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Rail Travel Card

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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".[1]

Rail Travel Card, front

April 1, 1947 the card became effective, initially honored by 45 railroads.[2]

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.[3] Its acceptance gradually expanded during the 1950s, reaching 57 by April 1958.[4] 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 accepted by Amtrak through the mid-1970s.[5]

Another initiative to encourage rail travel begun Sept. 1, 1947 was the Rail Traveloan Service[3] involving loans through local banks for travel and associated expenses on some 70 railroads[6] including a number (such as Southern Pacific) that did not honor the Rail Travel Card.

Other railroad charge cards


Jan. 27, 1947 the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) introduced the first railroad credit card in the United States.[7] By late February 1947 the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad (KATY) introduced its own credit card, which it also claimed as being the first.[8] Beginning in 1954 the New Haven Railroad offered its own credit card, the New Haven Railroad Rail Charge Card.[9] 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;[10] subsequently they shifted over to accepting the Rail Travel Card.[5] Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) also introduced its own credit card in 1954.[11]

All four cards generally covered meals, beverages, hotels and auto rentals. As with Rail Travel Card, C&O and KATY arranged so their cards would be honored for the use of travel that started on their systems even if it included continuing on other railroads; in the case of the KATY this was subsequently done via an arrangement with the railroads that accepted Rail Travel Card.[12] By the late-1950s C&O, KATY and B&O had joined the Rail Travel Card program and apparently discontinued their own cards in favor of it.



"Saved by the Rail Travel Card". J. David Ingles. Classic Trains Fall 2012 pp. 35–37

  1. ^ "Erie Adopts New Travel Plan" Cuba Patriot and Free Press March 20, 1947
  2. ^ "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
  3. ^ a b Spokane Portland and Seattle Railroad timetable dated April 15, 1950
  4. ^ Louisville and Nashville Railroad timetable dated April 27, 1958
  5. ^ a b Andrew Poschmann. FAST MAIL Letters from our readers "Credit the New Haven". Classic Trains Winter 2012 p.12
  6. ^ "This Month in Railroad History * September*"
  7. ^ "Travel on Credit". Tracks Magazine March 1947 pp.17-20.
  8. ^ "'Charge It' on the KATY!". KATY Employes' Magazine February 1947 pp.[2]-[3], 15.
  9. ^ New Haven Passenger Trains. Peter E. Lynch. St. Paul, MN: Voyageur Press, 2005 p.129
  10. ^ The New Haven Railroad Rail Charge Card
  11. ^ "New B&O Credit Cards Proving Popular" Baltimore & Ohio Magazine June 1954 p.31
  12. ^ "New Katy Service Innovations" by Jerry Pitts. The Katy Flyer Sept. 1997 pp.12-13