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InsiderOnline Blog: February 2011

Amtrak’s History

Taxpayer billions for high-speed rail? First, what happened with low-speed rail? Here’s Robert Samuelson:

In 1970, when Congress created Amtrak to preserve intercity passenger trains, the idea was that the system would become profitable and self-sustaining after an initial infusion of federal money. This never happened. Amtrak has already swallowed $35 billion in subsidies, and they're increasing by more than $1 billion annually.

Despite the subsidies, Amtrak does not provide low-cost transportation. Longtime critic Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute recently planned a trip from Washington to New York. Noting that fares on Amtrak's high-speed Acela start at $139 one-way, he decided to take a private bus service. The roundtrip fare: $21.50. Nor does Amtrak do much to relieve congestion, cut oil use, reduce pollution or eliminate greenhouse gases. Its traffic volumes are simply too small to matter.

Consider. In 2010, Amtrak carried 29.1 million passengers for the entire year. That's about one-twenty-fifth of annual air travel (2010 estimate: 725 million passengers). It's also roughly a quarter of daily automobile commuters (124 million in 2008). Measured by passenger-miles traveled, Amtrak represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the national total. … Even if ridership increased fifteen-fold over Amtrak levels, the effects on congestion, national fuel consumption and emissions would still be trivial.

(See “The Enemies of Good Government,” Real Clear Politics, February 14, 2011.)

Posted on 02/15/11 12:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

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