Amtrak Year-by-Year: 1978Comments
February 11, 2013
Although the delivery of the new bi-level Superliner equipment was delayed until late 1978 due to a strike at the Pullman-Standard plant, Amtrak moved forward with other long-term plans that year such as the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project (NECIP). The company also gained a new President and Chief Executive Officer, Alan Boyd, who replaced the retiring Paul Reistrup.
A lawyer by training, in 1967 Boyd became the first secretary of the newly-created U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). He had headed a task force that looked into establishing a cabinet-level department that would be home to a collection of transportation-related agencies. During Boyd’s tenure, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (precursor of the Federal Transit Administration) was also moved to the U.S. DOT. Between his time with the federal government and Amtrak, Boyd led the Illinois Central Railroad.
In his first year with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Boyd wrote, “I would like to stress again the need for the creation of a newly-structured relationship with the federal government. If there is one single thing we need, it is continuity in funding and stability in routes and services.” That year, the U.S. DOT, at the request of the Congressional Appropriations Committee, undertook a preliminary review of Amtrak’s route structure in an effort to identify the strongest and weakest elements, particularly routes with substantial operating losses.
Through a preliminary report issued in May, Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams endorsed a reduced 18,900 mile route system that cut more than a quarter of Amtrak’s total route miles. The work did not address state-supported routes since its focus was on those funded in part with federal monies. Brock wrote, “I continue to believe in the need for an intercity rail passenger system… [it] will be more efficient and will serve people better if we restructure it and improve its operations….” The report emphasized that the revamped system had to be national since it was supported by taxpayers; should provide service to major population areas; and should include long-distance routes that ran at least daily.
Responding in part to these findings, President Jimmy Carter signed the Amtrak Improvement Act of 1978. It authorized $755 million in federal funds for operating expenses and capital expenditures in fiscal year 1979, but it also mandated a formal study of Amtrak’s route system by the U.S. DOT in an attempt to “put Amtrak on a more stable financial footing and to discontinue services that have large operating losses without providing substantial public benefits.”
In reevaluating the route system, the Improvement Act directed the U.S. DOT to consider the transportation needs of areas lacking adequate alternate forms of transportation; the role of rail passenger service in furthering energy conservation; and the impacts of frequency and fare structure alternatives on ridership, revenues and expenses. The Secretary of Transportation had to submit recommendations to Congress by the end of the year after which that body would have 90 days to consider them.
Apart from the route restructuring initiative, Amtrak worked with the U.S. DOT on a policy study regarding the type and quantity of passenger train equipment required for the Northeast Corridor upon the completion of the NECIP. Thirty-four Metroliner cars were sent to General Electric to be upgraded so that they could work on the existing catenary as well as the new power system installed as part of the NECIP. Amtrak also contracted with General Motor’s Electro-Motive Division to design and manufacture the AEM-7 electric locomotive, a high-speed, lightweight model based on Swedish designs.
In the Fiscal Year 1978 Annual Report, Amtrak officials highlighted efforts to streamline operations and make the company more efficient. Interline agreements with 12 new carriers grew the company’s market by raising the number of cities served by such connections from 322 to 503. These agreements also demonstrated Amtrak’s commitment to the creation of a multimodal transportation system that increased travelers’ options.
On May 1, Amtrak finally exercised full authority over on-board service employees, many of whom had transferred to Amtrak from the predecessor railroads. The last group to make the transition included employees of the Delaware & Hudson Railway who worked on the Adirondack between Albany, New York and Montreal.
Boyd stressed the need to train employees, especially managers, to not only ensure that consistent standards were applied across the system, but that those standards were also regularly evaluated and adjusted according to new business demands. Initiatives such as the Amtrak Employee Assistance Program, created to help those with alcohol and drug problems find counseling and other resources, were established to develop and strengthen the workforce.
As procurement needs increased due to the NECIP, Amtrak proudly noted that it had surpassed the railroad industry goal of achieving 15 percent minority business participation. In September 1978, Amtrak’s Minority Business Program counted a 20.8 percent participation rate. Responding to the rise of the environmental movement, efforts were made to curb pollution and better use resources. At the Beech Grove, Ind., maintenance facility, coal-fired boilers were upgraded to lessen particulate emissions, while at the Chicago 12th Street yard, a 2.5 million-gallon fuel tank was lined to prevent contaminants from seeping into the Chicago River.
On the operations front, the Southern Railway agreed to transfer the operation of the Southern Crescent (Washington, D.C. – New Orleans) to Amtrak in 1979; in its new form, the train was simply known as the Crescent. The company also achieved operational improvements with the introduction of the first "Book of Operating Rules" that set out regulations for the movement of trains on Amtrak-owned property.
A new advertising campaign called “We’ve Been Working on the Railroad” showed the public that Amtrak was hard at work improving infrastructure and customer service. A series of television commercials featured employees singing along to the melody of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” a well-known 19th century American folk song. The spots showed employees loading fresh foods into the dining car, reupholstering seats with stylish fabrics and performing other routine tasks to keep the railroad running.
To drum up interest in specific trains, the Marketing department developed “route blitzes,” sustained campaigns focused on particular routes that generally tied into bigger events. The Broadway premiere of On the Twentieth Century, a musical whose action takes place on the famous train of the same name, was used to advertise the Lake Shore Limited.
A “Twentieth Century Week” on the train included special touches such as discount theater tickets for Amtrak passengers and napkins emblazoned with images from the show’s streamlined Art Deco sets. In the Annual Report, it was noted that the brief tie-in increased business on the Lake Shore Limited by $50,000. Another popular promotion was put together to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday. He and other Disney characters took a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York via the nation’s capital.
Looking towards 1979 and the impending route restructuring, Boyd reflected: “I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that this report marks the end of an era. Change is as necessary as it is inevitable.”
In addition to the above links, sources consulted include:
Annual Reports for Fiscal Years 1977-1979, National Railroad Passenger Corporation.