A month-long pass for rail travel between the United States and Canada? It seemed like a great idea. So why did Amtrak decide to kill it?
Anyone who’s even explored the possibility of traveling in Europe has probably heard of the Eurailpass, which lets you travel between a certain number of European countries in a month, or allows you a certain number of train travel days per month.
It’s a great, economical way to see Europe, with the comfort and convenience of train travel as a bonus. And as an absolute fan of rail travel, I sure wish we had something like that here in North America.
So it came as a somewhat unpleasant surprise to learn that, until relatively recently, we did. It was a cooperative venture between our Amtrak and Via Rail of Canada. For one set fee of $423, you could travel for 30 days in both countries.
It was called the North American Rail Pass and it was a great idea. Until 2008, when Amtrak unilaterally discontinued it.
You can get a USA Rail Pass good for 15, 30 or 45 days of rail travel, or a California Rail Pass good for 21 days up and down the state, but those obviously are good only in the United States.
Likewise, you can get a Canrailpass from Via Rail good for coast-to-coast travel across Canada, but only Canada.
The idea of a rail pass that allows travel between the two neighboring North American giants, with all their beautiful scenery and great cities? Gone. Dead.
It wasn’t Via Rail’s idea to kill it off. Amtrak did that. I just don’t know why.
To make it easier for U.S. and Canadian rail passengers to travel between the two countries by train made so much sense for both sides.
Canadians could do a lovely little loop from Toronto south through Chicago and Memphis to New Orleans, then back north via Atlanta and Washington DC aboard the Amtrak Crescent before crossing back into Canada and hitting Quebec City and Montreal on the return.
Americans, meanwhile, could head north from Los Angeles aboard the Coast Starlight up to Vancouver, BC, where they could head east across the Rockies and the great plains, then past the Great Lakes to Toronto before heading south to New Orleans, only this time swinging west aboard the Sunset Limited back to LAX.
So far, I haven’t found anything that gives a clear explanation for why Amtrak decided to do away with this. What was Amtrak afraid of?
If it wants to emphasize USA Rail Passes, fine, but why not offer both? Rail travelers who wished to confine themselves to the US or Canada would simply buy one of the national rail passes in either of those countries, while travelers who wanted to ride the trains on both sides of the border would still be able to do so for a great price. Everybody wins.
Or they did…until four years ago.
Especially in this era when so many people find air travel to be such a miserable experience, wouldn’t it make sense for Amtrak to seize on every opportunity it can find to encourage travel by train, even if it meant sharing some of the proceeds with its northern neighbor?
If I ever find out what Amtrak’s rationale was behind killing the North American Rail Pass, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Meanwhile, we fans of rail travel can hope that sanity one day returns — and brings back the North American Rail Pass along with it.
I’ve reached out to Amtrak’s public affairs people to see if anyone will tell me why Amtrak chose to unilaterally do away with the North American Rail Pass. When I get an answer, IBIT will publish it.
Edited by P.A.Rice
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