Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

General discussion of passenger rail proposals and systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

Moderators: gprimr1, mtuandrew

SouthernRailway
Posts: 1498
Joined: Fri May 27, 2011 8:27 pm

Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by SouthernRailway » Sun May 12, 2013 8:06 am

In the Parade of Trains this weekend, I walked through a few observation cars, such as for the Boston-Chicago "New England States", and s Southern Pacific "Overland" car that had a barbershop. The sleeping cars that I walked through also had boxes in the walls of the roomettes and the like where a passenger would leave shoes to be shined.

Question: How in the world did pre-Amtrak railroads make any money on these services?

* Observation cars: they have plenty of non-revenue space in them, with just a few seats in the lounge area.
* Barbershop: There is no way that this could have been profitable.
* Shoe shines: I would expect that the passenger would have had to pay for this service (correct?), but I can't see unionized railroad employees jumping to do it.

Were sleeping car fares after WWII just so high that sleeping cars were so profitable that these services were considered a necessary cost of business? Or did railroads realize that these services were a financial black hole right from the start?

electricron
Posts: 4640
Joined: Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:35 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by electricron » Sun May 12, 2013 10:12 am

SouthernRailway wrote:In the Parade of Trains this weekend, I walked through a few observation cars, such as for the Boston-Chicago "New England States", and s Southern Pacific "Overland" car that had a barbershop. The sleeping cars that I walked through also had boxes in the walls of the roomettes and the like where a passenger would leave shoes to be shined.

Question: How in the world did pre-Amtrak railroads make any money on these services?

* Observation cars: they have plenty of non-revenue space in them, with just a few seats in the lounge area.
* Barbershop: There is no way that this could have been profitable.
* Shoe shines: I would expect that the passenger would have had to pay for this service (correct?), but I can't see unionized railroad employees jumping to do it.

Were sleeping car fares after WWII just so high that sleeping cars were so profitable that these services were considered a necessary cost of business? Or did railroads realize that these services were a financial black hole right from the start?
Didn't Pullman operate the sleeper cars, not the railroad companies?

Back in those days Pullman staff was paid far less than what Amtrak pays today, and made most of their income on tips. The more services they provided, the larger the tip they should have received. Today, few passengers tip, therefore fewer services are provided.

jaystreetcrr
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:25 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by jaystreetcrr » Sun May 12, 2013 11:31 am

This kind of service was equivalent to first class airline service these days, or even more so. Most of us proles were riding the day coaches and may have had access to a decent dining car but not much else. This also reflects the general slobification of American culture. Even first class airline passengers today fly in sweatpants and flipflops and get premixed cocktails and reheated Styrofoam dinners served by overworked underpaid flight attendants.
Railroads looked on stuff like that as "loss leaders" that enhanced their public image....actual pride in the company rather than the bottom line. And Pullman porters weren't just cheap subservient help. Check out some history of A. Phillip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleepingcar Porters. These guys were educated, politically aware and did a lot for the civil rights movement.

mtuandrew
Posts: 5920
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 2:59 am
Location: the Manassas Gap Independent Line

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by mtuandrew » Sun May 12, 2013 3:22 pm

Every so often, a new company attempts to "bring back" this level of luxury train travel. Inevitably each new company fails bankrupt because it doesn't have the base of regular mail and high-priority freight to support de luxe passenger service. Maybe Pullman Rail Journeys will succeed by building off Amtrak's regularly scheduled service, but the demand is near-nil and the price point is necessarily high because of the lack of inexpensive labor (the activism of Pullman porters and their eventual success notwithstanding.)

ExCon90
Posts: 4423
Joined: Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:22 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by ExCon90 » Mon May 13, 2013 1:26 pm

In addition to the points made above, the era we're speaking of was one in which virtually all intercity passenger travel was by rail; this meant that industrial traffic managers, (think the top guys at General Motors, General Mills, General Electric, etc., etc., etc.) traveled by train everywhere they went, and if somebody had a bad meal in the diner, or something didn't work in a Pullman, the railroad would hear about it, and might even lose some important freight traffic to a competitor for a while. The passenger service was regarded as a showcase to impress shippers -- more like an advertising expense than a profit center.

The answer to the OP's Question is: they didn't -- and so Amtrak was created. The shoeshines were "free," (and a professional job, too) but a tip was expected.

mtuandrew
Posts: 5920
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 2:59 am
Location: the Manassas Gap Independent Line

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by mtuandrew » Mon May 13, 2013 1:55 pm

ExCon90 wrote:In addition to the points made above, the era we're speaking of was one in which virtually all intercity passenger travel was by rail; this meant that industrial traffic managers, (think the top guys at General Motors, General Mills, General Electric, etc., etc., etc.) traveled by train everywhere they went, and if somebody had a bad meal in the diner, or something didn't work in a Pullman, the railroad would hear about it, and might even lose some important freight traffic to a competitor for a while. The passenger service was regarded as a showcase to impress shippers -- more like an advertising expense than a profit center.

The answer to the OP's Question is: they didn't -- and so Amtrak was created. The shoeshines were "free," (and a professional job, too) but a tip was expected.
The above reference to Generals is why you don't see the same train service patterns as you did in the 1940s and 1950s. No more Detroit-Pittsburgh, Chicago-Detroit-Toronto, Detroit-Erie-Buffalo or Detroit-Cleveland/Akron service without a bus connection. Vastly reduced service Chicago-Minneapolis, Chicago-Kansas City, Chicago-Omaha, Chicago-upstate New York-NYC, Chicago-Ohio-Pittsburgh. Same with service to the newer industrial centers (Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix.) Once the expense accounts left the rails, so did the incentive to provide more than the base necessities... we're really rather lucky that Amtrak, VIA and the commuter agencies have preserved, rebuilt and improved what they have, and left the skeleton for rail to fill an expanded role again.

ExCon90
Posts: 4423
Joined: Thu Sep 18, 2008 1:22 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by ExCon90 » Mon May 13, 2013 4:49 pm

Speaking of that, there were once two railroads providing competing overnight sleeping cars between Akron and New York (three, if the B&O sleeper went through to New York). Who would use them now?

jaystreetcrr
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:25 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by jaystreetcrr » Mon May 13, 2013 10:14 pm

Mail contracts also provided a lot of revenue for passenger trains. Once those went to airlines and trucks it was all but over.

Adirondacker
Posts: 601
Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 9:00 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by Adirondacker » Tue May 14, 2013 12:40 am

SouthernRailway wrote: Question: How in the world did pre-Amtrak railroads make any money on these services?
Did they?
SouthernRailway wrote:Shoe shines: I would expect that the passenger would have had to pay for this service (correct?), but I can't see unionized railroad employees jumping to do it.
Union employees didn't start to do it until 1935. They didn't have a contract until 1937.

The Brotherhood of Pullman Car Porters wasn't recognized as being the representative of the porters until 1935 and didn't sign a contract with the Pullman company until 1937.

David Benton
Posts: 8667
Joined: Thu Mar 11, 2004 11:29 pm
Location: New Zealand

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by David Benton » Tue May 14, 2013 3:01 am

I would add that this appears to be the case in the USA. Similar services around the world, (Canada, Australia, South Africa ), have been successful.
I am not sure what the reason for this is. It does appear that USA operators struggle to add "Glam" to their services.
Moderator worldwide railfan , Rail travel & trip reports
The only train trips I regret are the ones I didn't take.

jaystreetcrr
Posts: 132
Joined: Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:25 pm

Re: Streamliner services no longer offered: why?

Post by jaystreetcrr » Tue May 14, 2013 8:48 am

All of the above. Competing railroads looking to enhance their public image and attract business, a relatively well-compensated work force that took pride in their job, the guaranteed revenue from mail contracts, and a different attitude towards life and luxury. Today, Amtrak and other commercial passenger transport exists to move people from Point A to Point B with the fewest possible frills. Apart from dome cars out west, Amtrak has no incentive to offer any amenities. I recall the yowling from train haters in Congress a few years back over losses from dining cars, and the push to serve prefab "meals" from outside contractors.
Today, the people who would have been riding luxury streamliners are in private jets. Even first class airline passengers have to undergo the same security hassles and Greyhound-with-wings experience as everyone else.
I haven't ridden high speed rail in the rest of the world but I imagine they're more about speed and efficiency than shoeshines and barbershops. Those "cruise trains" are probably the only place you can ever recreate those good ole days that aren't coming back.

Return to “General Discussion - Passenger Rail”