Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


There be trains!
September 18, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

The Amtrak photo gallery. Photos ranging from the familiar to the unusual to "What the heck is that thing?", more than 6,000 photos spanning over 30 years of Amtrak equipment & stations.
posted by drstein (49 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does it include pictures from "Moon Amtrak Day"?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:35 PM on September 18, 2006


Man, the site is as slow as the real thing.
posted by c13 at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


*derails post*
posted by Kwine at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2006


What!? I'm just saying...
posted by c13 at 3:15 PM on September 18, 2006


"What the heck is that thing?" = TurboTrain.
posted by mcwetboy at 3:18 PM on September 18, 2006


Wasn't talking to you, c13, sorry. Supposed to be a self-referential pun on "derail"-coz this is a train post! DERAIL! Trains have rails! Get it? Isn't that funny? No? ok.
posted by Kwine at 3:32 PM on September 18, 2006


I got it, Kwine. :)
posted by brundlefly at 3:36 PM on September 18, 2006


Another gallery that I had never seen before.

Some of the old photos are interesting not only for their subject matter but for the things that you see in the background of the photos. Cars driving around, the clothes people were wearing. Old 70's stuff is neat because of how people imagined things would be in "the Year 2000." Sure, most of it was crap and they were wrong, but it's still interesting. :) I think that the "TurboTrain" is a good example.
posted by drstein at 3:56 PM on September 18, 2006


What's so unusual about the "unusual" photo?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:58 PM on September 18, 2006


Train geeks are truly amazing:
The first run of the Amfleet cars and new F-40PH's with SDP-40F 525 leading 224 and 223 in May of 1976. The 525 was on the point as the F-40's hadn't had their Automatic Train Stop shoes added yet.
posted by heydanno at 4:00 PM on September 18, 2006


What's so unusual about the "unusual" photo?

Exactly. Now this is unusual (and cool).
posted by ericb at 4:14 PM on September 18, 2006


Steam, even -- no wonder they're never on time...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 4:24 PM on September 18, 2006


When I was over for the first time, I took a train from Michigan to Texas.
And the station in Ann Arbor is not large. And the station in Austin is not large. And the train...

...

...

compared to our rather politely ineffective choo-choos in England, Amtrak trains look like epic silvered siege engines. They start here and they end somewhere over there, probably. Two stories tall. Transparent viewing carriages. Air conditioned. Quiet. Room to sit inside - I swear it.

I was awake on that journey for over two days and it was very nearly a pleasure. Why big America never appreciated and invested in their train systems, I've no idea.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 4:40 PM on September 18, 2006


Wasn't talking to you, c13, sorry.

Heh. No, it's my fault.

compared to our rather politely ineffective choo-choos in England

At least you guys have them. Down here in the South, the pictures on this site is about as close as you can get to an actual train. I think there is like one Amtrak station in the whole of Tennessee.
posted by c13 at 5:10 PM on September 18, 2006


The problem is population density. There are a lot of people in the US, but there's also a lot of land here and we average a lot more spread out than Europe does.

There are only a few places in the US where rail actually makes sense in the age of jet travel: the NE corrider (Boston/NYC/Washington), Texas (Houston/Dallas) and southern California (San Diego/LA).

But the expense of maintaining tracks and cars and paying all the crew and expenses means that an honestly-priced ticket by train to travel from (for instance) Chicago to Los Angeles would not only cost much more than a trip by air, but it would also take a hell of a lot longer and be more uncomfortable.

Passenger rail died economically in the US in the 1950's about the time that the big commercial passenger aircraft started being built. The rail companies continued to run their passenger trains as loss leaders, mostly for public relations reasons, but it eventually became clear that it just didn't make sense any more.

Amtrak was created as a nationalized company mostly because of nostalgia. It has never broken even; it is heavily subsidized every year. The only place where Amtrak's operations actually pay for themselves is the NE corrider; the entire rest of the system bleeds money in bucketfuls and always will.

I love riding passenger trains -- but they don't make any sense in the US in this day-and-age.

From LA to Chicago as the crow flies is 2800 kilometers. Because of the Rocky Mountains and suchlike, the actual distance by rail is a lot longer than that. It's only 2500 kilometers from Paris to Moscow. From LA to NYC is 3900 kilometers, which is about the same as the distance between Paris and Baghdad.

If Europe were that spread out, do you think they'd rely as heavily on rail for intercity transportation? Of course not, and that's why Americans don't either. It takes five nights on a train to get from LA to NYC; you can fly it in six hours.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:12 PM on September 18, 2006


I have to be very careful not to read any numbers or train details, because I'll only start remembering it, and if I do that I'm going to become a train geek in very short order. I love looking at the big things thundering past, and I don't want it to go further than that.

There's something truly fantastic about the big 30-car freights that cross the US. Their size is incomprehendible to a Brit, and the first time I heard the horn of one wailing across a Louisiana town at 2am like a minor chord of the soul I was smitten.
posted by bonaldi at 5:24 PM on September 18, 2006


30 cars? That's all? I've seen 120 car freights; it's amazing that such a thing can move at all, let alone go as fast as they often go.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:27 PM on September 18, 2006


O, I didn't actually count them -- that would make a me a train geek. When I say 30, I mean lots. And lots. It seemed to move at about 10 miles an hour. I assume that's town speed -- they surely don't cross the country at that pace.
posted by bonaldi at 5:43 PM on September 18, 2006


And the station in Austin is not large.

Nope, the waiting area is only about twice the size of my living room. It also appears to have not been touched since approximately 1982, which is neat in a retro sort of way.

My wife and I (both train geeks) used to get bored and take Amtrak to San Antonio on the weekend then immediately (well, as "immediately" as we could on Amtrak; sometimes this was a 2-3 hour layover) take the train back to Austin just for fun. It cost less than $50 for the both of us, round-trip.
posted by mrbill at 5:55 PM on September 18, 2006


ericb: unusual because on the West coast, all we saw were the F40PH units. Ie, "familiar." :) I always dreamed of travelling to the East coast just so I could see the "unusual" stuff.
posted by drstein at 6:02 PM on September 18, 2006


Amtrak was created as a nationalized company mostly because of nostalgia. It has never broken even; it is heavily subsidized every year. The only place where Amtrak's operations actually pay for themselves is the NE corrider; the entire rest of the system bleeds money in bucketfuls and always will.

Exactly right. Congressional reps see that their districts get passenger rail, even where it's unprofitable, by ransoming Amtrak's subsidies. Then Amtrak takes the blame as if any company could sustain itself under those circumstances. David Gunn was right that commuter systems in America need public funding for infrastructure; all other systems except big rail get that kind of support without question. The board shouldn't have fired him. He was cutting away the waste in the company, in the top-heavy management as well as simple practical things.
posted by zennie at 6:11 PM on September 18, 2006


Woah, woah, woah. They don't make any sense? Ever tried hijacking a train and slamming it into a skyscraper?
posted by keswick at 6:12 PM on September 18, 2006


I just dug up the pictures I took of the Houston Amtrak station when we took the train to Biloxi in early '05.
posted by mrbill at 6:17 PM on September 18, 2006


Didn't you ever see Silver Streak?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:22 PM on September 18, 2006


But the expense of maintaining tracks and cars and paying all the crew and expenses means that an honestly-priced ticket by train to travel from (for instance) Chicago to Los Angeles would not only cost much more than a trip by air, but it would also take a hell of a lot longer and be more uncomfortable.

That assumes you don't have a two hour wait for 'security' plus an hour drive to the airport. Train stations could (in theory) be put in the middle of town, and don't require a security check.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on September 18, 2006


It's only 2500 kilometers from Paris to Moscow. From LA to NYC is 3900 kilometers, which is about the same as the distance between Paris and Baghdad.


Yeah, but from Moscow to Novosibirsk (geographical center of Russia, or so they claim) it's 3191 km, and to Vladivostok it's 9302 km. And there isn't a hell of a lot in between. But there are at least 2 trains departing from Moscow every day in that direction. I've ridden those trains and, if you're riding first class, especially first class by western standards, the trip would not be all that bad at all. Considering that you don't have to submit to 20 cavity searches prior to being crammed into a tiny seat for several hours without access to pretty much anything nowdays, if there is no hurry, I would take the train over an airplane any day.
posted by c13 at 6:28 PM on September 18, 2006


I am related by blood to a train geek. He got that way at around 3 years old (along about the same time he got fixated with the musical stylings of Tina Turner.)

We took advantage of Amtrak's North American rail pass in 2004 as an adventure. It was my Christmas present to him in 2003. The deal was that I would pay the $$$ so long as he would do the itinerary.

It was an extraordinary adventure for us. There were more high points than low. But, for us, the journey was the trip rather than the destinations. All the destinations were wonderful because they were pre-planned. I can say that Canada's Via Rail was outstanding in the categories of service and equipment.
posted by maggieb at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2006


Delmoi, a lot of people were killed in Madrid when trains were bombed.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2006


Passenger rail died economically in the US in the 1950's about the time that the big commercial passenger aircraft started being built.

Concurrent factors: Development of the Interstate Highway System and increased car ownership got Americans accustomed to private travel (intercity bus ridership took a big hit around the same time.)

Also, many feel the federal government's heavy regulation left the industry unable to respond effectively to new challenges (though, in fairness, this was probably a problem since the 1930s or earlier.)
posted by Opposite George at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2006


Besides, and I realize that this sounds bizarre to most americans, but the Earth will not fly off its orbit if some things are done for reasons other than pure profit. Like, you know, conserving oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, etc.
posted by c13 at 6:32 PM on September 18, 2006


Train stations could (in theory) be put in the middle of town...

But in most places in the US, few people live in the middle of town and usually there's nowhere to park long term. It's generally easier to get to the airport than the train station.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 PM on September 18, 2006


too bad the photos arnt higher res. but a good resource none the less.
posted by mibs at 6:51 PM on September 18, 2006


What gets me is how hard it must be to drive them without falling off the tracks. Those rails are really narrow!
posted by aubilenon at 6:54 PM on September 18, 2006


I am not a train geek, but I have ridden Amtrak half a dozen times. It worked, and was a nice change of pace.

It irks me that everybody always gripes about the subsidies that Amtrak gets. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe most large rail lines throughout the world are heavily subsidized; very few turn a profit. The governments simply view rail as a reasonable alternative to more roads and traffic, etc.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:55 PM on September 18, 2006


I always dreamed of travelling to the East coast just so I could see the "unusual" stuff.

Yes -- to us on the Northeast corridor the Acela Express is commonplace.


posted by ericb at 7:46 PM on September 18, 2006


I believe most large rail lines throughout the world are heavily subsidized; very few turn a profit.

Yes - and it's not like the US and local governments don't heavily subsidize road and air transport.* Many of these subsidies are indirect and difficult to identify. OTOH, Amtrak is an easy target for critics because its subsidies are direct and easy to identify, even though they're lost in the noise compared to the rest of the federal budget.

Ultimately, as you suggest, it comes down to government priorities, which come down to politics. Though I'm a fan of passenger trains, I can understand why many feel it's time to pull the plug. But posturing about the subsidies while ignoring other, more difficult to quantify social benefits and costs is a pretty half-assed way to reach that conclusion.

*And it's not like air passenger transport is phenomenally profitable lately either.
posted by Opposite George at 8:01 PM on September 18, 2006


Train stations could (in theory) be put in the middle of town, and don't require a security check.

Odd that you should say that. Yesterday when i rode amtrak the conductor threatened to throw 2 minors (riding alone) for not having ID so he could match the names on the tickets. Keeping in mind that the ticket signature is an agreement to pay the credit card company for the cost of the charge, which minors cannot legally be bound to anyway.

BTW i loathe amtrak.
posted by MrLint at 8:28 PM on September 18, 2006


I don't get this "subsidies" argument either. What about the interstate system? Or government airline bailouts?
But here's what gets me the most: we're spending $246 million a DAY in Iraq, and people seem to be fine with that. But when it comes to developing alternative, high throughput, very efficient mode of transportation we all of a sudden become hyper-rational capitalists. Schizophrenia, anyone?
If we really develop light rail system, think of all the extra people it would employ. Engineers, mechanics, electricians, service personnel, etc, etc. Jobs that stay here in the States. Is that not worth the investment?
posted by c13 at 8:30 PM on September 18, 2006


No trackee, no tickee...
posted by cenoxo at 10:18 PM on September 18, 2006


Is that not worth the investment?

No, it isn't. All those jobs you describe? Those are the reasons why it isn't worth the investment.

We could massively increase farm employment by outlawing all farm machinery and returning to the good old days where everything on a farm was done by hand. But who'd want to? It wouldn't make any sense at all economically.

But when it comes to developing alternative, high throughput, very efficient mode of transportation we all of a sudden become hyper-rational capitalists.

That's the problem: it isn't efficient. It's horribly inefficient.

You're leaving out the biggest factor as to why: the productivity lost by all the passengers who traveling slowly when they could be traveling fast.

I looked it up this afternoon to make sure: NYC (LaGuardia) to LA via Chicago is about 10 hours by air, and fully 56 hours by rail. Anyone forced to do that round trip by rail instead of by air loses 4 days that they could be working, and that's a huge economic loss to the national economy.

If rail really was "very efficient" economically, it would never have fallen out of use. The reason everyone who could do so switched to air travel as soon as possible starting in the 1950's was that in overall economic terms, counting all relevant expenses (not just ticket price), air travel was a lot cheaper.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:52 PM on September 18, 2006


More localized rail systems are a good idea, like the Metra system (with all its problems) in and around Chicago. When I lived in the Detroit area I always hated that there wasn't a commuter train system linking the burbs to the city.
posted by black bile at 10:59 PM on September 18, 2006


I think black bile hits it on the head. Air travel between NY, Chicago and LA makes sense. Train travel between Boston and NY or DC (or between Chicago and Geneva, IL) makes sense. Amtrak started service between Boston and Portland in 2002 and ridership numbers have been very good. The route is heavily subsidized by government, however.

As for the longest frieght, in the U.S. I believe it was over 500 cars.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:25 AM on September 19, 2006


You're leaving out the biggest factor as to why: the productivity lost by all the passengers who traveling slowly when they could be traveling fast.

As opposed to driving, where the productivity drops to zero?

You are right in that there's a limit to the time they'll spend, but it's not 45 minutes. HST can link most of the east coast and Midwest cities into 3 hour or less connections, from city center to city center. HST from St. Louis to Chicago would be *faster* than flying, given the security problems and intramodal transfer times. HST from San Francisco to Los Angeles might be three times faster, given the traffic density issues.

The reason Amtrak can't do this now is complex, but it boils down to subsidies:

1) Amtrak doesn't have the right to upgrade lines, so they're stuck on vast swaths of Class 4 track that limits Amtrak to 80 mph. Worse, Amtrak is buying running time on that track, and often gets caught by freights limited to 60 mph on that same track, and to this day, large amounts of this track is unwired single track, which means everyone is running on track warrants, which limits everyone to near the same speed. They can't upgrade the track, they don't have, aren't allowed to acquire, and aren't given the capital to do so.

2) Airlines fight tooth and nail to prevent this. One of the ideal setups for HST is the Texas Triangle -- Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. It was killed, due to pressure from a coaltion lead by Southwest Airlines.

3) Trucking interests do everything they can to make sure that the US doesn't upgrade the rail infrastructer beyond Category 4, because that means that Trucks are faster than Trains. They fought the Acela service hard, despite the fact that it would never carry cargo, because they were afraid that it would lead to more track being upgraded that would.

4) Rail interests, such as they are, aren't particularlly interested in upgrading their track and certainly don't want Amtrak to have its own track that it can carry cargo on in competition to them.

Former Amtrak president David Gunn was told, point blank, by Congress that Amtrak had to operate without any subsidy whatsoever. His respone, made directly to John McCain1, was simple.

1) *No* transportation system in the US operates without massive public subsidy. We do a better job of hiding it for air, sea and road, but we dump billions into all of them. Amtrak is unique that its funding comes from operating revenue and a single budget line from congress. All the others are muddled in off-budget fee transfers, state and local taxes, and the like, but Amtrak (like many public transport systems based on trains) stands out because of that quirk in budget.

2) That he (Mr. Gunn) would be happy to operate with zero federal subisdy, if the commuter airlines in Airzona would do the same. McCain had no reply to this, because he knolws just how much subsidy the airlines, esp. the small ones in the west, really get.

Of course, being this plain spoken gets you nowhere. He pissed off the wrong people, and was fired in 2005, which means that Amtrak isn't long for this world.

9/11 happens, and Amtrak kept running. The response for this? $15 billion in subsidy -- to the airlines.

We can't get rid of air travel, true. It's nearly 6 hours from NYC to LA, by air. But there's large swaths of the nation that don't need air travel, that would be served, in a vastly improved way, by High Speed Trains.

I'm not particularlly happy coughing up billions to the airline and trucking industries so they can keep this from happening.

1) Among McCain's beefs are a valid complaint -- Amtrak no longer services Phoenix, AZ. Why? Because the freight line that the trains are was closed by the owner of the track, and Amtrak couldn't get the money to buy the track or at least get a long term lease and do the maintenance. So, Amtrak was forced out of Phoenix.
posted by eriko at 5:50 AM on September 19, 2006


Amtrak started service between Boston and Portland in 2002 and ridership numbers have been very good. The route is heavily subsidized by government, however.

Look at the money the airlines get for flights to Portland, ME, and money for the interstates, and money for the airports/ATC, etc. etc. etc.
posted by eriko at 5:51 AM on September 19, 2006


good stuff, eriko.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 7:46 AM on September 19, 2006


A few years ago, I decided to go to two conventions on consecutive weekends, one in Toronto and one in Dallas. Then two other friends of mine decided to do the same thing.

"Well," I said, "let's go really nuts and do it by train." They came to New York City, we caught the train to Toronto, then on the following monday caught the train out of Toronto to Chicago, stayed overnight in Chicago, and thence boarded for Dallas.

Other than the immense boredom that was Union Station, it was a pretty cool trip overall. We hung out, we watched the world go by, we talked, played some card games, and just relaxed.

Sure, we could have done it faster, flying all the way. It might even have been cheaper. But you know what? We had a chance to unwind, relax, decompress in between two fairly high-people-pressure situations, and that really helped me enjoy things.

That's getting lost in the arguments about how 'efficient' it is. Sometimes it's not about efficient. Sometimes, it's about inefficiency, about relaxation, and about unwinding.
posted by mephron at 8:02 AM on September 19, 2006


The Railroading of Amtrak

"The White House budget is much more generous with other kinds of transportation..."

Iraq's railways and Amtrak.
posted by Floydd at 8:54 AM on September 19, 2006


I love Amtrak... it's the best way to travel, ever.
posted by grimcity at 12:04 PM on September 19, 2006


Look at the money the airlines get for flights to Portland, ME, and money for the interstates, and money for the airports/ATC, etc. etc. etc.

No argument there.

3) Trucking interests do everything they can to make sure that the US doesn't upgrade the rail infrastructer beyond Category 4, because that means that Trucks are faster than Trains...

I worked for a railroad during part of my misspent youth, and there were times that management would "encourage" us to write our representatives in congress to vote down spending for non-rail transportation bills, so this cuts both ways, I suppose.

4) Rail interests, such as they are, aren't particularlly interested in upgrading their track and certainly don't want Amtrak to have its own track that it can carry cargo on in competition to them.

That was very evident when the State of Maine was trying to get the track owners to increase the allowable speed that the Amtrak passenger trains could travel. This boggled my mind at the time, but based on what you've said it's just the freight haulers looking out for their interests.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:09 PM on September 19, 2006


« Older Free Movies, Documentaries, Cartoons, TV-Shows, Mu...  |  Elephant sanctuary.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments