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mrcvs
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How did one travel and make decent time after the demise of most passenger railroads and before the advent of interstates in the 1950's?

 

What I mean is I'm really surprised that passenger railroad travel dropped off before the advent of interstate highways.  Before then, travel would have been at best 2 lane roads.

 

In my hometown railroad service started in 1871.  Not long after, advertisements featured the ability to travel to NYC and tend to business and be home for dinner.  Passenger rail service ended in 1927 or 1928.  Not to say you couldn't drive to NYC and perform business transactions in the 30's and 40's and be home for dinner but I would think the railroad would be swifter and more relaxing.

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Pre 1960 90 percent of the drivers stayed local.........say 50 miles or less from home. Many of the interstate roads weren’t finished till the 70’s. My grandfather drove cross country and back in a 1922 Fort T with four other family members. It was NOT a good time. Pre 1960 40 MPH was still fast.....driving for most people. It was 1970 when the cars were really getting g driven faster and longer.

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8 minutes ago, mrcvs said:

If it wasn't until the 1970's until speed and interstate highway travel was realistically possible, why didn't passenger rail service last in most parts of the country until then?  It seems like it should have...

 

But isn't that exactly when passenger rail service went away in most places? If not, its news to me. I saw 1928 and wondered where you live.

 

Up here in Washington State I think passenger rail service went away when the Great Northern merged with some other railroads. That might have been 1970. I remember riding one of the last Great Northern passenger trains probably in 1968 or 69.

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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Nothing really to brag about, but I was raised in Connecticut, Norfolk to be precise.  (I have not lived there for nearly 3 decades now.  Connecticut is a land where you have tremendous opportunity to be overtaxed and, in addition to this, in my case, at least, a tremendous opportunity to be underemployed as well.)

 

I believe that passenger traffic ended there about 1927 or 1928, and freight traffic in 1938.  The rails were pulled up in WWII as part of the steel drive.

 

How this topic originated--I was researching this individual:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederic_C._Walcott

 

So, here he is, residing in Norfolk, he just got elected to the Senate in 1928, passenger rail service to Norfolk ended about that time, and he needed to get to Washington, DC on a regular basis for the next 6 years.  How would he have done it?

 

I'm guessing he might have taken a private car to somewhere like Hartford, 30 miles away, and taken the train from there to NYC and then to DC???  Canaan, a town about 8 or 10 miles away still has rails.  Perhaps passenger traffic traveled through that town much later than the late '20's?

Edited by mrcvs (see edit history)
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And, what vehicle would an individual such as this, Skull & Bones, Yale, 1891, have driven, I would guess something like a Packard.  Would he have driven it himself, or a chauffeur?  Any attempt to drive all the way to DC from Norfolk?

 

I actually am not interested in this exact individual, per se, but more in the automotive history of the times and means of travel of individuals of that sort.  My family heritage is such that I do not come from such a glorified background, and I do not know if my ancestors of modest means would have even owned cars prior to WWII?

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That all sounds about right.  Frequency and speed of rail service was still reasonable by 1970, though quality was declining on many routes.  Rural “branch line” passenger service, though, would have really fallen off after the 1950s, with a couple exceptions where it was modernized and retained.  Sounds like your specific case abandoned service pretty early on.

 

The park n’ ride concept is certainly probable, but in the late 1920s to the 1970s, a traveler might very well have started a trip by bus, and transferred to the train in a nearby city.  Buses were a fairly affordable business to make a start in at the time, if you could get the legal franchise rights to serve a certain route.  And with trolleys and rural passenger rail in decline from the late 1920s to the 1950s, a local motor bus operator might have secured those rights in rural CT for very little cost.  Buy a couple coaches (possibly used) and you’re in business, especially with the short distance to major cities in New England.

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2 hours ago, edinmass said:

Pre 1960 90 percent of the drivers stayed local.........say 50 miles or less from home. Many of the interstate roads weren’t finished till the 70’s. My grandfather drove cross country and back in a 1922 Fort T with four other family members. It was NOT a good time. Pre 1960 40 MPH was still fast.....driving for most people. It was 1970 when the cars were really getting g driven faster and longer.

 

 Wow.   I am one of the 10 percent.  My folks drove from Arkansas to California in 1939. Back to Arkansas in early 1942. To Missouri and back a couple times until settling down after Dad returned from Japan in 1945.  Made a trip to Arizona and back in 1954.  As a young man of 19, I drove from Missouri to Washington in early 1956.  I was well traveled by 1960!  And I was/am a "poor" man.

 50 miles from home? Dad drove , I think,  30 miles each way to work and back in the early 50's.  Of course, we depended on our BUICKS.

 

  Ben

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Here are some more dates, from my own readings

and my parents' experience.  They correspond to

what some forum-goers have said, but are counter to

a few people's observations.

 

Passenger rail service was available well into the 1960's.

(Someone said 1970, and this concurs.)

 

The Interstate highway system began in the late 1950's,

was being well developed in the 1960's, and continued

in the 1970's.  One big advantage was the routing around

cities, because previously the routes went through the

cities and became congested.  Some turnpikes existed

before the Interstates.  Otherwise, highways were smaller,

but one could make very good time.  (In less populated 

parts of the country, highways are still 2 lanes, and one can

still make very good time.)

 

Airlines were available in the 1950's and 1960's, but

they were regulated, and fares were high.  They were not

an affordable option for many travelers.

 

So I don't think we can say there was a period after the railroads,

and people's driving was limited.  Increasing travel options

were what diminished the passenger trains, so the transition

was rather a natural one.

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)
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You can still travel to Connecticut from NYC by rail to this very day. I believe the current terminus is New Haven, but it used to go all the way to Hartford, and might still...I've never done it. Here in the Hudson Valley the rail lines go straight down to Grand Central Station mostly hugging the shore of the Hudson River. I can hear the trains when the windows are open in my house. Could walk to them but they are on other side of a small man-made lake. 

 

I'm guessing the guy you are researching either drove to the train station or had someone drive him, then took the train south. Perhaps may have taken CT15 if he felt like driving the whole way.

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I've been taking trains since little. Main difference between then and now is that Baltimore<>Palm Beach is an hour slower.

Also the Autotrain runs from 30 miles from my house to about 30 miles south of DC. Advance booking cost is similar to driving and a hotel.

So on the East coast at least the passenger train is alive and well.

 

BTW, back in the 60s the drive from Palm Beach to the Hamptons was overnight in a XK Jag. I remember clocking a Greyhound going into Brunswick GA at near 90 mph. At night there just was not much traffic. AAA published lists of speed traps (e.g. Woodbine GA) and I had built a Radio Shack Radar Sentry (illegal in VA).

 

My Grandfather commuted from the eastern shore of Maryland to Baltimore every weekday in the 50s & 60s, every year the company would buy a new Fleetwood 60 Special, my grandmother would drive it for a year, then my grandfather would put 100,000 miles on it the next.

 

Had a set of Lucas PL headlamps and Cibie driving lights. Would really light up the road.

 

ps in 1984 the roundtrip airfare from Orlando to DC was $636

Edited by padgett (see edit history)
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Great thread.  As one posted, locally there was everything one needed. I have paperwork on my 54 that originally purchased in VT was drained of antifreeze and battery removed for winter storage. No need for the owner Margaret to drive it. I'm sure foodstuffs were pickled and canned for the winter. Not much need to go to the grocery. And, if needed, walk to the store.  

 

I also understand that Buick kept the torque tube set up over the years as it could withstand the rutted dirt roads from town to town.  And they could keep the Buick coil spring ride. 

 

It was the car that provided freedom to roam the country. All be it much dirt road. 

Edited by avgwarhawk (see edit history)
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Passenger rail was big through WWII but the war had a big impact on the upkeep of the rail system. Towards the end of the war and the early 1950s derailments  increased causing many delays..

Air traffic got more popular in the 1950s for long trips and put a dent in sea and rail traffic.

The cars got roomier and more comfortable for long trips  and plenty places of to stop .

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Quote

 

 I think "demise" is more regional.

 

Even with all the major highways in the tri-state area there's still a lot of passenger train use. Ever been to Grand Central or Penn Stations during the workweek ?  

 

The Hudson River passenger line that Billy Kingsley mentioned from NYC, runs regularly to Montreal making many stops along the way. I have family on Long Island that uses it when they want to go to Montreal rather than sit for hours in a car. I know it stops often at Saratoga Springs, which has a large station and rail yard complex on the west side. Even at night, if the summer breeze is from the west, we sometimes hear the trains pulling into the station and we're over by the race tracks on the east side. And during track season many people come by train that don't have a car, or would rather not deal with a long drive and the road traffic - which has become very heavy in the area.  And as if the driving isn't bad enough, parking has become a real challenge.

 

Paul  

Edited by PFitz (see edit history)
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With trains having the right of way one can make the trip from Portland to Seattle in similar time, car or AmTrack. Even with its few stops along the way.

I do this on occasion.

Might be something for the poster that is considering a move to Seattle to consider.

 

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Rail travel was popular until planes took over in the sixties. It was not a sudden thing,  autos trucks and buses began to cut into short haul railway traffic in the twenties. I am surprised rail service ended in your town as early as 1928. It must not have had much industry or perhaps there was a larger town nearby where passengers could catch  a train.

 

It was the fifties when the interstates and planes took over but there was a gradual move away from rail travel before that.

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Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the bus was the main form of short and long distance travel.  This is in the PA coal region around Pottsville, Frackville, Hazelton, Harrisburg.  Train service to Philadelphia was still available but buses seemed to carry more people than trains. The bus terminal in Pottsville was great place to hang out,  it had a lunch counter nice seats and clean restrooms.  A big treat for me was riding the bus from Branchdale (find that on the map!) to Pottsville with my aunt who was a book keeper for a local bakery in Pottsville.  Lots of free take home stuff on Saturdays.  Back then we did not count calories!

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5 hours ago, Rusty_OToole said:

I am surprised rail service ended in your town as early as 1928. It must not have had much industry or perhaps there was a larger town nearby where passengers could catch  a train.

I'm surprised it ended that early as well.  I really never gave it any thought until now.  Hence, this thread.

 

Just assumed with many cars available in the 1920's it made sense for it to end then, especially if travel was local, but then you have folks such as U S Senators who have to service their constituency as well as travel to DC, so travel has to be more than just local.

 

Not much in the way of industry there.  Most there have money they earned elsewhere or inherited.  I had neither and so I left.  Canaan, about 10 miles away, Is more industrial.  Tracks are still there, and freight trains too.

 

Trains allow for segregation.  Senator Walcott could have travelled in the first class car.  Were such distinctions allowed when travelling by bus?

 

My third grade teacher who had been there forever said the tracks were torn up for the WWII steel drive.  Most of the railroad bed is still there.  Some has been built on.  A real shame.  I might go back there if I didn't have to drive for a visit.

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Found this photo on line of perhaps the first regional bus in Pottsville PA.  Capital Trailways was the long distance bus, Hegins Valley Lines did the local runs along with East Penn Transportation in the Pottsville area.

 

5C4983E5-92AF-4CD6-95DB-2AB95FCFA9DC.jpeg

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As was mentioned passenger rail services spiked during the war, but before that passenger rail service had been on the decline for some time. Something that this thread has mostly ignored was the burgeoning passenger bus service. In 1931 Greyhound carried 400,000,000 passengers, just shy of first class rail service. Before the military control of the RR's during the war bus service had already outstripped rail service. For reasons of fuel savings and the need to move large numbers of troops across country, rail service had certain unmistakable advantages, after the war not so much. 

 

The interstate road system had been a focus before the war, but was put on hold because of reallocation of resources. Eisenhower used the Interstate Defense Act of 1956 to energize the highway system. For the RR's the handwriting was on the wall. The hundred yo RR infrastructure was in such bad shape that it's revitalization was considered prohibitive. Coupled with transportation resources now being used for the road system, made the rail system a poor stepchild. 

 

The final stanza of the RR demise, as a viable passenger service, came during the 70's when the Post Office diverted the mail shipping business from the rails, to the airlines. The subsidization from the RR's to the airlines, put many of the small lines out of business. At the same time it helped to subsidize the airlines, which in turn aided to bring down the cost of flying. Today Amtrak is more of a subsidized excursion provider, and bus service is a shell of what it once was.  IMO rail service has to be reinvented as part of our regional transportation systems, but I'm not sure I would want to go back to a time when regular travelers could not afford to fly.  But I'm sure glad that all three modes of public transit still exist.

Bill

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I've always felt like Eisenhower was fleeced when it came to interstate highway development and the national interest and military.  Reality is, if speed was necessary, the military would use air travel before highways.  But surely the Teamsters Union was for it.  Let's have tax dollars pay for trucking interests.  Living not far from I 78 there are so many trucks clogging the highways I'm surprised there isn't a substantial toll on truck transportation.  There should be!

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There wasn’t a sudden increase in travel when interstates were built.  The existing roadways were already very busy.  It’s still this way.  New highways aren’t built until the existing ones are over used.  Once existing roads are too busy to accommodate traffic safely, years pass before new ones are built.  It all adds up.

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7 minutes ago, mrcvs said:

I've always felt like Eisenhower was fleeced when it came to interstate highway development and the national interest and military.  Reality is, if speed was necessary, the military would use air travel before highways.  But surely the Teamsters Union was for it.  Let's have tax dollars pay for trucking interests.  Living not far from I 78 there are so many trucks clogging the highways I'm surprised there isn't a substantial toll on truck transportation.  There should be!

 

Thats just not historically accurate. Eisenhower traveled across the country with a convoy of military trucks in 1919 when that was a close to impossible feat. Usable highways became a priority to him. It's not like outside interests were trying to get him to do it. It was him trying to get it done against political resistance, and the resistance of mother nature. The fact that the project finally got underway in the mid 50s is no accident. Eisenhower was elected president in 1953.

 

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Here in Northeast Il. there used to be an Electric interurban railway that went from Chicago to Milwaukee and had a spur to a smaller town named Mundelein in the western part of Lake County. In order to feed their passengers  to the train they established their own bus line in the  20's and it ran through I believe  until WWII.  The war brought great prosperity to the line but by the 1960's it was about done. Abandoned in 1963 I believe that if they could have held out for 10 more years they would never have been allowed to close. Very reliable and often busy especially for the Navy at Great Lakes Training Center. which was right next door to the main line.  I remember riding on it as a very small child but only vaguely. 

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2 hours ago, Buffalowed Bill said:

. . . Today Amtrak is more of a subsidized excursion provider, and bus service is a shell of what it once was. . .

 

 

Depends on where in the country. From what I read Amtrak in the northeast corridor is doing okay in terms of number of passengers and financials though they do seem to have issues with maintenance and upgrades on their infrastructure. And apparently a few other regional routes like between San Diego and Los Angeles are doing okay as well. It seems the long distance routes are the ones that are an issue.

 

Some of it is an infrastructure issue. In most places Amtrak doesn't own the tracks they run on so their schedule and adherence to schedule is dependent on the freight railroads which, of course, prioritize freight trains. In the northeast corridor Amtrak owns the right of way and has much more control over schedule. On the line between Los Angeles and San Diego most/all of the line is no longer owned by Santa Fe but rather by the Los Angeles Metrolink or San Diego Coaster commuter rail agencies which prioritize passenger traffic over freight so those passenger trains are usually fairly close to being on time.

 

As long as the routes are over tracks that prioritize freight over passenger traffic it is unreasonable for anyone trying to keep a schedule to take a train. Much more reliable to fly or drive if you want to get somewhere on time. So in the case of long distance travel, you are right that Amtrak is more of an excursion provider in many areas. For for regional travel, there are places where Amtrak is viable.

 

At least in California, there is a renaissance of commuter rail in both the SF Bay and the LA metro areas. Apparently there are more trains per day at LA Union Station than there was during the heyday of rail travel. We usually take the train to either San Diego or Los Angeles if we need to get a flight somewhere. Beats driving and leaving the car in long term parking and cheaper than getting an airport shuttle.

 

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3 hours ago, mrcvs said:

I'm surprised it ended that early as well.  I really never gave it any thought until now.  Hence, this thread.

 

Just assumed with many cars available in the 1920's it made sense for it to end then, especially if travel was local, but then you have folks such as U S Senators who have to service their constituency as well as travel to DC, so travel has to be more than just local.

 

Not much in the way of industry there.  Most there have money they earned elsewhere or inherited.  I had neither and so I left.  Canaan, about 10 miles away, Is more industrial.  Tracks are still there, and freight trains too.

 

Trains allow for segregation.  Senator Walcott could have travelled in the first class car.  Were such distinctions allowed when travelling by bus?

 

My third grade teacher who had been there forever said the tracks were torn up for the WWII steel drive.  Most of the railroad bed is still there.  Some has been built on.  A real shame.  I might go back there if I didn't have to drive for a visit.

I expect the Senator had someone drive him the 10 miles to the station, or went all the way by chauffeured limousiine.

But railroads don't make money carrying one senator. They need cars full of travellers and cars full of freight. If there wasn't enough demand they would close the line. By 1928 many short lines were being replaced by trucks, buses and cars. For those who did not have their own car I expect there was a bus service that connected to the rail station in the next town.

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On 11/1/2019 at 9:10 PM, edinmass said:

Pre 1960 40 MPH was still fast.....driving for most people.

 

Maybe up north, but here in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina 55 was the limit on US 1, 301, 360, 460,17, 50 etc etc. Even 60 in some places. Then it slowed for towns. Colonial Heights was the famous speed trap in Virginia on US 1.

 

Now during WWII it was 35 mph......😉  To save rubber tires.

 

Living in Richmond, home to RF&P*, passenger rail service was alive and well up to 1970 Amtrak takeover. We had two passenger train stations, Union station and Main Street station. Main street has reopened to rail travel. Union station is the Science Museum. And there is the Amtrak station...not historic....

 

 

* now CSX after mergers with the Chessie system. Remember Chessie the cat?, 

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On 11/1/2019 at 7:10 PM, edinmass said:

Pre 1960 40 MPH was still fast.....driving for most people.

The speed limit on the Kansas turnpike when it was completed in 1956 or 1957 was 80 mph for all vehicles trucks included. I was two manning ( called team now) a truck from Colorado to New York City in 1961. Round trip took about 4 days. 3400+ miles. Truck speed limits 50 to 70 mph depending on state and road.  Cars 55 to 70 mph.  Not much interstate, but plenty of 4 lanes, turnpikes, and good two lane roads with passing lanes. Good roads versus vehicle saturation much less in those days. Western states much better roads and higher speed limits with much less vehicle saturation at that time.

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Amtrac is still alive and well in Florida with daily trains from Miami to Boston & most come through Orlando. Are talking about extending the Miami-Jupiter commuter rail up here in the near future. Car train from Sanford (30 miles north) to Lorton VA is daily. Unfortunately to get to Dallas I have to go through Chicago.

 

Back in the 50s, Florida did not even have a speed limit per se, "reasonable and proper" left a lot to a LEO's discretion. Then it was 65 day/55 night almost everywhere but there never have been many members of the FHP and the cross Florida roads were lightly patrolled.

 

For that matter traffic particularly at night was almost nonexistent. I recall running up 710 to Sebring around 3 am with just parking lights on because the full moon lit the road better than anything manmade and just let that big DOHC-6 breathe through the triple SUs (one of the most beautiful sounds imaginable) for miles on end (except for the bend at Indiantown)...

 

Today I avoid I-4 if at all possible (and the 429 loop is close to completion)

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18 hours ago, Rusty_OToole said:

Eisenhower also experienced the Autobahn system of Germany, built by Hitler for fast military movements and the Routes Nationale of France, built by Napoleon for fast military movements. Highway and rail transport are critical for military movements. You just can't send everything by plane.

How many tanks, APC's or 155 howitzers could you get on a '60's era cargo plane ?

Answer = ONE if your lucky.

Seen convoys coming out of Ft. Carson of 30+ TANKS / APC'S and artillery, rolling down I-25 in the right lane @ 45 MPH, and the rest of us whizzing by @ 75 in the left lane.

Try that on an old 2 lane road that wanders around the country side, and follows an old cow path.

I LIKE IKE !

 

Mike in Colorado

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Military Trail (441) in south Florida was built so far inland (middle of nowhere then) that U-Boats could not count headlights. In 50s and 60s made a great test track (particularly the one turn) for Sebring cars.

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I almost include something about trail travel in the NE, but neglected to. More and more we are seeing rail service as apposed to "light rail," incorporated into regional and intercity transportation systems. It seems a reasonable solution to our clogged roads. In the near future I can't see transcontinental  passenger service, as much more then what I referred to as a subsidized excursion provider.

 

We all love our cars, but I've traveled a good deal on trains in Europe. That  experience made me appreciate what our rail system could have been, had we chosen to invest in the infrastructure when we had the chance. Every small town is serviced by rail, and there are regular scheduled, daily trips to all of them.  We didn't have to arbitrarily, neglect our rail system to the point that it was no longer a viable passenger carrier. 

 

Edited by Buffalowed Bill (see edit history)
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16 hours ago, Buffalowed Bill said:

I almost include something about trail travel in the NE, but neglected to. More and more we are seeing rail service as apposed to "light rail," incorporated into regional and intercity transportation systems. It seems a reasonable solution to our clogged roads. In the near future I can't see continent passenger service as much more then what I referred to as a subsidized excursion provider.

 

We all love our cars, but I've traveled a good deal on trains in Europe. That  experience made me appreciate what our rail system could have been, had we chosen to invest in the infrastructure when we had the chance. Every small town is serviced by rail, and there are regular scheduled, daily trips to all of them.  We didn't have to arbitrarily, neglect our rail system to the point that it was no longer a viable passenger carrier. 

 

It's a matter of supply and demand. The trains are still there, it's the riders who got lost. No business abandons a profit center. In the US cars replaced trains for shorter trips and airplanes for longer trips. Have you taken a train lately? A couple of years ago I had to take a train to a nearby town because my car broke down. It cost me $63 one way, or about a dollar and a half a mile. It was considerably slower and less convenient than driving and when I got to the station had to take a cab or bus to get to my destination which of course, added to the cost. The part of Canada I live in, has quite good train service. But it can't compete with a car.

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Even in the 50s it was being said that passenger service was a losing proposition. As to European trains, the high population density coupled with the high cost of ownership for a private auto combined with the sometimes rugged terrain makes government supported rail viable.

 

The US is different with clumps of population separated by miles and miles of miles and miles. With the exception of the "thickly settled" Bos-Wash corridor, only urban areas can support passenger trains and then it is mainly "light rail".

 

The passenger car is the best solution for the US particularly when you put things like the Amtrac AutoTrain into the mix. Are there others ?

 

And air travel since 911 has become increasingly difficult and lengthy just to get to the airplane even with Global Entry. Consequently for any trip of a few hundred miles, it is easier to just drive.

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