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Robert Longley

Amtrak Ridership Soars, May Seek More Funding

By August 20, 2008

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Americans driven from their cars by high gas prices have started to return to the railroads, as Amtrak reported a whopping 14 percent increase in ridership from July 2007, through July 2008. Amtrak posted an all time single-month record this July, carrying 2,750,278 passengers, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

The increasing popularity of riding the rails comes along with the release of figures from the Department of Energy showing Amtrak trains to be 17.9 percent more energy efficient than the airlines.

With many of its routes now operating at or above capacity, and bolstered by its increasing ridership and energy efficiency, look for Amtrak to request an increase in federal funding.

Congress created Amtrak in 1971 as an intercity passenger rail service. Never posting a profit, Amtrak has received over $40 billion in federal funding. Betting on profits from its Acela high-speed train service, Amtrak promised Congress in 1997 that it could pay its own way by 2003. No such luck. Amtrak has asked for and been given government subsidies every year since then.

Also See:
U.S. Anti-driving Trend Continues, Could Grow
Amtrak Dying (2005)


August 21, 2008 at 10:30 am
(1) Don says:

Why does every reporter that files an Amtrak story have to get into how much money the rail has “lost?”

Amtrak was formed by Congress in 1970 (began operations on 1 May of the following year) to relieve what we now call the freight railroads of their passenger services.

Congress and the federal government had effectively put passenger rail service (private sector) out of business by a combination of “subsidizing” the aviation industry with an influx of trained pilots, aircraft and improved airports following WW 2, federal funding of airports and air traffic control and the federally funded Interstate Highway Program. The final straw was in 1968 when most US Postal Service contracts were given to the airlines.

As a result of this massive federal intervention the feds formed Amtrak to relieve the railroads of their losses. Although Amtrak was promised to be subsidy free within three years everyone involved (that knew anything about railroading) knew that this was not going to happen. I guess that the plan was to do whatever necessary in order to save a national system because one day we would need it again. The 1990′s Congressional mandate for Amtrak to become subsidy free within 5 years was a joke and, again, most folks knew it. But, that was what Amtrak had to do in order to survive. As Senator Trent Lott was later to say, “we asked them (Amtrak) to lie and they did” (or words pretty much to that effect).

Amtrak has had its problems, some of them their fault, some of them union related but most of them the results of chronic under-funding by Congress, while at the same time pouring billions into highway and aviation systems that are now about to kill* us.

It is interesting that we pour all of this money into highway and aviation and the reporters call it an investment but if we put a few million into Amtrak for much needed capacity increases, bridge repairs, etc., the reporters call it a subsidy.

Well folks, be very happy that back in the seventies, again in the nineties, etc., there were enough sensible folks around with a long range perspective that did whatever it took to keep a skeletal passenger rail network functioning in this country. It is not much when compared with what is seen in most industrialized nations but at least we have a foundation upon which to build. And, if you think that rail passenger demand is up at the $3.50 to $4/gal level for gas wait until it hits the $5.50 to $6/gal level.

Please encourage your members of Congress to support both the pending Amtrak multi-year re-authorization bill (S.294) presently awaiting a House/Senate reconciliation committee and the Amtrak FY 09 budget request. And, if your community does not have passenger rail service, or if you do and have less than six daily trains, maybe you should ask them why not. For more info see http://www.narprail.org

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