Amtrak's Struggle To Catch Up To Demand

This article from <em>Next American City</em> looks at rising ridership on Amtrak and how the train operator is not quite ready to handle it.
September 15, 2008, 6am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Although Amtrak runs some trains on time, and with a degree of proficiency and professionalism, its deep-rooted, systemic problems continue to haunt the company: poor on-time performance, run-down equipment, unappealing stations and spotty on-board service. Veteran passengers and even train crews will share stories of broken toilets, dirty trains, diner cars without food and long delays due to freight traffic. Yet they also celebrate the comfort and romance of train travel on a good day - camaraderie among passengers, comfortable seating, pretty good food when it's available, sublime landscapes and freedom from driving."

"Despite its problems, Amtrak will carry about 28 million passengers in 2008, up from 25.8 million last year. Trains ran at 90 percent to full capacity. Ticket revenues exceeded last year's by 16 percent. It's no exaggeration then to say that Amtrak and America are on the verge of a rail renaissance, but this transformation won't happen overnight, warns Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. 'The irony of this boom is that we are not prepared for a wholesale shift to passenger rail. The market is there, but we don't have the additional equipment and the excess capacity. We're running the wheels off some of these trains,' he admits. 'We need to make significant investments, and it's going to take some time.'"

Amtrak has run bare-bones for years, unable to purchase new passenger cars, cutting routes, and paying down debt. It owns only a small portion of track on its 22,000-mile network, so it cannot add trains and routes except by negotiating with the freight companies, who are experiencing their own boom in business."

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Published on Friday, September 12, 2008 in Next American City
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