Should Amtrak Develop High-Speed Corridor Service Outside the Northeast?

CED-78-67: Published: Apr 5, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 1978.

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If the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) were to extend its northeast corridor to 16 other corridors, the following would be anticipated: (1) improved and more convenient services to the public through greater train speed and better on-time performance; (2) lower deficits through increased ridership; (3) improved energy conservation through the public's greater use of the energy-efficient train; (4) lower air pollution as fewer people use their automobiles; (5) employment resulting from the labor-intensive railroad operation; (6) preservation of some railroad rights-of-way in and between urban areas; and (7) maintenance of a mode of transportation that can be converted away from oil in a crisis. Congress must decide whether these possible benefits justify the high cost associated with establishing and maintaining corridor rail service.

The anticipated benefits from developing high-speed corridors outside the northeast may not be available or worth the cost. Greater speed and better on-time service could reasonably be expected to result, but increased ridership and lowered deficits probably would not result. Ridership on Amtrak has increased primarily because more trains were available, but load factors have not increased and losses continue. Amtrak cannot expect substantial increases in ridership in the proposed corridors unless one of the other transportation modes is disrupted. Amtrak officials believe that implementing the corridor concept outside the Northeast would be very costly. Amtrak's prospects for improving its finances by either increasing revenues or reducing costs are bleak. Only Congress can make the judgments and tradeoffs necessary to determine the value of the benefits that would result from such services and the proper level of the federal subsidy.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress can: (1) stop providing capital or operating subsidies for Amtrak so that only those services that pay for themselves, or that local governments subsidize, would continue; (2) provide subsidies to sustain existing services without further improvement; (3) provide diminishing subsidies that require specific levels of contribution from riders through fares or from local governments; (4) subsidize only particular routes that meet established criteria for patronage, population density, quantity of intercity travel, local interest, or other elements believed important; or (5) provide additional subsidies so Amtrak can improve its services and expand its corridor route system.


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