Amtrak back on the rails

Marketplace Staff Jan 16, 2008

Amtrak back on the rails

Marketplace Staff Jan 16, 2008


Doug Krizner: The number of passengers traveling by train in the U.S. is rising. That’s good news for Amtrak.

As Danielle Karson reports, there’s growing momentum in Congress to keep the rail system’s wheels turning with a bigger chunk of federal dollars.

Narrator [Ad]: On Amtrak, you can travel over 500 destinations…

Danielle Karson: People fed up with traffic jams and soaring gas prices are getting the message. In fact, Amtrak has been chugging towards a record number of passengers: almost 26 million rode on trains last year.

Alexander Kumman: Everybody is seeing the different economic boundary conditions, with higher energy prices, with a much higher sensitivity towards environmental footprint, land use footprint and I think on those fronts, all of those movements help us.

Amtrak CEO Alex Kumman says ticket sales are up. For years, Amtrak was the poster child for a government enterprise that couldn’t pay it’s own way, but now, Congress is shifting away from that demand.

Ross Capon is with the National Association of Railway Passengers:

Ross Capon: The highway system, as a whole, is not profitable. The aviation system, as a whole, is not profitable. Amtrak is basically the entire ball of wax: the rail equivalent of the air traffic control system, the airport authorities and the carriers. They’re holding passenger rail up to a standard that no one asks the other forms of transportation to meet.

Now the Senate wants to infuse $12 billion into Amtrak. It wants greater efficiency, not profits.

But some critics, like Florida Congressman John Mica, say Amtrak needs a serious overhaul to provide high-speed service like European trains that travel 120 miles per hour. The government isn’t willing to spend that kind of money, so he says Amtrak should be privatized. That way, Amtrak’s Acela service between Washington and New York City could become a money maker.

John Mica: Amtrak’s Acela goes at an average of 83 miles per hour. Think of the revenue that would be generated, think how many people would utilize a true high-speed rail service, getting from New York to Washington in an hour and a half.

President Bush has said he wants to privatize parts of Amtrak. So far, he isn’t saying whether he’ll veto the measure.

From Washington, I’m Danielle Karson for Marketplace.

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