intercity passenger trains throughout the United States starting May 1, 1971. (You've heard us called "Railpax" until now, but our new name and service mark have been created to express the dynamic changes that are already underway.)

You'll soon see the new service mark emblazoned on AMTRAK trains across the country and on new railway uniforms,tickets,baggage checks, timetables and other informational material.

It's the symbol of many wonderful improvements to come - - not all of them overnight,but gradually and steadily - - on our nation's revitalized passenger railroads.

It's also the symbol of the new thinking we're giving to the role of the travel agent in building domestic travel. We know how important travel agents are, and while we're still busy gathering our perfessional staff together, we're giving serious study to how your role in America rail travel can be broadened significantly. We very much appreciate your patience during this transition period and you'll hear from us soon.

In the meantime,let your clients know that you are ready to serve them with all their domestic travel needs. Display the AMTRAK emblem. We're going to make you proud that you did.

David W. Kendall
Chairman of the Board

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