Today, Amtrak (officially known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation) and passenger rail, as a whole, are stronger than ever and increasingly gaining support (ironically, despite a continued lack of funding) as oil prices soar and we look for cleaner and more efficient ways to travel. Since 2000 when the carrier introduced high-speed Acela service (and more trains/routes in general) along its Northeast Corridor growth for the carrier has become much more prominent. Additionally, since 2002 the company has nearly always broken annual ridership records. It has also helped that a number of states are now supporting passenger trains and receiving increased funding, particularly as highways become increasingly congested. Perhaps the two most noted states that are giving passenger railroading serious attention include North Carolina and California. Both are doing a magnificent job developing passenger rail corridors in their respective states, particularly North Carolina. If you are interested in seeing how a passenger rail network should be properly implemented, planned, and carried out have a look at what the Tarheel State is doing.
However, North Carolina and California are not the only two states that have a well-developed network already in place. Other states including Washington, Florida, Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Mexico and others all have commuter rail networks either in place or planned for the future. Amtrak also runs trains in conjunction with certain states like Washington’s Sounder service and North Carolina’s Piedmont. When the carrier began it used private equipment donated by the participating railroads (although, it should be noted, that not all of the major Class Is, at that time, wanted to let go of their trains) and while it was originally setup to become financially self-supporting this was completely an illusion (passenger railroading, is, again, almost never profitable and requires some sort of subsidy to operate).
In its first year the company earned $163 million with expenses of $310 million. By 1980 things were not much better as the carrier saw $454 million in revenues and $1.08 billion in expenses. Regardless of all of the problems during its early years and the claims by critics that it is a waste of taxpayer money and should be eliminated, travel by train is not only a very needed transportation artery but also continues to receive public support year after year. And, even though a statute expired in 2002 ensuring annual funding, public support has continued and Congress overwhelmingly continues to provide funding for the carrier.
Light rail (or LRT) is also making a splash in cities across the country. Compared to “heavy rail” operations these services are much cheaper and are very efficient by helping to reduce significant wear on city streets and highways (along with reducing traffic and emissions as well). Some cities are even using LRT in a nostalgic sense by bringing back the classic trolley, which has been a huge hit (such as in New Orleans). LRT services can now be found in dozens of cities which include Charlotte, NC; Denver, CO; aforementioned New Orleans; Seattle, Washingon; Minneapolis, Minneapolis; Norfolk, Virginia and others. A few cities with future plans to add LRT include Kansas City, Kansas and Austin, Texas. Today ridership numbers for Amtrak have broken 31 million in fiscal year 2012, an increase of more than 10 million riders since the year 2000!
As recently as just a few years ago the future of the carrier was looking bright: in December of 2007 a report was released that proposed giving $357 billion
towards passenger rail (federally and state funded) over the next four
decades; then in the spring of 2009 President Obama granted $8 billion
for the development of high speed rail along ten different corridors
ranging from 100 to 600 miles in length. As of today, however, with the political landscape
quickly changing the carrier's future again remains uncertain. Unfortunately, most of the billions proposed by President Obama and the 2007 report never made it to either Amtrak or improving the country's passenger rail service in general.
Historically republicans have been less receptive to funding a government owned business than democrats. With democratic policies losing interest with the general public presently and republicans gaining more control in Washington the passenger carrier's once lofty funding hopes are fading. It looks as if once more company will limp along with only enough funding to remain operable on a year to year basis. In closing, it is somewhat embarrassing that our country still does not have a more properly developed passenger rail network, particularly when compared to other countries around the world such as France, Germany, Japan, and England. Critics like to point to Amtrak’s long distance, intercity, services as a money-losing, fruitless operation that should be scrapped in favor of a more streamlined, corridor operation (i.e., like the Northeast Corridor).
It is true that long-distance trains are very expensive to operate and maintain, however, many of these trains continue to be full, or nearly full, even though they operate with inadequate funding and are habitually late due to the fact that the run on private rail lines. And, likewise, over and over it is proven that if the service is offered, the passengers will come. For instance, ridership projections for new trains, whether they be LRT, commuter rail, or long-distance operations continually prove to be too low. Above and beyond everything already said, as Don Phillips said in his monthly column in Trains magazine a few years ago, either we as country decide to properly update our transportation network (including our Interstates), particularly passenger rail, or face complete gridlock as Interstate funding is barely able to keep up with the growing traffic volume.
For more information on the carrier please visit their website by clicking here. Also, for more information about NARP please click here. Finally, below is a historic company diesel and electric locomotive roster. More information can be found here regarding its active roster. Also, the carrier operates 12 train sets of Talgo and 20 of the Acela Express. Finally, for an early roster please click here.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
|Builder||Model Type||Road Number||Date Built||Quantity|
|EMD||GP38H-3||520-527||1966, Rebuilt in 2004 from Go Transit GP40s.||8|
|EMD||GP15D||570-579||2004, Rebuilt by Motive Power.||10|
Electric Locomotive Roster
|Builder||Model Type||Road Number||Date Built||Quantity|
|EMD||AEM7AC||901-953||2000-2002 (Rebuilt from AEM-7s.)||53|
Passenger Trains And Other Services
Along with the Interstate issue currently airline service is nothing but in shambles, and for the money invested passenger rail is the most cost-effective solution at reducing highway (and overall traffic) congestion. What does the future hold at this point? It seems the answer to that question is always cloudy. The only certainty is this; the passenger carrier will almost certainly continue to be viewed as an unwanted stepchild of the government's for many years to come, particularly in the country's current predicament of stifling debt. Perhaps one day, however, the United States can claim a proud high speed rail network throughout different corridors around the country. When that may happen though is anyone's guess.
Lastly, to learn more about the carrier consider one, or both, of these books; Amtrak by Brian Solomon and Amtrak in the Heartland by Craig Sanders. Mr. Solomon's book gives an excellent general history of the carrier since its start up in 1971 while Mr. Sanders' book covers its operations mostly in the Midwest. In any event, both books are filled with information and pictures so if you have an interest in Amtrak or are interested in learning more about the carrier you certainly won't be disappointed in one, or both books. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.