Intercity Passenger Rail:
Amtrak's Financial Crisis Threatens Continued Viability
T-RCED-97-147: Published: Apr 23, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 1997.
- Full Report:
GAO discussed Amtrak and the future of intercity passenger rail in the United States, focusing on: (1) Amtrak's financial condition and progress toward operating self-sufficiency; (2) Amtrak's need for, and use of, capital funds; and (3) factors that will play a role in Amtrak's future viability.
GAO noted that: (1) Amtrak's financial condition is still very precarious and heavily dependent on federal operating and capital funds; (2) GAO previously reported that Amtrak's financial condition had deteriorated steadily since 1990 and that Amtrak was unlikely to overcome its financial problems without significant increases in passenger revenues and/or subsidies from federal, state, and local governments; (3) in response to its deteriorating financial condition, Amtrak in 1995 and 1996 developed strategic business plans designed to increase revenues and reduce cost growth; (4) however, GAO has found that in the past 2 years, passenger revenues, adjusted for inflation, have generally declined, and in fiscal year (FY) 1996, the gap between operating deficits and federal operating subsidies began to grow again to levels exceeding those of FY 1994, when the continuation of Amtrak's nationwide passenger rail service was severely threatened; (5) at the end of FY 1996, the gap between the operating deficit and federal operating subsidies was $82 million; (6) capital investment continues to play a critical role in supporting Amtrak's business plans and ultimately in maintaining Amtrak's viability; (7) such investment will not only help Amtrak retain revenues by improving the quality of its service, but will be important in facilitating the revenue growth predicted in the business plans; (8) in both 1995 and 1996, GAO reported that Amtrak faced significant capital investment needs to, among other things, bring its equipment and facilities systemwide and its tracks in the Northeast Corridor into a state of good repair and to introduce high-speed rail service (at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour) between Washington and Boston; (9) Amtrak will need billions of dollars in capital investment for these and other projects; (10) it will be difficult for Amtrak to achieve operating self-sufficiency by 2002 given the environment within which it operates; (11) Amtrak is relying heavily on capital investment to support its business plans, which envision a significant increase in capital funding support, possibly from a dedicated funding source such as the Intercity Passenger Rail Trust fund that would be established by S. 436; (12) Amtrak is also relying greatly on revenue growth and cost containment to achieve its goal of eliminating federal operating support; and (13) the economic and competitive environment within which Amtrak operates may limit revenue growth, and Amtrak will continue to find it difficult to take those actions, such as route and service adjustments, necessary to reduce costs.