Trains For America

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Amtrak outlook in new administration

Tom Belden’s Business column in deals with Amtrak in the new Obama administration. No big shocks, but it is worth a read. Here is a highlight.

But Amtrak patronage elsewhere continued to grow last month, as it has been doing for several years. At one time, half of the railroad’s riders were on Northeast Corridor trains. Today, it’s 38 percent because of the growth on routes in the rest of the country.

Among the reasons for that growth is that numerous states, including Pennsylvania, help support short- and medium-distance Amtrak trains that are just the kinds business and leisure travelers want – especially when gas hits $4 a gallon.

Public transit systems, both those that operate trains and those with buses only, have had an increase in riders this year as well. They carried 5.2 percent more passengers in the second quarter, compared with 2007; those are the latest figures available and represent growth before gas prices surged this summer.

The American Public Transportation Association says 85 percent of the systems, like Amtrak, also lack the capacity they need to meet peak-hour demand.

Fortunately, Congress responded this year to decades of starvation budgets for Amtrak by passing a five-year, $13 billion reauthorization bill that President Bush signed. If Congress appropriates funds as the bill envisions, it should give Amtrak money to begin making up for past shortages, including the lack of equipment to meet peak demand.


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

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November 2008