Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on this platform on April 15, 2021 and has been updated with photographs added. – Corridorrail.com Editor
By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; July 19, 2022
A few random glimpses into the future of passenger rail in North America:
• There will be more than one passenger train company on many routes, restoring pre-Amtrak competition on competitive routes. The traveling public will have choices of departures, arrivals, accommodations and onboard services.
• Different levels of service will be available.
– There will be a restoration of high-amenities premium service trains, particularly on scenic routes where the train trip itself is the destination.
– A new level of “standard” service will be unveiled, similar to what is found today on Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak, but done better. These trains will provide transportation in a welcoming, pleasant environment with different levels of service including sleeping cars, business class/parlor cars, first class coach and standard coach. A much desired amenity will be baggage handling at every station with no restrictions on how much baggage a passenger may check as long as they are willing to pay per piece after an initial free amount.
– Corridor trains will provide short distance, feeder service to the long distance/inter-regional trains.
• Night trains will again become common.
• A mix of conventional-speed, higher-speed and high-speed passenger train services will be part of a nationwide service matrix. Higher-speed and high-speed trains will be available where commercially viable, but conventional-speed trains will be the bulk of the national system, feeding faster trains as appropriate.
• There will be a return of more long distance routes, both east-west and north-south. Intersecting routes will validate the matrix theory as each route feeds a crossing route. Both passengers and through-cars will conveniently change trains to reach a huge number of city-pairs.
• The embarrassing food fight over onboard food service will disappear and the realization will dawn on passenger train managers that food is a basic necessity of life which must be treated with greater respect than is afforded today.
• Passenger train stations will once again become centers of both transportation and commerce. The temples and palaces of the past will not be rebuilt, but a more sensible combination of stations and services as found today on Brightline in South Florida will become the standard template.
• Trains crossing the U.S./Canadian border will become more common in more border crossing locations. VIA Rail Canada and Amtrak and any combination of private Canadian and American passenger rail companies will work together to provide international service which will have terminals and service far beyond those of the few trains today.
• The Canadian Parliament will realize the restraints placed on VIA Rail Canada by not having a policy in place to give passenger trains some clout over freight train dispatching, either by improved train mile payments or negotiating a long-term agreement between VIA and the freights for passenger train fair access.
• VIA Rail Canada will figure out how to quell opposition to returning the Canadian to daily service, at least during seasonal peak times. Both Canadian Pacific and Canadian National will move beyond the constraints placed on their respective railroads by the initial horrors of precision scheduled railroading and as their systems become more fluid there will be more opportunities for better passenger train handling. A second frequency will be paired with the Canadian offering more of a transportation and less premium-service option.
• As time moves on, the last freight railroad executives and managers who believed passenger trains are nothing but a nuisance will either be retired or dead. As has already begun to happen, host railroad executives have become more and more friendly to passenger trains as a source of dependable revenue. New negotiations will take place which resolve differences between host railroads and passenger trains and new agreements will be made which are beneficial to both parties, including a higher and fairer level of train mile and dispatching compensation for the host railroads.
• The most important realization of all will rise to the surface: One size, one philosophy, one level of service of any kind does not fit all. Passengers are willing to pay for services they need and desire. Passenger train operators will stop leaving money on the table and instead seek to reasonably meet the different needs of as many types of passengers as possible.
• The printed timetable, available onboard every train and in an improved, more informative format, will make a comeback as a travel necessity.
• Passenger trains will stop being political footballs and instead become recognized as the economic generators the results constantly demonstrate them to be.