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A Holiday Rush Revisited


November 24, 2014

This week typically ranks as the busiest across the Amtrak national system as people head home to see family and friends for Thanksgiving. Last year, Amtrak carried a record 754,000 passengers during the same travel period. Extra seating and trains are added to busy corridor routes in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, California and the Chicago hub to accommodate the large volume of passengers. Whether they are new to Amtrak or experienced with the railroad, travelers can take advantage of these suggested travel tips to ensure a smooth journey.

For railroad fans, nothing is quite like the bustle of a train station on a major holiday, where people from all walks of life cross paths for a brief moment or two before continuing on to their destinations. Onboard trains, a festive air takes hold, anticipation building as the scheduled stops are made. Many Amtrak service attendants and sleeping car attendants also take personal time to decorate their cars and add a bit of holiday cheer.

Thanks to the staff of Amtrak NEWS, we can enjoy a peek into the Thanksgiving Eve rush of 1977 at Washington Union Station, as seen in the images below.

Shift Supervisor at Washington Union Station helping a customer, 1977.

Couple with luggage at Washington Union Station, 1977.

Young child waiting in a ticket line at Washington Union Station, 1977.

Men leaning against a pillar at Washington Union Station, 1977.

Line for the Metroliner at Washington Union Station, 1977.

Soldiers waiting in line at Washington Union Station, 1977.

Glancing through the photo essay, those familiar with historic Washington Union Station might not recognize the interiors, generally known for their classically-inspired elegance. That’s because these photographs show a small facility that the railroads had built north of the headhouse. It was constructed so that the historic station could be renovated to serve as the National Visitors Center, intended to welcome large crowds expected to descend upon Washington for the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.

In order to install exhibits, a theater, bookstore and café in the soaring Main Hall, Concourse and East Hall, essential passenger functions were relocated to the new facility closer to the tracks. Carol Highsmith and Ted Landphair, authors of a book on Union Station, describe the experience for travelers: “Train passengers alighting at the front door ran a marathon gauntlet…they lugged grips…around [the theater] in the Main Hall, through a portico to the old Concourse, past displays, then onto a seventy-foot concrete road across the gap between the Concourse and the replacement station. From that depot, riders of long-haul trains faced another serpentine tramp up or down more corridors, stairs, and escalators.”1

Amtrak Florida Poster
Graham Claytor, Jr. with newly-renovated Washington Union
Station in the background.

The National Visitors Center closed for good by early 1981, and the building’s future remained uncertain until Congress passed the Union Station Redevelopment Act later that year. It set the ground for one of the largest public-private redevelopment efforts in the nation’s history, a multi-year project that transformed the station into a successful mixed-use space with a new rail concourse, shops, restaurants and other amenities. With the station’s grand reopening in 1988, Amtrak moved its corporate offices into the upper floors, where they remain today. Two decades later, the people of Washington gathered again to celebrate Union Station, this time marking its 100th birthday and undisputed status as a vital intermodal hub for the entire region.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving memory involving Amtrak? Share it with us in the comments section below!

From all of us at Amtrak, we wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!


1 Carol H. Highsmith and Ted Landphair, Union Station: A History of Washington’s Grand Terminal, (Archetype Press, 1988).

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