Amtrak carried record traffic in 2012

WASHINGTON — Perhaps sparked by highway congestion or the hassle of air travel, Amtrak’s passenger rail service has been the nation’s fastest growing mode of transportation, according to a new report that urges Congress to push forward with a coordinated national rail plan.

The government-subsidized railway carried a record 31.2 million people last year, a 55 percent increase since 1997, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.

The study, released on Friday, came a day after congressional leaders said they planned to craft a major funding reauthorization for railroads later this year.

Amtrak turns a profit on only four of its more than 40 routes, the study showed, all of them in the Northeast corridor, a shortcoming that raised the hackles of some Republicans in the last Congress.

For more than a year, Rep. John Mica, R.-Fla., then chairman of the House Transportation Committee, repeatedly called Amtrak a “Soviet-style railroad” before relenting to concede that it might be acceptable if only it could turn a profit. He suggested selling off the Northeast corridor service to private firms.

Mica’s successor as chair of the influential committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R.-Pa., struck a more conciliatory tone in a speech to state transportation officials on Thursday.

“I think there’s a need for passenger rail in this country,” Shuster told The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, suggesting that Amtrak needed to “get closer to break even.”

He said the Obama Administration should narrow its plan to begin building a national high speed rail system, focusing on the northeast corridor first.

Washington ranks behind New York and ahead of Philadelphia as the second busiest Amtrak hub city, and the four profitable routes in the system serve that corridor.

The Brookings study showed that nearly 90 percent of the ridership increase since 1997 has been trips of less than 400 miles, generating a positive operating balance of $47 million in 2011. Longer routes carried the rest of the passengers and lost $614 million, the study said. Overall, Amtrak receives a $1.5 billion federal subsidy each year.

Almost two thirds of the rail line’s ridership came from 10 major metropolitan areas, all but Chicago on the East or West Coast.

“Amtrak is too often considered a big, bloated bureaucracy that depends heavily on federal subsidies and is no longer relevant to the technologically oriented metropolitan economies of today,” said Robert Puentes, who co-authored the report. “But the fact is that Amtrak is reinventing itself through its short haul routes and with the support of states, which are helping upgrade tracks, operate routes, and redevelop stations.”

The study concluded that while continued federal support and development of a national rail plan were vital to Amtrak’s continued success, the rail line must build stronger alliances with freight rail companies that own much of the track on which it operates, and turn to state governments for greater support and innovative funding sources.

More in Local News

Car crashes near Everett after State Patrol pursuit

The driver and a second person in the car suffered injuries.

They chose the longshot candidate to fill a vacant seat

Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick will serve as representative for the 39th legislative district.

Definitely not Christmas in July for parched young trees

“I live in Washington. I should not have to water a Christmas tree,” says one grower. But they did.

Marysville babysitter faces jail time in infant’s death

Medical experts differed over whether it was head trauma or illness that caused the baby to die.

Whether cheers or jeers, DeVos appearance will rouse spirits

Trump’s secretary of education is coming to Bellevue to raise money for a pro-business think tank.

Superior Court judge admits DUI on freeway

Prosecutors recommend a “standard” penalty for Marybeth Dingledy, who “is terribly sorry.”

Self-defense or murder? Trial begins in shooting death

Explanations as to why a man was shot in the back on a Bothell cul-de-sac are starkly different.

Golfers help Pink the Rink

The fundraiser to aid breast cancer research culminates with a Nov. 4 Silvertips game.

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Alliance plans meeting to discuss future of the Everett Station

Key themes are economic development, parking, green space, safety, and transportation connections

Most Read