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Amtrak

AMTRAK

AMTRAK. On 1 May 1971, the U.S. government made Amtrak responsible for managing and operating all national passenger train service in the United States. Its name was derived from the words "America" and "track." Amtrak was created as a quasi-public corporation—a unique blend of government funding and oversight with private management and accountability.

By the late 1960s, a precipitous fifty-year decline in the quantity, quality, and profitability of American passenger rail service prompted high-level government debate over the need for some measure of public assistance. Between 1929 and 1966, passenger train routes—measured in miles—declined by nearly two-thirds. Technological improvements in the automobile, increased government funding for highway construction, and the growth of the commercial airline industry all contributed to the decline. Poor track conditions, outdated equipment, and unreliable service made train travel far less desirable than these other forms of transport. By 1967, the industry's first year without U.S. mail service business, the annual loss for the combined passenger train industry was $460 million. After that year, many companies considered terminating their passenger routes.

After two years of negotiations aimed at averting the loss of the entire passenger rail system, President Richard Nixon signed the Railpax bill on 30 October 1970. By April 1971, the entity's name was changed to Amtrak, and twenty of the twenty-six eligible private rail companies had signed the contract to join the new corporation. Despite Amtrak's efforts to consolidate passenger routes into a more manageable, efficient structure, the initial mandate from the Department of Transportation required the continuation of many marginal routes. It would be eight years until the corporation was given more flexibility in the design of its route structure. There were other obstacles as well. The initial federal grant of $40 million was less than 10 percent of the annual losses sustained by the private companies in their last pre-Amtrak years and not nearly enough to begin a process of rebuilding the industry. The new corporation was also required to operate under the existing labor contracts of the member companies, and management had little flexibility in reallocating workers in the new operational structure. Amtrak was also faced with the nearly impossible task of reversing the long-term public ambivalence to train travel while being able to provide only old, uncomfortable, and unreliable equipment.

While total passenger volume increased from 17 million in 1972 to 23 million by 2002, there had been no net increase in ridership since 1988. Yet during this stagnant decade of Amtrak passenger growth, commuter train passenger


volume jumped from 15.4 million to 58.2 million. This disparity indicated that Americans valued rail travel as a means to move to and from their occupations, or to move from suburb and countryside to large cities for shopping or entertainment, but as a means of transporting people from city to city, Amtrak faced stronger competition from the automobile and the airplane than it did in 1971.

Amtrak's most successful sector was the Northeast Corridor, the stretch of rails to and from Washington, New York, and Boston, and accounted for two-thirds of Amtrak's ridership and revenues. Ridership in the corridor went up after the introduction in 2001 of the Acela Express trains, which could achieve a top speed of 150 miles per hour, and after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. But the 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act set 2 December 2002 as an absolute deadline for Amtrak to reach operational self-sufficiency and the loss of federal support, and by the summer of that year, the Amtrak Reform Council was considering breaking off the Northeast Corridor as an independent entity and taking bids from private companies to finance long-distance trains elsewhere in the system.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradley, Roger. Amtrak. Poole, U.K.: Blandford Press, 1985.

Edmondson, Harold A., ed. Journey to Amtrak: The Year History Rode the Passenger Train. Milwaukee, Wis.: Kalmbach, 1972.

Nice, David C. Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1998.

Wilner, Frank. The Amtrak Story. Omaha, Neb.: Simmons-Boardman, 1999.

Zimmerman, Karl. Amtrak at Milepost 10. Park Forest, Ill.: PTJ, 1981.

PatrickAmato

See alsoRailroads ; Railways, Interurban .

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"Amtrak." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Amtrak

Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., authorized to operate virtually all intercity passenger railroad routes in the United States. Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 in response to more than two decades of continuous operating deficits by privately run passenger railroads; over 100 of the nation's 500 passenger railroad lines at the time had filed discontinuation-of-service petitions with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Given an initial funding of $40 million and $100 million in federal loan guarantees, Amtrak was designed to be a profit-making, quasipublic enterprise. Its board of directors includes three representatives of labor states and business appointed by the president, two representing commuter authorities, and two representing stockholders of the corporation's preferred stock. Amtrak began operation in 1971, reducing the number of intercity passenger rail routes by one half, retaining service mainly in areas of high density travel. Amtrak now runs up to 300 trains per day to 500 stations over 21,000 route miles, and carries nearly 26 million passengers a year, mainly in the Northeast and on the West Coast. It owns 730 miles, mostly in the Northeast corridor, while contracting with private railroads to run in the rest of the nation.

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"Amtrak." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Amtrak

Am·trak / ˈamˌtrak/ trademark a federal passenger railroad service in the U.S., operated by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

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"Amtrak." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Amtrak." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/amtrak-0

Amtrak

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"Amtrak." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/amtrak