U.S., Ohio: Understanding for Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak and beyond the critical national implications of a Cincinnati route hub with car-lines to both east and west coasts

Editor’s Note: Guest Commentator William Lindley illuminates the concept of a new George Washington as a useful replacement for Stephen Gardner’s Amtrak Cardinal, creating a national impact on passenger train utility. – Corridorrail.com Editor

By William Lindley, Guest Commentator; June 6, 2022

Recently it was envisioned in this space that “The magnificent Cincinnati Union Terminal is once again seeing enough passenger service to regain its crown as the gateway to the Midwest.”

Cincinnati has the potential to return as a principal gateway to almost anywhere in North America. These possible car-lines at Cincinnati show selected stations of the notional George Washington and its new connecting trains. Just of the cities shown, the ones not currently served by intercity passenger rail have metropolitan populations (rounded) of: Evansville, Indiana 358,000; Louisville, Kentucky, 1,395,000; Nashville, Tennessee, 716,000; Lexington, Kentucky, 745,000; Knoxville, Tennessee, 1,097,000; Macon, Georgia, 157,000; Dayton, Ohio, 814,000 and Columbus, Ohio 2,139,000. Total population served in metro areas not currently with any intercity rail exceeds 7.5 million, connecting those cities and towns with the vast majority of the population of the Eastern United States. Map by William Lindley.

It may come as a surprise to some that trains are not airplanes, nor are they buses. In particular, trains are generally composed of multiple cars which have the capability of being coupled and uncoupled with relative ease. It was common until a few years ago for intercity trains to interchange cars between sections of other trains at intermediate stops.

Two sections of the Texas Eagle arrive at Dallas Union Station, April 1993. This view is from Reunion Tower. (All photos, William Lindley)

For example: At Dallas Union Station in 1993, here we see Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, arrived from Chicago (south track), split off a section for Houston (one coach and one sleeper on the north track; the locomotive will be later placed at the east end for its trip south to Houston). The main train will continue west to San Antonio, then in turn join the Sunset Limited for Los Angeles via Phoenix.

A few hours later, the northbound section of the Texas Eagle from Houston (in distance, center) arrives at Dallas Union Station, pulls through the station, and will add one coach and one sleeper to the northbound Eagle.

The capability of a train to serve any of its intermediate towns and cities with minor impact on long-distance schedules is a key asset.

Therefore: With a procedure like this at Cincinnati on the notional new George Washington, an arrival between 10 pm and midnight could be met by two trains. The first would leave St. Louis in the morning; serve Evansville, Indiana in the early afternoon; later in the afternoon at Louisville, Kentucky, and await the westbound George Washington. The second train would leave Detroit in the early afternoon, serving Toledo, Springfield, and Dayton, Ohio before likewise awaiting at Cincinnati.

Almost ready to board northbound passengers, the brakeman at left prepares to join the cars from Houston onto the Chicago-bound train. The Superliner at right will couple to the ex-Santa Fe Hi-Level coach at left.

A reasonable objection to the preceding paragraph is that surely no-one will wish to travel from St. Louis to Chicago via Cincinnati. Contrariwise, with the train itself being the destination, someone very well might. And because all these trains serve intermediate stations, there will be riders between St. Louis and Louisville, and between Evansville and Cincinnati. Remember that modern travelers routinely take an airplane from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago or Houston: as long as the departure and arrival times are convenient, the travel time is unimportant for many.

Louisville Union Station today has a single stub-end platform (to left just beyond edge of photo). Grand as this building is, Louisville might benefit from two stations: the smaller of which might be a revival of an existing station at Baxter Avenue, on the line from Cincinnati and Lexington, and potentially at the end of a downtown Market Street trolley. The primary station could be just south of downtown and Churchill Downs at the international airport; here, through-platforms could serve intercity and suburban trains traveling in all directions, with good city bus service and shuttles to the air terminals.

Yet what unleashes the ridership potential of even a small network is this: Just as both the eastbound and westbound Texas Eagles arrived within a few hours of each other at Dallas, we arrange the eastbound George Washington, or a second train on the same route operating on a reversed day/night schedule, to arrive about the same time, and for both east/west trains to depart together…at the same time, the two other trains are actually one, with the cars from St. Louis continuing to Detroit, and those from Detroit likewise on to St. Louis. Sleeping cars and business-class coaches will be interchanged between whichever combinations of trains where tickets can be sold. In passenger rail industry parlance, we create “car-lines” such as from St. Louis, and from Detroit, to Washington Union Station; and perhaps a sleeper from Louisville to Chicago.

Thus we see that both the eastbound and westbound George Washingtons feed into, and draw from, a large portion of the Midwest with this single point of connection. To this, consider adding two more routes: Cleveland–Columbus–Cincinnati–Louisville–Nashville–Memphis; and Chicago–South Bend–Elkhart–Fort Wayne–Cincinnati-Lexington, Kentucky–Knoxville–Atlanta–Macon–Jacksonville (with its eventual Brightline connection to Miami). Cincinnati then becomes truly a gateway city, opening up a huge matrix of possible travel origin/destination pairs, with through car-lines creating first-class and business-class revenue.

This early 1950s C&O timetable shows various car-lines and origins/destinations for the George Washington of its day. Car-lines were very popular and useful when railroads had no problems adding and subtracting cars from passenger trains on a routine basis. Internet image.

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