National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, has been riding the rails for more than 40 years. Amtrak is the US' intercity passenger rail provider and its only high-speed rail operator. More than 28 million passengers travel on Amtrak every year on approximately 300 daily trains. It connects 46 states, Washington, DC, and three provinces in Canada. Its network consists of about 21,000 route miles of track, most of which is owned by freight railroads. Amtrak also operates commuter rail systems on behalf of several states and transit agencies. Owned by the US government through the US Department of Transportation, Amtrak depends on subsidies from the federal government to operate.
The operation and maintenance of its national passenger rail system and underlying infrastrastructure is largely funded by subsidies from the US government that are received through annual appropriations. Over the years, some government officials have called for Amtrak to be self-sufficient, and the railroad's annual requests for federal money tend to be the subject of considerable debate in Congress. After a Bush administration proposal to end subsidies, break up Amtrak, and turn over passenger rail operations to local authorities failed to gain traction, rising gas prices led some lawmakers to push for an increase in Amtrak appropriations.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 gives five annual grants to Amtrak amounting to $9.8 billion for fiscal years 2009 through 2013. Another boon came in the form of $1.3 billion of stimulus money earmarked for Amtrak by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which authorizes the Federal Railroad Administration to make the funds available to Amtrak by grant agreement. About $446.8 million will be used for capital security grants, including life safety improvements. Another $884 million will go toward the repair, rehabilitation, or upgrade of railroad assets and infrastructure and toward capital projects that expand rail capacity, including the rehabilitation of rolling stock. The Obama administration has promised an ongoing investment of about $1 billion annually for high-speed rail projects.
As far as infrastructure, Amtrak is investing in improvements in the northeastern US, where the company owns most of the track that it runs on in the Boston-Washington, DC, corridor. Another focus has been a route between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Amtrak has worked with state authorities to make the improvements necessary to enable the railroad to offer high-speed service. High-demand routes in California, the Chicago area, and the Pacific Northwest region also have been targeted for upgrades. Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, and Hawaii are excluded from Amtrak's service in the US.
A record 28.7 million passengers rode on Amtrak in fiscal 2010. While impressive, the company also has a history of recurring operating losses. Although total revenues increased about 7% in 2010 compared to 2009, Amtrak reported fairly comparable net losses in both years. Still, ridership rates and passenger related revenue, which includes tickets, state contributions, and food and beverages, continue to increase for Amtrak partly as a result of growing difficulties associated with air travel -- higher airfare prices and baggage fees, delayed flights, and reduced capacity. Airlines carrying passengers across the continental US continue to be Amtrak's largest set of competitors. – less