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America's Long-Distance Passenger Trains: On Track for a Renaissance or Extinction?

All-Day Program

Full Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, July 20, 2019 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1W0056
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The Coast Starlight climbs the Gaviota Trestle near Santa Barbara (Photo: Bob Johnston)

Please Note: This program has a corrected end time.

As America marks the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike that completed the transcontinental railroad and linked the nation, questions linger about the future of long-distance passenger trains. In the mid-20th century, Americans fell in love with a network of luxurious, evocatively named streamliners such as the 20th Century Limited, Super Chief, and California Zephyr. Enthusiasm for rail travel would be eclipsed within three decades, and the extensive system of trains that criss-crossed the country replaced by a skeletal Amtrak rail network.   

Explore train travel’s romantic past, its present state, and uncertain future with transportation professional Scott Hercik and a panel of experts including author and historian Karl Zimmermann, Bruce Goldberg whose four decades in the transportation industry included 19 years at Amtrak, and Bob Johnston, who has covered passenger railroading for 28 years with Trains magazine. 

10–11:15 a.m.  The Golden Age of Railway Travel

Celebrate the style, speed, and comfort of America’s great streamlined passenger trains of the 20th century.

11:15–12 p.m.   Collapse and Rescue

Examine how the interstate highway system and the boom in commercial air travel deposed the passenger train.

12–1 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

Optional: Join the panelists to reminisce about your own memories of train travel.

1–1:45 p.m.   New Destinations

Discover how the allure and luxury of the past inspires some of today’s most intriguing long-distance train journeys.

1:45–3 p.m.   A Fresh Start or the End of the Line?

Consider whether the passenger train holds a place in the future of American transportation.

Smithsonian Connections

Domestic passenger trains played a significant role in moving American troops and their supplies during both World Wars—but not without disruptions for civilian travelers.

In 1944, the Association of American Railroads created a national ad that promised a far more comfortable postwar future. offers a look at that luxurious train of tomorrow.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)