Stop toying with AMTRAK funding, dammit!



I am so sick and tired of the conservative element in Congress annually trying to defund all or part of AMTRAK. Who are these fools? AMTRAK is regularly setting records for ridership and they want to reduce funding – approximately 30% for fiscal year 2014. Is that a bass ackwards approach or what? Here are some important facts about AMTRAK:

Basic Amtrak Facts
  • During FY 2012 (October 2011 – September 2012), Amtrak welcomed aboard more than 31.2 million passengers, the largest annual total in its history, and the ninth annual ridership record in the last ten years. Every day, an average of more than 85,000 passengers ride more than 300 Amtrak trains.
  • Amtrak operates a nationwide rail network, serving more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces on more than 21,300 miles of routes, with approximately 20,000 employees. It is the nation’s only high-speed intercity passenger rail provider, operating at a top speed of 150 mph (241 kph). More than half of its trains operate at top speeds of 100 mph (160 kph) or greater.
  • Amtrak is building the equipment, infrastructure and organization it needs to sustain growing ridership.
  • Amtrak is investing in critical projects that will enhance the passenger experience, sustain the national passenger network, provide much-needed capacity and improve reliability and safety.
  • Amtrak is taking steps to improve financial performance and accountability with new cost controls, efficiency improvements, and debt reduction measures that will combine with better service, record ridership and resulting revenue increases to improve our bottom line.

Amtrak plays an important role in the national transportation network by providing travelers with a safe, efficient and reliable alternative that mitigates the effect of high gas prices and pervasive highway and airline congestion.

  • In FY 2012, Amtrak earned approximately $2.877 billion in revenue and incurred approximately $4.036 billion in expense. No country in the world operates a passenger rail system without some form of public support for capital costs and/or operating expenses.
  • In FY 2012, Amtrak covered 88 percent of operating costs with ticket sales and other revenue.
  • In 2011, an average of more than 831,000 people every weekday depended on commuter rail services that used Amtrak-owned infrastructure, dispatching, shared operations, or rode commuter trains operated or maintained by Amtrak under contracts with local or regional agencies.
  • The Amtrak Northeast Corridor (NEC) is the busiest railroad in North America, with more than 2,200 trains operating over some portion of the Washington-Boston route each day. Approximately 260 million intercity and commuter rail passengers rely on the NEC each year.
  • When included among U.S. airlines, Amtrak ranks No. 6 in domestic passengers carried. In the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak now has a very strong position in many markets that were previously dominated by air carriers.
    • Amtrak carried more than three times as many riders between Washington and New York City as the airline industry.
    • Amtrak carried more riders between New York and Boston than all of the airlines combined.

I guess I shouldn’t be totally surprised as some members of Congress are beholding to Big Oil (namely a pair of brothers from Wichita), but common sense is common sense. A modern and comprehensive transportation system must consist of many forms of transportation – from cars to bicycles, to buses, to trains, to planes, to walking, to transit, to so on and so on.  Leave any aspect out and it disrupts the entire system – just ask those in the Northeast when the train system is down due to a hurricane or accident.

What these yahoos don’t seem to get is if more people are riding AMTRAK, then our supply of oil will be extended offering the oil companies profits over an extended period of time. Duh – politicians should be able to figure that one out…even ones from oil states.

It’s high time Congress as a whole worried about more important things than taking swipes at AMTRAK funding. How about ending the tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies instead? They seem to be making a sufficient profit. That’s a change that most of America (except oil-rich states) will gladly cheer.

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11 Responses to Stop toying with AMTRAK funding, dammit!

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    WELL PUT, my friend! Without a number of bigger subsidies, the oil companies and other “favored industries” of the “House” wouldn’t always do so well, even though they’re bleeding us dry. let alone those “American” corporations headquartered outside the US (like the Cayman Islands, etc., ad nauseum…).


  2. Joe says:

    Does AMTRAK get closer to profit, or further away from profit, the more riders they have? I heard that AMTRAK loses money even on their food services.


    • Rick Brown says:


      In 2010 ticket prices covered 79% of their operating costs. In 2012, ticket prices covered 88% of their operating costs. Sound like an improvement to me. For passenger railroad service, there is not a single system on the planet that is 100% self-funded. The sooner the ill-conceived” demand for profits is removed, the sooner AMTRAK can operate without the foot-dragging of Congress slowing their advancements down.



      • pilotmkn says:

        The test of whether an idea is good or not is if people are willing to pay for it. Nobody has to subsidize Applebee’s, because they provide people a service they want. Less than 1% of the traveling public goes by train, so why should we be forced to fund it?

        And your numbers are flatly wrong on Amtrak. It used deceptive accounting methods that would land a private CPA in jail. It buries its “maintenance” expenses as capital improvements, which essentially removes their cost from the balance sheet.


  3. Totally agree. The question needs to change from “How can we do less as quickly as possible” to “How can we do better over the long term.” But the question may not change until different people are asking it. Or, even better, working on the answer.


  4. pilotmkn says:

    This is not an article so much as a glorified press release. A government website is NOT an objective source of facts. You would probably never copy and paste a statement from Exxon oil company’s website touting the wonderful benefits it provides, but if its Amtrak then you have a double standard.

    Why should people be FORCED to pay for a system that less than 1% of the traveling public uses? Our society has voted with its wallet – it doesn’t want government trains. Even in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak only has a dominant share of the market if you EXCLUDE cars from the numbers. The sad fact is, most people still go by car.


  5. Yes, the total amount of route mileage of U.S. railroads has actually been shrinking – but that’s been going on for almost a century (it peaked in 1918). If you dig into this subject, the overwhelming majority of tracks that have been removed or are inoperative are old branch lines, not main transcontinental routes and those serving major urban metros. The branch lines that are “gone” shrunk or disappeared because the industries they supported either left or died, or other forms of transporting product (particularly heavy natural resources, such as pipelines for oil) replaced trains.


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