Photo Credit: Quartz Ever since privately owned freight railroads were freed by Congress in 1970 from their public service obligation to operate unprofitable intercity passenger trains—a law that created publicly owned Amtrak—a debate has raged in the US over how much passenger rail service is enough, how fast passenger trains should travel, why passenger trains aren’t profitable, and who should provide the subsidy that keeps them afloat.
Amtrak loses money, as do all rail passenger systems across the globe. . .
While government subsidies keep Amtrak trains running, those sums perennially fall short of fully satisfying Amtrak’s capital-investment needs—like the purchase of new locomotives and passenger cars, plus renewal of track, signals, bridges, and stations.
Among some 500 bridges that along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Washington, DC, and Boston—each a century or more old, and requiring extensive rehabilitation—is one spanning New Jersey’s Hackensack River. It needs a $1.5 billion replacement. New tunnels under the Hudson River to replace 115-year-old twin bores come with a $13.5 billion price tag. Another $1.2 billion is required to replace a 142-year-old tunnel under Baltimore. Overhead catenary delivering electricity to trains dates to the 1930s. New safety systems, which might have prevented the Philadelphia fatal derailment and which are nearing completion along the NEC’s entire length, have siphoned substantial, scarce, dollars. . .
The reason money-losing long-distance trains continue to operate is that the economic arguments for eliminating them fails the political test. Once the good folks of a given state or city lose their once-daily, long-distance train, the congressional lawmakers representing those souls are less likely to allocate tax dollars to the NEC, which still needs those subsidies for capital expenditures. (Read more from “Yes, Amtrak Train Was Sabotaged–by Congress” HERE)