Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Modern railroad tourism promotion

Another Reason To Visit ClevelandIn "the old days" railroads heavily marketed the tourism element of passenger rail travel. Posters from that time are still admired for the quality of their message and design.

The style and approach is often used today, especially for the National Park system, although the poster designs are rarely marketed, which is a shame.

Amtrak does do a fair bit of promotion, but it pales by comparison to the heyday of railroad passenger service.

That being said, sometimes they do a particularly good job. Such as for the poster pictured below for the Pacific Surfliner system along the Pacific Coast -- that track is also used by area commuter rail services such as Metrolink and Coaster in Southern California.

When I was in England, I noticed a number of "2-for-1" attractions promotions by various railroads (and the National Express bus system, at least for London) for use in association with train travel to major destinations such as London and other cities.

Pacific surfliner poster

Last weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a travel story about Santa Barbara ("Wandering Santa Barbara’s wonders more carefree when you’re car-free"), calling attention to how the local air quality initiative by Santa Barbara Car Free, which offers tourists a 20% discount on Amtrak fares and other discounts at area attractions and hospitality venues.

And LA-area newspapers are running a similar article ("Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner offers deals on travel for music and sports fans, wine and food connoisseurs and theme park enthusiasts this summer," San Gabriel Valley Tribune), about similar kinds of offers around travel on the Pacific Surfliner to various destinations, commenting in passing that more stadiums, arenas, and other venues are being constructed proximate to transit.

Fortunately, as the article explains:
More entertainment and sporting venues are starting to be built near train or bus stations or certainly with future public transportation plans and expansions in mind. The all-new Banc of California Stadium, located in Exposition Park next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to the Los Angeles Rams and USC Trojans football teams, is also a short walk away from public transportation with the Los Angeles Metro Expo Line being just a quick venture through the Rose Garden. The Expo Lines can be easily accessed by patrons coming into the Los Angeles Union Station via train.

FivePoint Amphitheatre, the temporary 12,000-capacity venue that opened next to the Orange County Great Park last year, is less than 500 steps from the Irvine station where the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner provides extended hours for concertgoers coming from Los Angeles and San Diego with several other major city stops other stops in between.

“It has been one of our priorities to partner with some of the great destinations and venues along our route,” says Michael Litschi, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner managing deputy. “There are a lot of venues in cities that are extremely walkable from the train stations and we want to offer people a unique experience on the train to get to some of those destinations and to be free of the stress that people experience while they’re stuck in traffic or running late because of traffic.”
The challenge is to facilitate the movement of riders within a community, once they have arrived at their destination. That is discussed at length in Santa Barbara piece, and increasingly newspapers are running travel articles about "city break" tourism where people use local transit to get around rather than the car. From the SFC article:
Car-free works best if you stay downtown or on the waterfront. Luckily, you have lots of lodging options in both neighborhoods. ... If your hotel offers bikes, even better. Near the beach, the Spanish-Revival, bougainvillea-swaddled Hotel Milo has a fleet of blue beach cruisers to borrow; downtown, the elegant Kimpton Canary will get you pedaling, too. … If you prefer a more direct, less fact-filled bus tour, the Santa Barbara MTD’s sporty blue-and-white shuttles run along the waterfront and up State Street for 50 cents, taking you near most places you want to go.
A number of regional "commuter" rail systems do provide some excursions and promotions, especially to sports events, not unlike how in the old days streetcar systems would promote streetcar travel to amusement parks. Before Washington had its own baseball team, MARC would provide some special service from DC to Baltimore for Orioles baseball games. LIRR and Metro-North do this in Greater New York, MBTA runs special trains to Foxboro for the Patriots football games, Metro-North runs special trains to Giants football games in New Jersey, and Metrolink does a lot of prootions with teams based in Anaheim (Angels baseball and Ducks hockey).

In Denver, weekend ski trains have been brought back to life ("Amtrak adds Friday trips to Winter Park Express ski train for 2018," Denver Post).

This could be an opportunity for some of the state-based railroad promotion programs, like Amtrak Virginia or Amtrak Cascades (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia), to promote tourism around train excursions.

In my comments on the "DC State Rail Plan," I suggested that Union Station be leveraged for the opportunity to promote this.  In the DC area, MARC has 7 day service on the Penn Line, but VRE operates only Monday through Friday.  This is what I wrote:

-- Train tourism

Many people are already riding trains as an element of their plans to visit DC and other cities in the region.  It is a key element of the Amtrak Virginia program and generally Amtrak devotes a fair amount of marketing to tourism.

Poster circa 1930.

Many states have scenic-excursion railroads that are tourist attractions.  There are a number of these systems in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and the B&O Museum and the National Capital Trolley Museum have short tracks used for train riding.  NRHS chapters also organize excursion trips.

Other state rail plans, including those for Virginia and West Virginia, do discuss, albeit briefly, excursion railroads and their place in the rail and tourism systems.

DC as a city-state has much different conditions than a typical state, and there is no opportunity for that kind of dedicated tourist attraction in the city.

However, as a way to build interest and awareness of railroad service in the region, it could be worthwhile for MARC and VRE, with the National Railway Historical Society and the proposed transportation museum in Union Station and the B&O Museum, to develop a special event railroad excursion program.

One example is the program between Norfolk Southern Railway and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which offers special excursion steam engine trains in the Spring, Summer, and Fall on various segments of the Norfolk Southern system.

Since Norfolk Southern is already doing this with that museum, they would be a logical partner to work with to test and launch such a program out of DC, especially since they have trackage access rights on the CSX system, and the VRE line to Manassas runs on NS track.

At the same time, rather than just approach this haphazardly, a detailed marketing program to simultaneously promote regional passenger service should be developed in association with this program.

The DC State Rail Plan could make recommendations on excursion tourism as an element of the plan, both to serve tourist markets and as a way to market and promote passenger rail service.

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