Keeping Better Track of Amtrak

Understanding our infrastructure crisis and the importance of Amtrak

Understanding Our Infrastructure Crisis And The Importance Of Amtrak

Three weeks after an Amtrak passenger train crashed near Philadelphia, the Center for American Progress is taking some time to think critically about some of the challenges facing the America’s infrastructure. Today, CAP Action hosted a discussion of the issues facing our rail infrastructure featuring Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

CAP also released a report in conjunction with today’s events that highlights the essential services Amtrak provides, and the increasingly difficult financial position the organization has been put in because of inadequate federal funding. Here are a few key facts from the report about Amtrak:

  • 500 destinations: Amtrak serves more than 500 destinations in 46 states and three Canadian provinces—covering 21,300 miles of routes.
  • 31.6 million: Amtrak’s total ridership is 31.6 million passengers. Everyday an average of 86,000 people ride more than 300 Amtrak trains.
  • 840,000: Everyday Amtrak carries 840,000 commuters to their jobs every weekday.
  • 93 percent: In the last year 93 percent of Amtrak’s operating costs were covered by ticket sales.
  • 58 percent: In the Northeast, commuter rail demand is anticipated to increase by 58 percent by 2030.
  • 75 percent: Amtrak makes up three-fourths of all combined airline and rail travel between Washington, D.C. and New York City as well as 54 percent of the market between New York and Boston.

Amtrak’s ridership has increased significantly in recent years and is expected to continue to increase in the coming decades, especially along the Northeast corridor. Along with the increase in ridership, Amtrak’s financial performance has also improved, yet Congress has used Amtrak’s financial improvements to justify cutting the organization’s funding.

Since Amtrak began operations in 1971, it has received $70 billion in total federal funding and in the last seven years alone, Congress has authorized $65 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund. That means that Congress has provided almost as much general funding support for highways in the last seven years as Amtrak has received in 45 years of operation. With inadequate funding, it is nearly impossible for Amtrak to comply with many of the safety regulations also mandated by Congress.

BOTTOM LINE: Amtrak is an essential piece of infrastructure that efficiently and safely transports millions of Americans each year and its funding from Congress should reflect that. Proactive investment in infrastructure that takes into account population growth and changes in transportation preferences is an essential step America must take to prepare for the future.

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