I'm reminded of the old "joke" about the CEO interviewing candidates to be his new accountant. He asks three candidates to looks at his books and tell him if they say his company is making money or losing money. First accountant says he is making money, second says he is losing money. The third one say, "what do you want the books to say." The third accountant of course gets the job.
There are so many ways to interpret the numbers that depending on the person's (politicians's) agenda they'll claim one is doing great and the other sucks. Lots of People in DC claim the NEC makes a profit while arguing to shut down the money-pit LD trains.
Fact is probably that the LD trains don't do as poorly as these guys claim and the NEC certainly doesn't make money. Now does the NEC do worse than LD trains? Who knows. But I'd bet when all is added up it is probably a wash. But as others have mentioned already, we really need a NATIONAL rail system in this country. I should be able able to hop on a train in Chicago and be able to get to any region of the country, just as people who live in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, NYC, etc., should be able to. Now, should I be able to do that with just one train? Well, maybe not. Maybe somebody crunches numbers, ridership, equipment, cost, etc., and it makes sense, for instance, to run a corridor train(s) CHI-MSP and another separate train(s) MSP-SEA/PDX. If that made sense, why not? I mean, I'm nostalgic for my CHI-SEA rides on the EB I took so many times when I was younger so I would miss the full two-day experience but change is OK as long as it makes sense. But I am one of those people who likes long train rides and still think you should be able to go from NYC to LAX on one train because that would be awesome.
But would even shorter corridor trains replacing all LD trains make sense? Even if there were no gaps in the service? If I make the same trip from CHI to SEA but have to change trains in MSP, then in Minot, then in Havre, and again in Spokane...well, that would suck. I would also guess that states like MT and ND would have a hard time supporting corridor trains like CA or IL just due to population. LD trains are crucial to rural areas in this country.
Either way we still have to invest in the train system in this country the same way we invest in the highway system. To expect them to make money or break even is silly. No, we don't want to throw money down the drain on services nobody uses so certainly operational efficiency is a goal, along with ridership, and serving areas with little other transportation options.
One thing I've always thought the LD trains should do is have a "2nd class" sleeper option. Why have they never had dormitory style sleepers like trains once had in this country and still have in other parts of the world, like Europe? (If they still do in Europe, it's been a while since I was on an overnight on mainland Europe, in 1999 we were on a train from the Spanish-French border to Genoa that had six-berth groupings). Why not have cheaper sleeping options such as compartments with 6-berths (bought separately) or lined up down the aisle? Kind of a hostel-style on the train. (Think of the scene in White Christmas when they throw the curtains of their berths open to the hallway when they arrive in VT) Some of my more recent travel in Asia had second class sleepers with six berths like that. I know so many people who are not train buffs like me but would love to take an LD ride across the country but don't want to sit up in coach all night and also can't afford a roomette on Amtrak. I think a mid-range price with a place to lay out and sleep could be a winner for Amtrak. Would really be beneficial with solo travelers.