Trains For America

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The death of rail advocate John Mills

Gene Poon reports the sad news on another site. I believe I met Mr. Mills once and he certainly had a wonderful mind for good transportation and passenger rail service. I am sorry to see him go and glad that he will not have to endure the slow undoing on Amtrak at the hands of political bullies whose only interest is their own small-minded power trip.

This man stood up to opposition from Amtrak management and the political opportunists who are always working to favor the transportation special interests. John Mills, well done!

John Mills, tireless passenger rail advocate and retired Amtrak manager
(placed in the sequence that he himself saw fit) died today in Little
Rock, AR.

To quote Marc Lowrance of Arlington, TX, in another discussion board:

> Mr. Mills joined Amtrak in the early 1970’s and was assigned to Fort
> Worth, Texas as district supervisor. He annoyed staff members in
> Fort Worth by insisting that they park their cars in the station’s
> north lot to preserve the front of the station places for paying
> customers. He met and walked through every train that passed through
> FTW, and was not afraid to deal with dirty conditions or lazy
> on-board staff.
> His pride was the reinstatement of service between Fort Worth and
> Laredo, that led to the full “Inter American” service from St. Louis
> to Laredo in 1974. When unreliable equipment, slow operation speeds
> over the then Missouri Pacific, combined with blisteringly hot Texas
> summers threatened the success of the train, John worked to solve
> the problem. Paying no attention to Amtrak bureaucracy, he worked
> directly with board member Charlie Luna to secure former Southern
> Pacific train sets that could handle the slower speeds without
> losing power (and air conditioning) until Amfleet equipment came to
> the route in 1977. John’s direct, opinionated style and ability to
> get things done did not go over well many Amtrak executives.
> John moved to Little Rock briefly as supervisor before being
> transferred to Topeka, Kansas where he became supervisor of stations
> in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. In the 1980’s John
> became the Senior Quality Control man for Amtrak and spent much of
> his time in Vermont. There, he was the purchasing agent for the
> entire Amfleet II car order, as well as some Horizon equipment and
> Bombardier-built second generation Superliner cars.
> After retirement he remained in Topeka as an outspoken proponent of
> passenger rail. John moved home to Little Rock after the death of
> his longtime wife, LaVern several years ago.

I knew John Mills in his last years with Amtrak and during an
incredibly productive retirement.

His inspiration drove passenger rail advocates to
great things, accomplished by hard work even in the face of
opposition by Amtrak. In the dark days of 1997 when Amtrak was bent
upon killing several long distance trains, John Mills’s proteges did
things that amazed many, and…face it…outfoxed Amtrak. It would
not be a stretch of the truth to say that had there not been a John
Mills, there would be no Texas Eagle today. Significantly,
Amtrak has not since tried to massacre so much of its long distance
service in one swoop.

Farewell, John. You have done very well indeed.


My friend and fellow Arkansan, Dr. Bill Pollard, gave this reaction to the terrible loss.

first met John Mills 45+ years ago, when I was still in high school and he was bitterly contesting Missouri Pacific train discontinuances at ICC train-off hearings in Little Rock.

Exactly forty two years ago to this day, April 30, 1971, John refused to even acknowledge, much less ride, the last run of Missouri Pacific passenger service in Arkansas – such was his determination that the service would return. Within days of the time that Arkansas fell into the freight-only ranks, Mills was plotting strategy with J.O. Powell, editorial page editor of the late, great Arkansas Gazette, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. The Gazette’s involvement brought immense credibility to the cause, and the newspaper’s constant litany of pro-passenger train editorials helped to persuade two members of the Arkansas congressional delegation (Senator John McClellan and Congressman Wilbur Mills, collaborating with Texas Congressman Jake Pickle) to demand restoration of passenger train service between St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas and Laredo. Without the relentless involvement and the congressional testimony of John Mills, it is very doubtful that passenger service would have been restored over what was historically the most heavily traveled route between St. Louis and Texas.

The Inter-American, predecessor of today’s Texas Eagle, began service on March 13, 1974. I was the ticket clerk on duty when the first train arrived in Little Rock. John hadn’t conducted my employment interview, but I have no doubt that he helped influence that decision. By that time, John was an Amtrak manager in Fort Worth, but that didn’t stop him from publicly lambasting Mopac for operating the Inter-American at 60mph maximum on track that was easily good for 79mph. Long after retiring from Amtrak, John continued to produce a barrage of letters promoting passenger rail and, when necessary, chastising Amtrak for what he viewed as various shortcomings.

We have lost another tireless advocate for the cause, but along the way, John Mills did influence a lot of other people across the country to get involved. The battle for more and better intercity passenger rail service will continue.

Bill Pollard


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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May 2013


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