THE PAST AND FUTURE OF U.S. PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE

More than three decades after the Congress and the President created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (known as Amtrak), federal policies toward intercity passenger rail service remain unsettled. Policymakers have not been able to agree about whether the company should be a private, for-profit enterprise (like airlines and intercity bus companies) or a public service (like urban mass transit) that would use government subsidies to achieve social objectives. Amtrak was originally intended to be a for-profit company that would be free of federal subsidies within a few years. But policymakers continued to provide subsidies to keep trains running even when those trains could not cover their costs. Until 1997, the Congress imposed conditions-such as requiring the operation of a national network-that kept Amtrak from acting like a for-profit enterprise. Even after the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 freed the company from most constraints, Amtrak continued to operate routes and maintain policies that were uneconomic but helpful in securing federal subsidies. As a result, Amtrak has needed federal support every year of its 33-year history. Recently, those subsidies have accounted for about one-third of the company's total revenues. Although Amtrak continues to receive annual appropriations, its authorization expired in 2002. As lawmakers consider legislation to reauthorize federal funding of Amtrak, they are wrestling with the question of what to do about U.S. passenger rail in general and Amtrak in particular. This study reviews Amtrak's history and the economics of passenger rail. It also examines four options for the future of intercity passenger rail: (1) Eliminating federal subsidies and shutting down service; (2) Ending national service and focusing instead on passenger rail's strongest areas (relatively short, densely populated corridors, such as the Northeast and parts of California); (3) Keeping national long-distance service as it is today but upgrading the corridors; and (4) Substantially improving Amtrak's entire network through a major increase in funding, with a view to giving rail a much bigger role in transportation between U.S. cities.

Language

  • English

Media Info

  • Features: Appendices; Figures; Tables;
  • Pagination: 53 p.

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00964148
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: NTL, TRIS
  • Created Date: Oct 15 2003 12:00AM