The future is looking a little brighter for Amtrak since our new rail-friendly administration took office. And, since improved passenger rail service is unquestionably a public good, what’s good for Amtrak is good for America.
From the New York Times:
Amtrak has been working hard to lure more business travelers to its trains, with advertisements highlighting its advantages over air travel — roomier seats, power outlets on its Acela trains and fewer annoyances.
And its efforts have borne some fruit: the number of riders on its Northeast corridor trains has been rising.
But faster trains are critical to its future. So while Amtrak got some desperately needed financing from the federal government this year, its forecasts suggest that speedier rail travel in the United States remains a daunting challenge.
For the Northeast corridor alone, Amtrak estimates that it will need almost $700 million annually for the next 15 years to maintain the system and to tackle a backlog of maintenance projects and upgrades. Reducing travel times between New York and Washington to two-and-a-half hours and times between New York and Boston to three hours — goals that were established in the 1970s — will require straighter track, improvements to bridges and tunnels, increased capacity through Manhattan and newer trains, among other investments.
Almost all of Amtrak’s lines fail to make money, with a total loss of $1.1 billion in 2008. Even technology enhancements seem to move at a slow pace: developing a new electronic reservation system is expected to take until 2015.
Still, Amtrak officials are more optimistic now than they have been in a long time. “We’re probably in the best position to move forward to get the things done we want to get done and that the government wants us to get done,” said David Lim, Amtrak’s chief marketing officer. “We have an administration that is supportive of rail.”