Atlantic Placemat

The Atlantic was Canadian Pacific’s train between Montreal and Halifax, competing with Canadian National’s Ocean and Scotian. VIA continued to operate trains on both routes until 1990, when budget cutbacks led VIA to drop many of the Canadian Pacific routes.

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During my 1978 trip, I rode the Atlantic to Moncton, New Brunswick, and then caught the Ocean going back. I should have stayed on the Atlantic, as the Canadian Pacific equipment was much nicer and included a dome car, while the Canadian national equipment was not only less comfortable, it was late.

Skeena Placemat

Named after the Skeena River, the Skeena was VIA’s name for the train that went between Jasper and Prince Rupert. This route formed one of the legs of Canadian National’s Triangle Route from Vancouver to Jasper to Prince Rupert and then back to Vancouver by steamship. By the time VIA took over passenger service, ferries had replaced steamships between Prince Rupert and Vancouver, and Canadian National had stopped advertising the Triangle Route, probably because it didn’t own the ferries.


Click image to download a 1.9-MB PDF of this placemat.

There’s no date on this placemat, but I probably collected it when I rode VIA trains in 1978 or 1979. I rode the train in 1978, but due to a landslide I didn’t make it past Smithers, British Columbia (whose station is pictured in the photo). That was a disappointment, especially because the best scenery is supposed to be west of Smithers.

Vancouver Island 1978 Timetable

Although the rail route from Victoria to Courtenay was owned by the Canadian Pacific, which served passengers with RDCs, VIA apparently did not want to keep running passenger trains on this line. This timetable card, which I collected on my 1978 trip, says that VIA planned to discontinue the train on December 13, 1978 (which would have been a few days after I rode it). However, this was marked out and the train continued to operate until 2011.

Click image to download a 546-KB PDF of this timetable.

As I recall, I took the train from Victoria to Courtenay, then back to Nanaimo where I spent the night. The next morning I took a ferry to Vancouver. By coincidence, my favorite college professor was on board the ferry honeymooning with his new wife, who was also a professor at my college.

VIA Fare-for-All Plan

In 1977, six years after Amtrak began, the Canadian government created VIA, which like Amtrak is a supposedly independent corporation that actually depends heavily on government subsidies. VIA took over Canadian Pacific and Canadian National passenger trains, but not trains of smaller railroads such as the BC Railway or Ontario Northland. Prior to VIA, the government had given Canadian Pacific subsidies to operate passenger trains, and directed Canadian National–which at the time was half-owned by the Canadian government–to effectively cross-subsidize passenger trains with profits from freight trains.

Click image to download a 2.6-MB PDF of this brochure.

Prior to VIA, CP was a little more expensive than CN on most routes, which it could get away with because its trains were a little nicer. This brochure announced that the same fares would be applied to trips over either Canadian Pacific or Canadian National. The brochure also presented the VIA Pass, later known as the CanRailPass, which–like Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass–allowed people to ride as many trains as they liked within a fixed time period. Continue reading

Seventieth-Anniversary Empire Builder Menu

Decorated with the original Empire Builder font, this menu is designed to warm the hearts of Great Northern rail fans. The front cover painting by Craig Thorpe illustrates the Great Northern heavyweight and dome-laden streamlined Empire Builders plus Amtrak’s own train. The back cover has a Winold Reiss Empire Builder menu as well as photos of dining car interiors on GN’s and Amtrak’s trains. The inside covers have more information about the history of the train.

Click image to download a 5.2-MB PDF of this menu.

Eight pages of menus are tied inside with a gold-tasseled string, and many of the items have Great Northern or Northwest names such as the “Western Star lunch” and the “Puget Sound Catch-of-the-Day” dinner. Behind the catchy names, however, the food is only a slight upgrade from the bad old days of the 1980s.

Coast Starlight 1989 Timetable

The Coast Starlight was a true Amtrak success story. Prior to Amtrak, the Southern Pacific had reduced Portland-Oakland train service to three times a week. Travelers from north of Portland to south of Oakland would have to change trains twice. Amtrak initially continued the three-times-a-week service but extended the train to Seattle and Los Angeles.

Click image to download a 771-KB PDF of this timetable card.

This extension proved so successful that Amtrak quickly increased service to seven times a week each way. For much of the 1970s through the 1990s, the Coast Starlight was Amtrak’s most popular overnight train. Initially, the train went through to San Diego, but on this segment through passengers turned out to be less important than local ones, so the Starlight terminates in LA with a separate San Diegan (now known as the Pacific Surfliner) connecting LA with San Diego. Continue reading

Items for the Well-Trained Traveler

A frisbee, a beach towel, ceramic coffee tastefully decorated with the word “Amtrak” repeated seven times, or a set of four plastic coffee mugs with photos of Amtrak locomotives are the sum and total of the souvenirs offered by this brochure. All were inexpensive (double prices to get today’s dollars) but were also cheaply made (no doubt made in some Asian country).

Click image to download a 1.1-MB PDF of this brochure.

The brochure comes complete with a mail-in order form, so the listed prices apparently included shipping. The word Frisbee is trademarked by the Wham-O corporation, but it did not do much to defend its trademark. As this brochure puts the word frisbee in quotation marks, I suspect that, though Amtrak used the name, it didn’t actually buy its flying disks from Wham-O and thus was carelessly violating the company’s trademark.

Amtrak 1989 Lunch Menu

A railcar shortage allowed Amtrak to dramatically increase bedroom fares in the 1980s. To mitigate this increase, as well as the downgrading of dining car menus, Amtrak began giving sleeping-car passengers free meals. This 1989 lunch menu was used by such first-class passengers to make their menu selections. No doubt another, slightly more formal menu was used for coach passengers.

Click image to download a 415-KB PDF of this menu.

Crudely photocopied on cheap paper, the menu is anything but first class. Nor are the meal selections: burgers, grilled cheese, a vague “regional” sandwich, a bowl of chili, or a hot turkey or beef (ask your attendant which) sandwich. All were pretty tasteless.

See More of America for Less

This 1987 brochure offers three attractive fare plans. Two of the plans are based on dividing the country into three regions: east of Chicago and New Orleans; west of Denver and Albuquerque; and a central region between Denver and Chicago. The first fare plan allowed passengers to take any round trip within either the Western or Central region for $129.

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The second plan allowed round-trip travel with one stopover in a 45-day period. Within any one of the three regions, this cost just $150; within two regions, it was $200; for the entire country, it cost $250. While far from a rail pass that allowed unlimited travel, it did allow passengers to effectively take three one-way trips for a modest fare. Continue reading

Welcome Aboard the Empire Builder

This brochure is dated 1986, but was distributed in the same sealed plastic wrapper as an Empire Builder route map, quite possibly the same one shown here a few days ago even though that one was dated 1984. This brochure describes the on-board amenities, including feature-length films shown in the lounge car, games in the dining car, and a hospitality hour with complimentary snacks in the lounge car.

Click image to download a 1.5-MB PDF of this brochure.

The brochure notes that, when the Portland and Seattle sections operate west of Spokane, the lounge car went to Portland and the diner to Seattle. The diner had a lounge area offering snacks and beverages while the lounge car offered “light meal service.” The train continues to operate this way today.