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In an informal online poll, we asked ProgressiveRailroading.com visitors: “What’s the biggest passenger-rail industry event of the past 50 years, and why?”
Conducted from March 17 to April 7, the survey netted 157 responses. And while would-be responders were welcome to list more than one milestone, the overwhelming majority of those who answered the passenger-rail question cited the creation of Amtrak as the most significant of the past five decades. Not just the fact that Amtrak was established, but what its creation meant.
The divesture of passenger service by freight railroads and underfunding of Amtrak “defined the transportation commitment of this country,” one respondent said. “It was an acknowledgement of defeat to the automobile and airplanes that had major consequences.”
“Amtrak was totally the wrong approach,” another respondent wrote. “The government could have subsidized the passenger service and coordinated trains with each individual railroad still operating and maintaining equipment.”
The “short-sighted” requirement to annually fund the railroad was mentioned, as well.
But the national intercity passenger railroad’s successes also were cited — namely, the electrification of the Northeast Corridor between Boston and New Haven, Conn., in the late 1990s and subsequent start-up of the Acela high-speed rail service in 2000.
“Finally, a high-speed train of sorts is running seven days a week in the USA!” one respondent commented.
The continued growth and popularity of passenger rail, in general, came up, as well, with a couple of respondents noting the ridership highs many agencies are now recording.
— Angela Cotey