Rail travel card
The rail travel card was a credit card administered by the Rail Travel Credit Agency headquartered at Chicago Union Station (room 436) to facilitate leisure and business travel by rail, possibly modeled on the air travel card. It was accepted by most major railroads, the prominent exceptions being New Haven and Southern Pacific.
In the immediate post-war era railroads began considering various plans to encourage rail travel and in Sept. 1946 did a survey of 20,000 individuals and businesses. The overwhelming preference was for a charge card accepted by all railroads. Provision was made if travel included the use of railroads that did not on their own accept the card that it would still be honored provided travel started on one of the railroads that did honor it. In announcing its introduction H.B. Rogers of the Erie Railroad explained "For more than a year ... the railroads, have been discussing methods for making travel easier and more convenient. This credit plan will help to do it".
April 1, 1947 the card became effective, initially honored by 45 railroads.
Promotional materials stated "This card will be honored by participating railroads for all rail and Pullman transportation (except commutation) and meals, and beverages where state laws permit." Ticket purchase could be via mail order (sending the card to the local participating railroad ticket office which by return mail sent tickets plus returned the card) or at stations; only some railroads accepted it for purchasing tickets on board. It was also honored by automobile rental agencies (including Avis and Hertz) along with many leading hotels, motels, restaurants and national park concessionaires. It required no deposit, service charge or annual fee. Monthly billing was done by each individual railroad through the Agency.
By early 1950 it was being actively promoted by various railroads. Its acceptance gradually expanded during the 1950s, reaching 57 by April 1958. The number of railroads accepting it dwindled by 1967 to 28 (in part a consequence of the industry trend toward consolidation via mergers). By the mid-1960s J. David Ingles reports among the railroads that had dropped out of the program included Chicago and Eastern Illinois, Rock Island, Kansas City Southern and Louisville and Nashville. It was discontinued shortly after the beginning of Amtrak in 1971.
Another initiative to encourage rail travel begun Sept. 1, 1947 was the Rail Traveloan Service involving loans through local banks for travel and associated expenses on some 70 railroads including a number (such as Southern Pacific) that did not honor the Rail Travel Card.
New Haven Railroad Rail Charge Card
Beginning in 1954 the New Haven Railroad offered its own credit card, the New Haven Railroad Rail Charge Card. It was the only credit card administered by an American railroad. While initially only for purchasing tickets it was eventually expanded to cover meals, beverages, hotels and auto rentals. It continued to be honored until the New Haven merged with the Penn Central Jan. 1, 1969. It may have been honored for a brief period by the Penn Central after the merger.
"Saved by the Rail Travel Card". J. David Ingles. Classic Trains Fall 2012 pp.35-37
- "Erie Adopts New Travel Plan" Cuba Patriot and Free Press March 20, 1947
- "To make rail travel more convenient, 45 leading American railroads offer this new CHARGE-IT PLAN!" (advertisement) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle March 20, 1947, p.6
- Spokane Portland and Seattle Railroad timetable dated April 15, 1950
- Louisville and Nashville Railroad timetable dated April 27, 1958
- "This Month in Railroad History * September*"
- New Haven Passenger Trains. Peter E. Lynch. St. Paul, MN: Voyageur Press, 2005 p.129
- The New Haven Railroad Rail Charge Card
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