All Aboard Exhibit ... Passenger Train Travel
Brief History of the U S Passenger Rail Industry
The relative speed and ability to travel regardless of the weather made rail travel attractive to travelers. By 1840, 2818 miles of track were laid down; by the start of the Civil War 30,000 miles of track had been laid.
70,000 additional miles of track were laid in the 1880’s, linking increasing number of towns and cities. Rail travel tripled between 1896 and 1916, the pinnacle for rail travel in terms of numbers was 1920, with trains carrying 1.2 billion passengers.
During WWII the federal government has ‘nationalized’ the trains. Each railroad company was guaranteed a new operating income regardless of their actual income. Any amount above the net income went back to the government. As WWII expanded in Europe, passenger trains became overloaded with the massive movement of troops to and from various forts and staging areas around the country.
Many railroads recognized that the increase in passenger travel during the war would probably be temporary, but most executives were not prepared for the extent of decline in passenger travel that would occur over the next decade. New diesel engines and thousands of passenger cars were ordered soon after the end of the war in 1945, reflecting the hopeful outlook of the railroads for the future of passenger travel.
In addition to the delay in production and the resultant inability to immediately capture the post war boom in travel and trade, a variety of other factors contributed to the decline of the railroads. The railroads were perceived as trying to discourage passenger travel in favor of the more lucrative freight business. Fares were raised an service on trains was decreased. Reduction in railroad advertising budgets; increased competition by automobiles, buses and planes; elimination of government subsidies; excise tax on tickets and increased municipal property taxes all added expenses and hindered the railroads ability to make improvement sin passenger travel.
Bankruptcies, mergers, and acquisitions of many railroad companies occurred during the second half of the 20th century, due to a decrease in passenger travel and freight and mail service. By 1970, airlines carried 73% of passenger travel. Railroads carried a scant 7.2%. A national rail passenger system – AMTRAK – was created in 1971. Seen as a way of providing some balance to transportation options and with a view to reducing automobile traffic congestion. Amtrak’s image rose during the oil embargo of the mid 1970’s, but the increase in ridership was not maintained.
Source: Duke Libraries
Rail Transport in the US
Railroad mileage increase
1850 – 9021
1860 – 30,626
1870 – 52,914
1880 – 93,301
1890 – 129,774
Trains Across the Continent
Early Passenger Accommodations
The early railroads stopped anywhere along the tracks to pick up passengers or freight. Nevertheless, most people gathered at the nearest way house along the track and waited for the train. Innkeepers were hired by the railroad to sell passage on the train.
The train station or depot quickly became the center of all the town’s activities.
The inn-station was one of the few conveniences of early train travel. As distances increased, the train would often stop for passengers to gulp down a quick meal. Sometimes only 20 minutes were allowed. Passengers often stayed overnight at one of these inns during a long rip. By the late 1830’s wooden planks on ropes were used for people to rest or sleep in the cars. A few railroads had cars designated specifically for ladies with wash basins and changing rooms by the early 1840’s.
Children took advantage of the early inconveniences of rail travel. During winter they would heat stones near the tracks and sell them to passengers to warm their hands and feet. Some carried water, snacks and a local newspaper to the people. By the 1840’s they would travel on the trains themselves and were welcomed by the crew.
The Traveling Public
People liked to travel by train right from the beginning. They were fascinated by the new technology. In fact, it probably was the first truly technological device most people had ever seen. As they rode on the train they were in awe of the speed. The train brought about a different relationship between people and the land. They became ‘observers’ of the landscape. The journey became a leaving one place and arriving at another rather than the difficulties and discomfort of the trip itself.
People caught Oregon Fever - they would travel to St Louis where they would purchase horses and a prairie schooner. They would then join with others to form a wagon train to cross the remainder of the continent to Oregon. Soon others branched off to California (Gold Rush) or Texas.
The first sleeping cars came into use at this time. In 1843, coaches were modified into the first true sleeper. They used seat cushions to turn the benches into rudimentary couches. No linens or blankets were furnished. It did use candles to keep the cars lit at night. Passengers clamored to ride in these cars but were soon removed from service because they added too much weight and made the train slow down.
Just before the Civil War, a number of cars were built with berths rather than seats and restrooms at each end. These sleepers became immediately popular. During the Civil War the Wagner Palace Car Company had over 300 sleepers in use on American railroads with in a few decades. They also built parlor cars with large comfortable chairs that could be moved from place to place.
Passengers found train travel more comfortable as well as faster by the end of the century. Lighting coaches was a major problem. Kerosene lamps had replaced candles by the civil war. While they provided better light, they were a fire hazard, dirty and each had to be maintained as a separate unit.
On many trains, the porter announced dinner seatings with musical chimes. Only the finest meals appeared on the tables covered with the very best silverware. Each railroad designed and labeled plates of the finest china available. Every passenger could look forward to a culinary delight and top service in the diner. During the 1920’s railroads served about 60,000 meals a day at a loss of $9 million.
Most long distance trains ended with an observation car. Until the 1930’s the car had an open observation platform at the rear. Railroads displayed their heralds just above the coupler.
No matter which overnight train or railroad, Pullman always represented the best of ‘sleep in safety and comfort’. During the 1920’s ,approximately 100,000 people slept every night and everywhere across the nation in a Pullman.
On 1927 Pullman issued its first all private room car. It consisted of 14 rooms of 33 square feet. Each room had its own toilet and washstand. The fare was 25% above the regular train ticket.
During the 1930’s Pullman operated a pool of 9,000 sleeping cars.
Tickets and Fares
In 1929, a ride from Chicago to Omaha on the Rock Island Railroad
Coach - $3
Pullman lower berth - 4.50
Pullman upper berth - 3.60
Compartment - $12.75
All Aboard Exhibit Sponsors
James Bathon Research and design
Two suitcases on freight cart
Larry Melton Rail tie with spike from Promontory
Rory Melville Wood MKT Boarding Step
Edith Knight Antique Trunk filled with clothes
Antique Trunk used to ship bolts of fabric
Kathleen Boswell Suitcases
Deborah Biermann MoPac sign in school bldg exhibit
(PL’s WWII uniform, duffel bag & tote
Ken Bird Time tables in commercial building exhibit
Carolyn Miller Vintage Clothes in telegraph windows, on passenger train seat, in Dining Car exhibit and in Pullman exhibit
Mike Albin, A & B Auto Reupholstered passenger train seat
Tom Taylor MoPac souvenir plate
Use of postcards
Gary Cox Model dining, sleeper & lounge cars