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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak's Boardman defends need for long-distance routes


The operation of long distance trains is a "core federal responsibility" and a federally funded national rail system is the best way to keep operating costs low, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman told a congressional committee yesterday.

"Congress is clearly 100 percent in charge in directing how long distance train services is provided in the United States and has been ever since it created Amtrak more than 40 years ago," Boardman told the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, which held a hearing on the cost drivers of passenger rail. "Should Congress again decide in the next passenger rail reauthorization to continue a national system, Amtrak is dedicated to ensuring that long distance trains are sustained and run as efficiently and effectively as possible."

The subcommittee hearing was part of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's effort to complete a rail reauthorization bill this year.

Boardman added that federal law requires Amtrak to operate a national passenger-rail system that includes long distance routes, and that the law includes a "sense of Congress" statement that declares "long distance passenger rail is a vital and necessary part of our national transportation system and economy."

Ridership on Amtrak's long-distance trains is up nearly 27 percent since 2006, Boardman noted. In fiscal-year 2012, six of the 15 routes set new ridership records. Also, Amtrak long-distance trains serve 40 percent of America's rural population and are the only remaining scheduled intercity transportation in many places, since intercity bus and airline services have been eliminated from smaller communities.

But Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) noted in his opening statement that Amtrak's long-distance routes are losing money.

"In 2012, they lost a combined $600 million," Denham said. "We simply cannot afford to continue these levels of subsidized losses year after year."

Since the current Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) became law in 2008, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor increased its profits by 143 percent and state-supported routes have reduced their losses by 24 percent, but long-distance routes have increased their losses by 11 percent, he noted.

"It is clear that the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) and Amtrak did not follow PRIIA's intent to reduce long-distance costs, so it is up to us on this committee to find better solutions," Denham said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/22/2013