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Arkansas ARP - Amtrak Plucks the Eagle


- Arkansas Association of Railroad Passengers -

Amtrak Plucks the Eagle

Several recent Amtrak actions raise serious questions about the corporation's long-term commitment to the Texas Eagle. In view of the strong support for the Eagle by the cities along the route, and given the high level of concern for this train in Congress, the peculiar apathy of some within the Amtrak corporate hierarchy towards the Eagle could easily harm the corporation's own prospects for long- term stability.

The following items are among the most recent in a long list of transgressions against the Eagle:

1. During preparation of the current issue of the national timetable, a sizable additional cost was incurred in order to remove the Eagle route from the two-page color map on the back cover of the timetable. The Eagle schedule page was also deleted, along with all data for each of the Eagle stations. This pessimistic action was taken by Amtrak even though an unprecedented passenger train loan proposal was moving through the Texas legislature. On other routes and under similar circumstances involving state funding, it had been customary for Amtrak to maintain timetables intact, with a notation advising that operation beyond a certain date was contingent upon securing state funding. This failure to include the Eagle in the national timetable will adversely affect the route for perhaps six months, until a new timetable is issued. A similar unfortunate situation exists with Amtrak's 1997 Vacation Travel Planner, where the corporation again prematurely deleted the Texas Eagle.

2. A decision was made to change the Eagle days of operation to correspond with changes in the operation of the Sunset Limited. Although this decision was planned months ago, no advance publicity was generated by Amtrak to alert potential travelers. A review of Amtrak press releases for the past 18 months reveals that (until now) standard policy had been to issue a press release no later than the day of the change and often several days in advance. In the case of the Eagle, a press release detailing this major schedule realignment for the southbound train was belatedly issued ten days after the change became effective, and only then in response to numerous questions from the news media of cities along the route.

3. Amtrak's most significant failure to date, and indeed the most potentially harmful to the long-term survival of the Eagle, has been management's reluctance to restore the operation of through coaches and sleeping cars in conjunction with the Sunset Limited at San Antonio. The through Chicago-Los Angeles cars, introduced in 1981, have been called " of the smartest decisions Amtrak ever made." Under that arrangement, cars (a coach and sleeper) from the Texas Eagle were switched at San Antonio to the Sunset Limited for movement to Los Angeles, thus avoiding the need for passengers to change trains in the middle of the night. Under the present customer-unfriendly operation, a middle of the night transfer is required for connecting passengers in each direction. [Westbound passengers arriving on train 21 at 11:59pm must wait until 5:35am for train 1; eastbound passengers arriving on train 2 at 3:15am must wait until 7:00am for train 22.] Amtrak has been forced from the former San Antonio passenger station to a small temporary trailer because of new commercial development in the station, thus compounding the inconvenience to connecting passengers. [A more complete discussion of the through car situation, including an analysis of Amtrak's inadequate reasons for not restoring the service, can be found in the Arkrail fact sheet: The Through Car Dilemma--Amtrak mishandles another lucrative market.

Amtrak management's continuing arrogance toward the region served by the Texas Eagle suggests that at least some within Amtrak-Intercity still consider the Eagle expendable; an unwelcome aberration that somehow survived the discontinuance which was conceived as part of Amtrak's now infamous business plan. It is long past time for a change -- a change of attitude or a change of personnel.

Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill Pollard. Email:

Posted: Friday, 13 June 1997.

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