In Memory of Legendary Rail Advocate Anthony Haswell

The US lost a giant of passenger-train advocacy this week. Anthony Haswell, who founded the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) in 1967, died at the age of 94. NARP, now called the Rail Passengers Association, was pivotal in creating Amtrak in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 2000, the publication Trains included Haswell in a list of “10 individuals who transformed 20th century railroading,” calling him “a feisty activist” who “was the the right man at the right time.” His long-time home, Tucson (AZ), honored Haswell in 2002 with a letter of appreciation that described him as “the chief lobbyist in the halls of Congress for the successful establishment of Amtrak in 1967, when the private railroads were hurrying to eliminate rail-passenger service.” 

Haswell earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and began his career in 1958 at Illinois Central Railroad, where he served in the legal department. He was chairman and executive director of the NARP from 1967 to 1974; and he was managing director of passenger services with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad from 1975 to 1977. In his later years, he continued his advocacy work at the state and local levels—serving, for example, in the leadership of the Arizona Rail Passenger Association. 

Haswell not only pushed Congress to create Amtrak in the late 1960s, when passenger-rail service in the US was on the brink of extinction. He passionately argued for more frequent service to more places. 

In December 1970, for example, the New York Times reported that NARP was pushing Amtrak to include more routes in its launch plans. In response to one proposal, for example, NARP issued a statement calling the plan “a reasonable effort to design a viable network”—but insisted that it contained “some serious omissions, particularly of high-density ‘corridors’ on the West Coast.” Haswell told the Times that “a train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, considering the traffic between the two cities, couldn’t help but make a profit if it were properly operated.” 

The following spring, Haswell objected to Amtrak’s plans to eliminate the Buffalo-Chicago (via Cleveland) line, which had been operated by the New York Central Railroad. He insisted that there was viable market—if there were quality service. “They say there are so few passengers to Cleveland,” Haswell told the Times, but “the old New York Central did everything short of putting thugs on the train and throwing the passengers off.” 

It was this feisty spirit—fueled by a love for trains—that made Haswell a legendary advocate. His work lives on in the strong and growing movement for better train service across the US. The Alliance is deeply indebted to his legacy, and we extend our sympathies to his friends and family. ​

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