The US federal government is running a 500 billion dollar a year annual budget deficit. The national debt is approaching 20 trillion dollars. Discretionary spending is getting squeezed by rising entitlements. I fear that one day Congress will decide that Amtrak is something the nation can no longer afford.
Passenger rail is a niche product. It best serves the 100 mile to 400 mile trip segment. For shorter trips the flexibility of automobiles comes into play and for longer trips the speed of aircraft wins out. To be successful each transportation method must fit its market.
Amtrak is spread too thin. It has attempted to do too much for too long with too few resources and now loses a billion dollars a year. It cannot generate its own capital for infrastructure investments or rolling stock replacement.
AMTRAK SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD TO RUN A NATIONAL SYSTEM.
Looking objectively at a map of the United States there are four areas where there is sufficient population density to support passenger rail.
1.The eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida.
2.The upper Midwest, a 300 mile radius around Chicago.
3.The Pacific Northwest.
My proposal would be to maintain and/or expand the corridor service in those four areas and retain four LD trains for connections among those four areas.
Specifically discontinue the Sunset Limited. Truncate the Empire Builder at St Paul, the SWC at Kansas City, the Texas Eagle at St. Louis, the CONO at Memphis and the Cardinal/Hoosier State a Cincinnati. All five of these former LD trains would have their frequencies doubled (or more) and become part of Midwest corridor trains. Motor coach service would be provided on the discontinued lines to maintain essential rural transportation. Retain the LSL and CL to connect east coast passengers to the Midwest corridors. Maintain the Silver Service and Autotrain but truncate the SC at Atlanta. The CS would be retained to connect Southern California to the PNW and the CZ would connect the Midwest to the West Coast. Texas can do what it wants.
This restructuring will reduce total route miles but maintain train miles. It should increase passenger miles while still allowing train travel from one corridor area to another. It should eliminate the need for an annual operating subsidy and preserve Amtrak in the face of future budget cuts. I feel it is better to be proactive and reactive.
I await your slings and arrows.