U.S., Amtrak: Remembering the man who changed passenger rail journalism, plus two voices on how it was and could be today

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 31, 2022

Word has come from several sources that Jim Wrinn, the longtime innovative and respected editor of Trains Magazine has passed away after a battle with cancer. Mr. Wrinn was only 61 and had been editing Trains Magazine for over 17 years.

Notable about Mr. Wrinn is that he was a professional journalist who studied journalism at the University of North Carolina ‒ Chapel Hill. After college he worked for daily newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer where he worked from 1986 to 2004 serving as both a reporter and weekend city desk editor. He also authored books.

Mr. Wrinn never strayed from his role as a professional journalist and Trains Magazine and its readers benefited from that role. He took a legacy magazine that was primarily known as a railfan magazine with the occasional long-form Amtrak fact-finding article or opinion piece and turned it into a respected source of investigative journalism which isn’t afraid to ask probing questions and offer relevant and credible critique about Amtrak operations and corporate policies among other things.

Under Mr. Wrinn the Trains Newswire has become required reading for those seeking good information beyond press releases handed out by railroads and associated enterprises. While other legacy railroad industry trade publications have become mere shadows of themselves with reduced staffs and a too-narrow focus mostly on commuter/regional passenger rail issues, Trains Magazine and Trains Newswire have flourished and expanded, garnering entire new audiences of professional railroaders who once thought Trains Magazine was only for entertainment purposes, not comprehensive industry news and analysis.

Kalmbach Media Company made a wise decision to hire Mr. Wrinn for their flagship publication. Here’s hoping they will continue his legacy by selecting the next editor with the same outstanding level of credentials as Mr. Wrinn.

We extend our condolences to his family, friends, and co-workers.

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The Spring 2022 issue of MinnARP News, just distributed to membership, has two enlightening articles which are reprinted below with the permission of MinnARP News:


Ross Rowland, former member of the Amtrak Board of Directors, quoted about storm disruptions:

“How things have changed. When I served on the Amtrak Board Of Directors (1982-87) I had the pleasure of working with a lot of good rails. One of the best was the late Stan Bagley who was in charge of all operations from New York City to Miami. I called Stan during a big snowstorm in 1984 which would dump over 2 feet of snow from the Carolinas to New York City to see how we were doing.

“He said, ‘We’re doing well. I added an additional locomotive on 97/98 and 91/92, we ran an extra snow train from Richmond to DC to keep things limbered up, I’ve put on 15 extra men doing snow duty in Washington and Sunnyside mostly to keep all the switch heaters going full blast and the platforms cleared. So far all our trains are running very close to schedule. I’m adding extra coaches on all Northbounds out of DC to accommodate the crush of snowbirds we’re getting in Baltimore and Philly because the airlines have quit flying. We’ve had lots of standees on this afternoon’s NEC trains and there will be even more tonight. My guess is that the extra ticket revenues from all the snowbirds will about cover my overtime costs. We will keep running very close to schedule’.

“He did. That storm did dump over 2 feet of snow all the way to Boston and Amtrak ran as scheduled and carried over 5,000 extra passengers during that 48 hour storm event. Our trains ran 89% on time for that period and there were zero trains canceled. Zero.

“It can be done. If there’s a will there’s a way.”

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GROWTH? by Kevin McKinney

As I wrote in a Passenger Train Journal feature two or three years ago, when Amtrak started in 1971, the population of Florida was 7.2 million and Walt Disney World was about to open. The winter of 1971-1972, Amtrak had four New York-Florida trains, including the seasonal Florida Special on a 24-hour schedule New York Pennsylvania Station-Miami, the fastest schedule ever for that train. Amtrak also had a daily Chicago-Florida train.

Fast forward 50 years and Florida has tripled its population to 21.8 million, and the Orlando area is one of the entire world’s largest tourism meccas. But the Chicago service is long gone, and service from the Northeast is down to two trains, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star, with the Star meandering all over Florida on a leisurely schedule. (And, this winter, Amtrak suspended the Meteor and is running only the Star.) Pre-pandemic, the Star would typically carry two sleepers and four coaches but in winter it normally carried the two sleepers and only three coaches, indicating Amtrak regards winter as an off-peak season for Florida. After all, who in the Northeast would want to go to Florida then?

In a recent email exchange with a friend, we agreed that 1972 was likely the creative peak year in Amtrak’s history. In addition to five trains to Florida (including one from Chicago) and the fastest schedule ever on the Florida Special, Amtrak also ran the Super Chief and Chief that summer (and they were still basically high-class Santa Fe trains), there was a Boston-Los Angeles through sleeper in conjunction with the Southern, there were run-through trains Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis and New York-St. Louis-Kansas City, plus the “experimental” North Coast Hiawatha route and the recently assembled through-route between Los Angeles and Seattle, the Coast Starlight, which became Amtrak’s most popular long distance train.

None of that is even imaginable today.

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Our thanks to the editors of MinnARP News for permission to reprint these two articles.

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