Amtrak and Houston in the 1970s
Amtrak operates trains between the cities of Longview, Texas, and Houston, Texas. The total distance is 193 miles. It takes about three hours and 32 minutes by car, and nineteen hours and twenty-four minutes by train. This is a fairly scenic journey. It passes through lakes and wooded areas of Louisiana and Texas. If you want a quick trip from Longview to Houston, you can also fly into the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. Amtrak Houston
While the train rides are pleasant, they do not offer the high-speed service of an airplane. Most of Amtrak's long-distance trains are chronically late, and the rolling stock that carries passengers shows signs of decades of neglect. There are also numerous complaints of inordinate delays, rough roadbeds, and malfunctioning air conditioning.
In the 1970s, gasoline shortages hit the ticket counters of Amtrak. When the oil shortages came to a head, gasoline was over 50 cents a gallon. However, by November 1973, the gasoline price had tapered off. The lack of gasoline made private automobiles more impractical.
As a result of the fuel crisis, Amtrak had to scramble to find a way to fill the void. It installed a small shuttle train between Fort Worth and Laredo in early 1973. A year later, the intercity rail passenger service was rerouted out of Houston. And in July 1974, the Amtrak trains arrived at the Southern Pacific Station.
The ICC implemented the "Adequacy of Intercity Rail Passenger Service" regulation. That meant that Amtrak had to provide free onward transportation to travelers who missed connections. At the same time, it had to provide free hotel rooms to those who missed the connection.
Meanwhile, the Klauder Report was released. It recommended that Amtrak cut its running time by at least five hours and twenty-five minutes. One of the most popular reasons for the complaints is that the rolling stock is in poor condition.
In addition to its rerouting, Amtrak also eliminated the Dallas-Houston route. The route had been in arbitration for nearly eleven months. Congress had the power to force a change in the route.
In response to the Klauder Report, Amtrak had to come up with a new schedule that would raise the line to the standard of passenger service. Among other things, the company had to spend at least $3 million more for sidings and extensions.
The executive management of Amtrak has to decide whether the nationwide system is worth maintaining, or if the route between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth is worth saving. To do that, it has to satisfy the Administration and Congress.
Unfortunately, it seems like there's only one outspoken advocate on the current board of directors, Charles Luna. Another board member is the CEO of a major bus company. Until Amtrak's lower management improves its performance in Texas, the future of the intercity rail passenger service remains uncertain.
In the meantime, the Houston-Chicago train has had an on-time record of 35.3 percent in the past year. Yet, the running time on that train was only 4.5 percent in May.