With unprecedented demand, Amtrak is hampered by years of neglect. The agency is unable to handle all the new customers resulting from high gas prices and plane tickets and is struggling to replace aged equipment and pay for increased fuel costs.
"Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues - all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.
But the railroad, and its suppliers, have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand. Many of the long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer
The railroad carried about 25 million passengers last year and may hit 27 million this year"
"We're starting to bump up against our own capacity constraints," said R. Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak.
"The problem is that rail has shriveled. The number of "passenger miles" traveled on intercity rail has dropped by about two-thirds since 1960, and the companies that build rail cars and locomotives have also shrunk, making it hard to expand.
Oil costs hurt Amtrak, too. Fuel is projected to reach 11 percent of Amtrak's budget this year, up from 6 percent in 2004. The railroad is not radically more energy-efficient than other means of travel. Amtrak can move a passenger a mile with 17.4 percent less fuel than a passenger car can, and about 32.9 percent less than an airline can, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory."
Thanks to Mark Boshnack