Amtrak Business Increases, But Can it Handle it?

Posted to findingDulcinea by Dennis Cummings

Amtrak reported 2.8 million passengers in July, up 13.9 percent from last year and the busiest month ever, the Chicago Sun-Times reported this month. The increase has further exposed Amtrak’s undersized fleet and crumbling infrastructure, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Trains are overcrowded and outdated. Due to a lack of funds, Amtrak hasn’t bought a new train car since the mid-90s, and many cars sit unused because they need refurbishment. 

Trains are also frequently late, due primarily to the tracks. Amtrak owns only a small percentage of its tracks and must share routes with other passenger lines and freight trains. The tracks, bridges and tunnels are in bad condition, forcing trains to run at reduced speeds.

Billions of dollars are needed to for track repair—Amtrak estimates that $5 billion is needed in the northeast corridor alone—but Amtrak doesn’t have the money to do so. It had been losing money since its creation in 1971 and is completely reliant on the government for funding.

Over the past year, as ridership increased, Congress has increased funding to Amtrak. In June, the Senate approved $15 billion over five years by a veto-proof margin of 311–104. President George W. Bush had threatened a veto because it doesn’t hold Amtrak accountable for its spending.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has proposed a bill that would transfer about $400 million from the Highway Trust Fund and allow Amtrak to raise $2.8 billion in bonds, according to the Sun-Times. The “Train CARS Act” is still being debated in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Californians will be voting this November on a $10 billion bond issue that would help fund a high-speed rail line running from Sacramento to San Diego that could travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and a half hours. If successful, the rail system, which would be run by the state of California and not be affiliated with Amtrak, may inspire other states to build their own high-speed rails, reports USA Today.

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