Here’s a fun little project: an interactive timeline of Amtrak’s passenger rail routes from its inauguration in 1971 through to the current day. Using the extensive Amtrak timetable archives over at the Museum of Railway Timetables (well worth a visit!), I’ve created maps in five year increments — 1971, 1976, 1981, etc. — that show the changing face of passenger rail in the United States over the last 40-plus years. Five year periods seemed to be a good compromise between showing long term trends and an awful lot of hard work. As it is, I still had to draw 12 separate maps! Similarly, the maps do indicate frequency, but only in very general categories of “Multiple Services Daily”, “Daily Service” and “Less than Daily Service”… thick, thin and dashed lines respectively.
The slideshow above allows you to compare years by clicking on the dots below the map. The slideshow doesn’t automatically advance, so you can take your time looking at each one. Flip back and forth between two different years if you want!
- The first map reflects the services as advertised in Amtrak’s inaugural timetable booklet from May, 1971. As the timetable had to be prepared, printed and distributed in advance of opening day, it doesn’t reflect the fact that some railroads — notably, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRGW) and the Southern Railway (SOU) — decided at the eleventh hour to not join the new national rail corporation. As a result, some of the lines didn’t operate as shown on this map when Amtrak commenced service. In some cases, it took several years before these routes came under Amtrak’s full control or were abandoned completely. I decided to include this map as a reminder of the original operating plan, sort of an unfulfilled Utopian dream.
- As a result, the second map (from July 1971) better reflects what Amtrak actually looked like in those early times, with those few holdout competing railroads also indicated in grey.
- Because of the five year increments, it’s possible that some short-lived routes have slipped through the cracks. I apologise in advance if your favourite is missing.
- I’ve tried my best to indicate major route changes — such as the Sunset Limited‘s 1996 change from Phoenix to Maricopa — when they’ve occurred, but please do let me know if I’ve missed any.
- It’s very notable that changes to the network have slowed over the last 15 or so years, with only some very modest extensions and additions in that time, as well as the continued absence of the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.
- The 1991 map probably shows the network at its absolute zenith, with multiple routes out of Salt Lake City to the West Coast, multiple international routes to Montreal and Toronto, service to Mobile, AL and more! Note also the route to Atlantic City (now run by NJ Transit)… the 1991 timetable promotes the absolute heck out of this connection at every available opportunity.
As always, comments and corrections are most welcome!