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Amtrak
Amtrak

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak, is a passenger railroad service that provides medium- and long-distance intercity service in the contiguous United States and to nine Canadian cities.

Founded in 1971 as a quasi-public corporation to operate many U.S. passenger rail services,[1][2][3] it receives a combination of state and federal subsidies but is managed as a for-profit organization.[4] Amtrak's headquarters is located one block west of Union Station in Washington, D.C.[5]

Amtrak serves more than 500 destinations in 46 states and three Canadian provinces, operating more than 300 trains daily over 21,400 miles (34,000 km) of track. Amtrak owns approximately 623 miles of this track and operates an additional 132 miles of track. Some track sections allow trains to run as fast as 150 mph (240 km/h).[4]

In fiscal year 2018, Amtrak served 31.7 million passengers and had $3.4 billion in revenue, while employing more than 20,000 people. Nearly 87,000 passengers ride more than 300 Amtrak trains on a daily basis.[4] Nearly two-thirds of passengers come from the 10 largest metropolitan areas; 83% of passengers travel on routes shorter than 400 miles (645 km).[6]

The name Amtrak is a portmanteau of the words America and trak, the latter itself a sensational spelling of track.[4]

History


In 1916, 98% of all commercial intercity travelers in the United States moved by rail, and the remaining 2% moved by inland waterways.[7] Nearly 42 million passengers used railways as primary transportation.[8] Passenger trains were owned and operated by the same privately owned companies that operated freight trains.[9] As the 20th century progressed, patronage declined in the face of competition from buses, air travel, and the automobile. New streamlined diesel-powered trains such as the Pioneer Zephyr were popular with the traveling public but could not reverse the trend.[10] By 1940, railroads held just 67 percent of commercial passenger-miles in the United States. In real terms, passenger-miles had fallen by 40% since 1916, from 42 billion to 25 billion.[8]

Traffic surged during World War II, which was aided by troop movement and gasoline rationing. The railroad's market share surged to 74% in 1945, with a massive 94 billion passenger-miles.[11] After the war, railroads rejuvenated their overworked and neglected passenger fleets with fast and luxurious streamliners.[12] These new trains brought only temporary relief to the overall decline.[13] Even as postwar travel exploded, passenger travel percentages of the overall market share fell to 46% by 1950, and then 32% by 1957.[8] The railroads had lost money on passenger service since the Great Depression, but deficits reached $723 million in 1957. For many railroads, these losses threatened financial viability.[14]

The causes of this decline were heavily debated.

Matters approached a crisis in the 1960s.

As passenger service declined various proposals were brought forward to rescue it.

In October 1970, Congress passed, and President Richard Nixon signed into law, the Rail Passenger Service Act.[24] Proponents of the bill, led by the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), sought government funding to ensure the continuation of passenger trains. They conceived the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC), a private entity that would receive taxpayer funding and assume operation of intercity passenger trains.[25] The original working brand name for NRPC was Railpax, but shortly before the company started operating it was changed to Amtrak.[26] There were several key provisions:[27]

  • Any railroad operating intercity passenger service could contract with the NRPC, thereby joining the national system.
  • Participating railroads bought into the NRPC using a formula based on their recent intercity passenger losses.
  • Any participating railroad was freed of the obligation to operate intercity passenger service after May 1, 1971, except for those services chosen by the Department of Transportation (DOT) as part of a "basic system" of service and paid for by NRPC using its federal funds.
  • Railroads that chose not to join the NRPC system were required to continue operating their existing passenger service until 1975 and thenceforth had to pursue the customary ICC approval process for any discontinuance or alteration to the service.

Of the 26 railroads still offering intercity passenger service in 1970, only six declined to join Amtrak.[28] Nearly everyone involved expected the experiment to be short-lived.

Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.[1][2][31] Amtrak received no rail tracks or rights-of-way at its inception. All Amtrak's routes were continuations of prior service, although Amtrak pruned about half the passenger rail network.[32] Of the 366 train routes that operated previously, Amtrak only continued 184.[33] On the routes that were continued (to the extent possible), schedules were retained with only minor changes from the Official Guide of the Railways and under the same names. Several major corridors became freight-only, including the ex-New York Central Railroad's Water Level Route from New York to Ohio and Grand Trunk Western Railroad's Chicago to Detroit route. Reduced passenger train schedules created headaches. A 19-hour layover became necessary for eastbound travel on the James Whitcomb Riley between Chicago and Newport News.

Amtrak inherited problems with train stations (most notably deferred maintenance) and redundant facilities that competed with companies serving the same areas. On the day it started, Amtrak was given the responsibility of rerouting passenger trains from the seven train terminals in Chicago (LaSalle, Dearborn, Grand Central, Randolph, Chicago Northwestern Terminal, Central, and Union) into just one, Union Station. In New York City, Amtrak had to pay and maintain both the Penn Station and the Grand Central Terminal due to the lack of track connections to bring trains from upstate New York into Penn Station; a problem that was rectified once the Empire Connection was built in 1991.[34] Amtrak had to abandon numerous large stations whose upkeep could no longer be justified. On the other hand, the creation of the Los Angeles–Seattle Coast Starlight from three formerly separate train routes was an immediate success, resulting in an increase to daily service by 1973.[35][36]

Needing to operate only half the train routes that were owned by the private railroads, Amtrak originally picked around 1,200 of the best passenger cars to lease from the 3,000 that the private railroads had owned.

Amtrak soon had the opportunity to acquire rights-of-way.

In its first decade, Amtrak fell far short of financial independence, which continues today, but it did find modest success rebuilding trade.

In 1982, former Secretary of the Navy and retired Southern Railway head William Graham Claytor Jr. came out of retirement to lead Amtrak.[45] Despite frequent clashes with the Reagan administration over funding, Claytor enjoyed a good relationship with John H. Riley, the head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and with members of Congress. Limited funding led Claytor to use short-term debt to fund operations.[46]

Building on mechanical developments in the 1970s, high speed Washington-New York Metroliner Service was improved with new equipment and faster schedules.

Ridership stagnated at roughly 20 million passengers per year amid uncertain government aid from 1981 to about 2000.[44]Amtrak%3A%20The%20History%20and%20Po]][48] self-sufficiency". By this time, however, Amtrak had a large overhang of debt from years of underfunding, and in the mid-1990s, Amtrak suffered through a serious cash crunch. Under Downs, Congress included a provision in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 that resulted in Amtrak receiving a $2.3 billion tax refund that resolved their cash crisis.[49] However, Congress also instituted a "glide-path" to financial self-sufficiency, excluding railroad retirement tax act payments.[50]

George Warrington became president in 1998 with a mandate to make Amtrak financially self-sufficient. Passengers became "guests" and there were expansions into express freight work, but the financial plans failed. Amtrak's inroads in express freight delivery created additional friction with competing freight operators, including the trucking industry. Delivery was delayed of much anticipated high-speed trainsets for the improved Acela Express

Ridership increased during the first decade of the 21st century after implementation of capital improvements in the NEC and rises in automobile fuel costs.

A plan by the Bush administration "to privatize parts of the national passenger rail system and spin off other parts to partial state ownership" provoked disagreement within Amtrak's board of directors.

Joseph H. Boardman replaced Kummant as President and CEO in late 2008.[58]

In 2011, Amtrak announced its intention to improve and expand the high-speed rail corridor from Penn Station in NYC, under the Hudson River in new tunnels, and double-tracking the line to Newark, NJ called the Gateway Program, initially estimated to cost $13.5 billion.[59][60][61]

From May 2011 to May 2012, Amtrak celebrated its 40th anniversary with festivities across the country that started on National Train Day (May 7, 2011).

On December 9, 2015, Boardman announced in a letter to employees that he would be leaving Amtrak in September 2016.

In May and June 2017, following several service disruptions within Pennsylvania Station and the East River Tunnels, the train service announced an expedited schedule for maintenance and repairs of infrastructure, which involves the complete shutdown of multiple tracks at a time.[71] Amtrak has faced criticism from commuters as well as politicians for these incidents, prompting responses from figures such as New Jersey governor Chris Christie and New York governor Andrew Cuomo. The repairs are expected to take place in Summer 2017, affecting the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit trains during all hours, who have planned additional or modified services.[72][73]

On November 17, 2016, the Gateway Program Development Corporation (GDC) was formed for the purpose of overseeing and effectuating the rail infrastructure improvements known as the Gateway Program.

In June 2017, it was announced that former Delta and Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson would become Amtrak's next President & CEO.[70] Anderson began the job on July 12, assuming the title of President immediately and serving alongside Moorman as "co-CEOs" until the end of the year.

Operations


Amtrak is required by law to operate a national route system.[75] Amtrak has presence in 46 of the 48 contiguous states (lacking Wyoming and South Dakota). Amtrak services fall into three groups: short-haul service on the Northeast Corridor, state-supported short haul service outside the Northeast Corridor, and medium- and long-haul service known within Amtrak as the National Network. Amtrak receives federal funding for the vast majority of its operations including the central spine of the Northeast Corridor as well as for its National Network routes. In addition to the federally funded routes, Amtrak partners with transportation agencies in 18 states to operate other short and medium haul routes outside of the Northeast Corridor, some of which connect to it or are extensions off of it. In addition to its inter-city services, Amtrak also operates commuter services for three state agencies including MARC in Maryland, Shore Line East in Connecticut, and Metrolink in California.

Service on the Northeast Corridor, between Boston, and Washington, D.C., as well as between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, is powered by overhead electric wires; for the rest of the system, diesel locomotives are used. Routes vary widely in frequency of service, from three-days-a-week trains on the Sunset Limited to weekday service several times per hour on the Northeast Corridor (NEC).[76] Amtrak also operates a captive bus service, Thruway Motorcoach, which provides connections to train routes.[77]

The most popular and heavily used services are those running on the NEC, including the Acela Express and Northeast Regional. The NEC runs from Boston to Washington, D.C. via New York City and Philadelphia. Some services continue into Virginia. The NEC services accounted for 12.1 million of Amtrak's 31.7 million passengers in fiscal year 2018.[4] Outside the NEC the most popular services are the short-haul corridors in California. These include the Pacific Surfliner, Capitol Corridor, and San Joaquin, supplemented by an extensive network of connecting buses. Together the California corridor trains accounted for a combined 5,731,795 passengers in fiscal year 2018.[4] Other popular corridors include the Empire Corridor, which consists of trackage between New York City and Niagara Falls, New York via Albany and Buffalo, New York and carried 1,517,194 passengers in fiscal year 2018, and the Keystone Service from New York City to Harrisburg via Philadelphia that carried 1,519,936 passengers that same year.[4]

Four of the six busiest stations by boardings are on the NEC: New York (Penn Station) (first), Washington (Union Station) (second), Philadelphia (30th Street Station) (third), and Boston (South Station) (fifth). The other two are Chicago (Union Station) (fourth) and Los Angeles (Union Station) (sixth).[4]

Per passenger mile, Amtrak is 30–40 percent more energy-efficient than commercial airlines and automobiles overall,[78] though the exact figures for particular routes depend on load factor along with other variables.

On-time performance is calculated differently for airlines than for Amtrak.

In 2005, Amtrak's carbon dioxide equivalent emissions were 0.411 lbs/mi (0.116 kg per km).[83] For comparison, this is similar to a car with two people,[84] about twice as high as the UK rail average (where more of the system is electrified),[85] about four times the average US motorcoach,[84] and about eight times a Finnish electric intercity train or fully loaded fifty-seat coach.[87][88] It is, however, about two thirds of the raw CO2-equivalent emissions of a long-distance domestic flight.[89]

Intermodal connections between Amtrak trains and other transportation are available at many stations. Most Amtrak rail stations in downtown areas have connections to local public transport. Amtrak also code shares with United Airlines, providing service between Newark Liberty International Airport (via its Amtrak station and AirTrain Newark) and Philadelphia 30th St, Wilmington, Stamford, and New Haven. Special codes are used to designate these intermodal routes, such as "ZVE" to designate the combination of New Haven's Union Station and Newark International Airport and the Amtrak connection between them. Amtrak also serves airport stations at Milwaukee, Oakland, Burbank, and Baltimore.

Amtrak coordinates Thruway Motorcoach service to extend many of its routes, especially in California.

Outside the Northeast Corridor and stretches of track in Southern California and Michigan, most Amtrak trains run on tracks owned and operated by privately owned freight railroads.

Amtrak carried 15,848,327 passengers in 1972, its first full year of operation.[94] Ridership has increased steadily ever since, carrying a record 31.739 million passengers in fiscal year 2017, double the total in 1972.[95]

Amtrak's loyalty program, Guest Rewards,[96] is similar to the frequent-flyer programs of many airlines. Guest Rewards members accumulate points by riding Amtrak and through other activities, and can redeem these points for free or discounted Amtrak tickets and other rewards.[96]

Through various commuter services, Amtrak serves an additional 61.1 million passengers per year in conjunction with state and regional authorities in California (through Amtrak California and Metrolink), Connecticut (through Shore Line East), and Maryland (through MARC).

Along the NEC and in several other areas, Amtrak owns 730 miles (1,170 km) including 17 tunnels consisting of 29.7 miles (47.8 km) of track, and 1,186 bridges (including the famous Hell Gate Bridge) consisting of 42.5 miles (68.4 km) of track. In several places, primarily in New England, Amtrak leases tracks, providing track maintenance and controlling train movements. Most often, these tracks are leased from state, regional, or local governments. Amtrak owns and operates the following lines:[97]

In addition to these lines Amtrak owns station and yard tracks in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland (Kirkham Street Yard),[102] Orlando, Portland, Oregon, Saint Paul, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Amtrak leases station and yard tracks in Hialeah, near Miami, Florida, from the State of Florida.

Amtrak owns the Chicago Union Station Company (Chicago Union Station), New York Penn Station, Baltimore Penn Station and Providence Station. It has a 99.7% interest in the Washington Terminal Company (tracks around Washington Union Station) and 99% of 30th Street Limited (Philadelphia 30th Street Station).[103] Amtrak also owns Passenger Railroad Insurance.[104]

Amtrak owns 2,142 railway cars and 425 locomotives for revenue runs and service.

On-board services


As of 2015 Amtrak offers four classes of service: First Class, Sleeper Service, Business Class, and Coach Class:[105]

  • First Class: First Class service is currently offered only on the Acela Express. Seats are larger than those of Business Class and come in a variety of seating styles (single, facing singles with table, double, facing doubles with table and wheelchair accessible). First Class is located in a separate car from business class and is located at the end of the train (to reduce the number of passengers walking in the aisles). A car attendant provides passengers with hot towel service, a complimentary meal and alcoholic beverages. First Class passengers have access to ClubAcela lounges located at select stations.[106]
  • Sleeper Service: Sleeper Service comprises private room accommodations on long-distance trains. Rooms are classified into roomettes, bedrooms, accessible bedrooms, and family bedrooms (on some trains). Included in the price of a room are attendant service and on most routes, full hot meals. At night, attendants convert rooms into sleeping areas with fold-down beds and fresh linens. Shower facilities with towels and bar soap are available. Complimentary juice, coffee and bottled water are included as well. Sleeper car passengers have access to all passenger facilities aboard the train. Sleeper passengers have access to ClubAcela lounges, Metropolitan Lounges, and unattended First Class Lounges located at select stations.[107]
  • Business Class: Business Class seating is offered on the Acela Express, Northeast Regional, many short-haul corridor trains and some long-distance trains. It is the standard class of service on the Acela Express. On all other trains where it is offered, Business Class is located in a dedicated car or section of the train. While the specific features vary by route, many include extra legroom and complimentary non-alcoholic drinks. Seats in business class recline, are typically appointed in leather and feature a fold-down tray table, foot rest, individual reading light, and power outlet. Business Class passengers have access to Metropolitan Lounges located at select stations and may purchase a daily access pass to select ClubAcela locations.[108]
  • Coach Class: Coach Class is the standard class of service on all Amtrak trains except the Acela Express. Seats in coach recline and feature a fold-down tray table, foot rest, individual reading light, and power outlet. Coach cars on long-distance trains are configured with fewer seats per car so that passengers have additional legroom and seats which are equipped with leg rests.[109]

Amtrak launched an e-ticketing system on the Downeaster in November 2011[110] and rolled it out nationwide on July 30, 2012. Amtrak officials said the system gives "more accurate knowledge in realtime of who is on the train which greatly improves the safety and security of passengers; en route reporting of onboard equipment problems to mechanical crews which may result in faster resolution of the issue; and more efficient financial reporting".[111]

Amtrak first offered free Wi-Fi service to passengers aboard the Downeaster in 2008, the Acela Express and the Northeast Regional trains on the NEC in 2010, and the Amtrak Cascades in 2011. In February 2014, Amtrak rolled out Wi-Fi on corridor trains out of Chicago. When all the Midwest cars offer the AmtrakConnect service, about 85% of all Amtrak passengers nationwide will have Wi-Fi access.[112][113] As of 2014, most Amtrak passengers have access to free Wi-Fi. The service has developed a reputation for being unreliable and slow due to its cellular network connection;[114][115] on some routes it is usually unusable, either freezing on the login page or, if it manages to log in, failing to provide any internet bandwidth.

Amtrak allows carry-on baggage on all routes; services with baggage cars allow checked baggage at selected stations.[116][117] With the passage of the Wicker Amendment in 2010 passengers are allowed to put lawfully owned, unloaded firearms in checked Amtrak baggage, reversing a decade-long ban on such carriage.[118]

Amtrak Express (reporting marks AMTK, AMTZ) provides small-package and less-than-truckload shipping among more than 100 cities. Amtrak Express also offers station-to-station shipment of human remains to many express cities. At smaller stations, funeral directors must load and unload the shipment onto and off the train. Amtrak hauled mail for the United States Postal Service and time-sensitive freight, but canceled these services in October 2004 due to minuscule profits.[119] On most parts of the few lines that Amtrak owns, trackage rights agreements allow freight railroads to use its trackage.

Company officers


Labor issues


In the modern era, Amtrak faces a number of important labor issues.

In recent times, efforts at reforming passenger rail have addressed labor issues.

Because of the fragmentation of railroad unions by job, as of 2009 Amtrak has 14 separate unions to negotiate with.

Public funding


Amtrak receives annual appropriations from federal and state governments to supplement operating and capital programs.

Amtrak commenced operations in 1971 with $40 million in direct federal aid, $100 million in federally insured loans, and a somewhat larger private contribution.[149] Officials expected that Amtrak would break even by 1974, but those expectations proved unrealistic and annual direct federal aid reached a 17-year high in 1981 of $1.25 billion.[150] During the Reagan administration, appropriations were halved and by 1986, federal support fell to a decade low of $601 million, almost none of which were capital appropriations.[151] In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Congress continued the reductionist trend even while Amtrak expenses held steady or rose. Amtrak was forced to borrow to meet short-term operating needs, and by 1995 Amtrak was on the brink of a cash crisis and was unable to continue to service its debts.[152]1999%20Annual%20Rep]]In response, in 1997 Congress authorized $5.2 billion for Amtrak over the next five years – largely to complete the capital project – on the condition that Amtrak submit to the ultimatum of self-sufficiency by 2003 or liquidation.[153] it did not achieve self-sufficiency.[154]

In 2004, a stalemate in federal support of Amtrak forced cutbacks in services and routes as well as resumption of deferred maintenance.

State governments have partially filled the breach left by reductions in federal aid.

With the dramatic rise in gasoline prices during 2007–08, Amtrak has seen record ridership.[155] Capping a steady five-year increase in ridership overall, regional lines saw 12% year-over-year growth in May 2008.[156] In October 2007, the Senate passed S-294, Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2007 (70–22) sponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg and Trent Lott. Despite a veto threat by President Bush, a similar bill passed the House on June 11, 2008, with a veto-proof margin (311–104).[157] The final bill, spurred on by the September 12 Metrolink collision in California and retitled Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, was signed into law by President Bush on October 16, 2008. The bill appropriates $2.6 billion a year in Amtrak funding through 2013.[158]

Amtrak points out that in 2010, its farebox recovery (percentage of operating costs covered by revenues generated by passenger fares) was 79%, the highest reported for any U.S. passenger railroad.[159] This increased to 94.9% in 2018.[4]

Amtrak has argued that it needs to increase capital program costs in 2013 in order to replace old train equipment because the multi-year maintenance costs for those trains exceeds what it would cost to simply buy new equipment that would not need to be repaired for several years.

In Fiscal Year 2011, the U.S.

Government aid to Amtrak was controversial from the beginning.

The Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which established Amtrak, specifically states that, "The Corporation will not be an agency or establishment of the United States Government".[167] Then common stock was issued in 1971 to railroads that contributed capital and equipment; these shares convey almost no benefits,[168] but their current holders[169] declined a 2002 buy-out offer by Amtrak. There are currently 109,396,994 shares of preferred stock, at a par value of $100 per share, all held by the US government. There are currently 9,385,694 shares of common stock, with a par value of $10 per share, held by four other railroad companies: APU (formerly Penn Central) 53%, BNSF (35%), Canadian Pacific (7%), and Canadian National (5%).[170]

Incidents


The following are major accidents and incidents that involved Amtrak trains.

See also


Topics dealing with Amtrak

Rail companies of interest

Other national railroads

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