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Congress faces critical decisions about the future of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) and intercity passenger rail. In GAO's view, the goal of a national system, much like Amtrak's current system, and the goal of operational self-sufficiency appear to be incompatible. In fact, Amtrak was created because other railroads were unable to profitably provide passenger service. In addition, Amtrak needs more capital funding than has been historically provided in order to operate a safe, reliable system that can attract and retain customers. Developing a high-speed rail system is also costly, requiring additional tens of billions of dollars. If intercity passenger rail is to have a future in the nation's transportation system, Congress needs realistic assessments of the expected public benefits and the resulting costs of these investments as compared with investments in other modes of transportation. Such analyses would provide sound bases for congressional action in defining the national goals that will be pursued, the extent that Amtrak and other intercity passenger rail systems can contribute to meeting these goals, and whether federal and state money would be available to sustain such systems over the long term.

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