"Waiting on a Train" Southwest Airlines

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Active Member
Passenger enthusiasts might want to read the book "Waiting on a Train" by James McCommons. It is a comprehensive study of the problems with present day passenger rail service and its embattled future. Read with amusement how Texas proposed privately funded bullet train service between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in 1991. Southwest Airlines fought the consortium tooth and nail, even threatened to pull its headquarters from Dallas and remove flights from San Antonio. Their sabotage was successful. Why would Southwest be intimidated by a 200 MPH proposed train when its planes travel at 350 MPH? Were they concerned that people would opt for more legroom and comfort, as opposed to their "cattleboat" approach? Recently rode in one of their sardine cans from K.C. to Fort Lauderdale. The 11 hour ordeal (from arrival at KCI to airport departure in Florida) gave me some sympathy for their employees who pack the planes with people who do not follow instructions as well as cattle. It was cruise ship season and loading excesss baggage contributed to the three hour total delay. I'll say one thing about Southwest. They do give you a decent supply of peanuts. Texas is a peanut producing state. Have been on some airlines which provide no peanuts or in one case nine peanuts in a foil bag. They also offered watered-down alcohol service for $5. The buzz created alleviated the back pain caused by seats which do not recline (in front of the emergency exits). Oh well, at least Southwest is politically correct in the new age.


Photo Critiques Welcome
I recall at the time the head of Southwest said if they started the train service that he'd double the number of seats between Dallas and Houston


New Member
I read the book, good overall, although didn't really care for the way he seemed to group all railfans into the foamer category.


Active Member
Waiting on a Train Southwest Airlines

Since my first air flight back in the 60's, have always been amused by the people who lunge out of their seats when the seat belt sign goes off. Where do they think they are going? The guy who aligns the jetway with the door is often paid minimum wage or is a trainee. I've seen them miss the plane entirely or crash into it. On your next flight, sit back relax and check the time from bong-bong to the time you step into the jetway. Might be a good time for a nap. Pity the person on a late flight who has to catch a connection.


Kentucky Colonel
After folding my fullback-sized frame and achy joints into a cramped airplane seat for an hour or more; that bong-bong is sweet relief when I can finally stand up, unfold and stretch back out to full size.

By all means, relax and have a nap while the ramp crew does their thing. Meanwhile I have to get my blood circulating again.


Active Member
Does anybody on here know how long a St. Louis to Miami rail trip took in the glory days of the 50's and what railroads were involved in the service? Today, Amtrak travel between those areas is nonexistent.

Ryder P. Moses

Half Man Half Loco
The Seabord Air Line Railroad (SAL) was the only major rail line with
passenger service to Miami. Florida East Coast (FEC) RR had passenger
sevice between Jacksonville and Miami. In the May 1966 Official Guide,
Louisville and Nashville RR had a passenger train the "Georgian" that
originated in St. Louis, departed 4PM that arrived in Atlanta 10:55AM
the next day. Then you change to the Atlantic Coast Line RR at Atlanta
for a 9:30 PM departure to Jacksonville arriving at 6:30AM. Leave
Jacksonville at 9:45AM south to Miami arriving at 5:45PM (on SAL tracks) A 3 day trip.Think flying however much it sucks sounds a bit quicker.


Active Member
Waiting on a Train Southwest Airlines

Thanks for the info. Three days didn't sound good. Amtrak had a Chicago-Florida train which was cut out when administration got hostile.


Planes aren't always faster. I used to drive between two towns in Arizona, taking about 5 hours. Or I could fly to Las Vegas, spend the night, fly to Phoenix, spend the night, fly to destination. Leave Friday afternoon, arrive Sunday afternoon. A round trip by air, staying one day, took a full week.



Active Member
I am sorry... I love railroads BUT...

I fly from Omaha, NE to Sacramento, CA every year or so.
Southwest = 5 to 6 Hours and $250 to $300
Amtrak = FORTY ONE HOURS!!!!! and thats if its on time. I am not going to use 4 days of my 7 day trip for a little more leg room. Even if you add in the ariving early and finding your bags, you are still looking at less than 7 hours... Prices are about the same.

With that said, if Southwest if putting railroads out of business, thats bad. There is no competition between the two.


5th Generation Texian
It will be tough for any rail-based transit, 'high speed' or otherwise to match SWA on a Dallas-Houston route. They leave every 15 -30 minutes and the flight takes all of 50 minutes. Love and Hobby airports are incredibly fast at getting folks thru security. Even if I stretch the security checks, check in and a stop for a Dr Pepper to an hour on each end, that's still less than 3 hours for the entire trip, interim stops will add more for HSR on a trip that now only takes 4.5 by car.

If you think that HSR won't have the same security bottlenecks, think again.

I've bought 1-ways for $50 with a 2-week advance buy. Continental Express and some others give some competition to SWA on that route.

HSR is dead in its tracks on that oft-proposed route.

I once tried to swap the domestic leg of my then-routine business flight to Singapore with an Amtrak Houston-Seattle substitute. The fact that it was SCHEDULED to take a WEEK and COST MORE nipped that one in the bud...


Active Member
There is also the problems inherent with the hub system which airlines adopted in the 80's. When you have to change planes, there is always the possibility that something will go wrong with one of them. Had to fly once from K.C. to Memphis via Atlanta. You fly over Memphis on the way to Atlanta. Give me a parachute! An associate drove and got there the same time I did. Of course, he was tired and stressed from the trip.


5th Generation Texian
There is also the problems inherent with the hub system which airlines adopted in the 80's.

and that is one reason SWA doesn't always use the hub and spoke system; they have a lot of disconnected flights. Their philosophy is that if traffic from A to B warrants a plane, it gets its own plane most times.

Hubs make a lot of sense in most cases, FedEx and UPS have hubs down to a fine science. But then, they don't carry people...


Active Member
The best use of High Speed rail is in congested air markets that are ~500 miles. NYC to Boston, NYC to DC, DC to Boston, LA to SF. At the major airports there is limited space for flights, and the airports are not in the down town. Currently the Acela is competitive with flights, and it only goes 150 max. If it hit 220mph on 90% of the route, it could be very competitive. With less flights for the short hops, the limited runway slots could be shifted to longer flights.

The real question is are we willing to fund high speed rail like we fund the highways? Are we willing to take the lobbies out of rail planning. I look at the California HSR and see station stops where there is no need for a station stop, but some one wants a stop their and lobbies for it. When I see HSR I envision the NYC Subway method. Express stops and local stops. NYC does it with 4 tracks and often headways, but I can see it being done with 2 tracks. The Local runs and stops often and runs at slower speeds, then you take it to an express station where the HSR train stops. Slowing down and speeding up and stop time will slow the progress of the train.


Active Member
I had mentioned this on a previous blog, but "60 Minutes" did a report in 2001 about airline travel going into gridlock if more airports weren't built. Then came 9-11! It might have saved the whole industry. Also, there is the issue of spiking oil prices. There are no alternatives for jet fuel. Suspect that in the future, it will cost $1000 one way to go from Chicago to New York. We shall go back to the 60's era when only the rich and beautiful fly.


New Member
Although airlines get you there faster, what ever happened to "getting there is half the fun?"



Although airlines get you there faster, what ever happened to "getting there is half the fun?"

I get a week's vacation. I'm not going to blow four days in transit leaving just a three day vacation, when I can leave Portland at 6:00 AM, be in southern California before 10:00 AM (the same morning), have the rest of that day, the next five days, and much of day 7 to enjoy before flying back.

Much of the time on the train is sleeping in a small, cramped room. Or, I could fly to my destination and enjoy a king sized bed in a hotel that evening.

I have two kids. Easier to entertain two kids over a couple hours in-flight, versus two days on a train. Batteries die, kids get hungry, food selection is minor. Or I can feed the kids before I leave (or, at the airport), fly, have a small snack on the plane, and then grab a bite to eat upon arrival.

I could go on...but door-to-door trip from my home to California is six hours. From my door to Union Station and six hours down...I'm somewhere between Eugene and Chemult, and it's dark and rainy out my window and I have nothing to look at and the train is winding around curves at 35 MPH. There's no cell phone coverage, so good luck checking out the internet on my phone. The two kids have no interest in wine tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car. I don't want to empty out my stash of quarters in whatever arcade games there are.

Yes, "getting there is half the fun" if you have the cash to ride the American Orient Express (oops, it doesn't run anymore). My son enjoys train rides, but after a two or three hour tourist train ride he's pretty well done with the trains.


Active Member
Waiting for a train

The real issue on these blogs concerns corridor service between city pairs of 400 miles or less with average speeds of 79 MPH. As has been mentioned before, the Coast Starlite is an excursion train for discretionary travelers with enough time. Senior citizens, like me might enjoy that trip, but for you, flying would be necessary. An update on the Missouri Road Runner trains between Kansas City and St. Louis: this train with its slow 5 hour schedule comes to within $200,000 of breaking even. This is down from $500,000 last year. Increased ridership contributed to increased farebox which is the result of running the trains on time. But it may be all for nothing. The new House members want to kill Amtrak. Let's give our money to foreign dictators instead. We gave Mubarak $26 billion. Now the Egyptians hate us.


Meat Popsicle
I think that herein lies the problem... Trains are just too slow.

Besides, not everone that rides a train rides it from one end to the other. Take for example the Empire Builder. Runs from Seattle to Chicago and vice versa, but a very smal percentage of ridership actually goes all the way. In fact, the train will "turn over" about twice during its journey. This is what trains are best at, connecting many destinations along a line where people can entrain and detrain at any of those stops. It is a flawed logic to say that a train is good because it connects these two faraway places. You must consider the Williston's and the Fargo's and the Whitefish's along the way.

I wholeheartedly agree that in certain cases, flying is a better way to go from a rime savings standpoint. But for short hops, say Seattle to Portland, give me a train. 8 hours of travel time is about where ground travel gives out and air travel comes in in my book.

This is not to say that I necessarily like being treated like a criminal or jammed in a slender metal tube with pointy bits and engines stuck to it.

Nor is it to say that I am not one of those crazies that would ride the Builder end to end...

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