2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Railway transport

Reporting marks AMTK, AMTZ
Locale Continental United States, as well as routes to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal
Dates of operation 1971 – present
Track gauge ft 8½  in (1435  mm) ( standard gauge)
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Acela Express in West Windsor, NJ
Acela Express in West Windsor, NJ
Amtrak Cascades service with tilting Talgo trainsets in Seattle, Washington
Amtrak Cascades service with tilting Talgo trainsets in Seattle, Washington
Amtrak train in downtown Orlando, Florida
Amtrak train in downtown Orlando, Florida

Amtrak ( AAR reporting mark AMTK and AMTZ) is the brand name of the United States' intercity passenger train system created on May 1, 1971. Officially known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, the name "Amtrak" is a portmanteau of the words "American" and "track."

Amtrak is a quasi-governmental agency; all of its preferred stock is owned by the federal government. The members of Amtrak's board of directors are appointed by the President of the United States, and are subject to confirmation by the United States Senate. Some common stock is held by the private railroads that transferred their passenger service to Amtrak in 1971. Though Amtrak stock does not pay dividends and is not routinely traded, a small number of private investors have purchased Amtrak stock from its original owners.

Amtrak employs over 19,000 people. The nationwide network of 22,000 miles (35,000 km) of routes serves 500 communities in 46 states of the United States, with some of the routes serving communities in Canada. In fiscal year 2005, Amtrak served over 25.3 million passengers, a company record.


Passenger rail service before Amtrak

Between 1870 and 1916, the total track mileage of U.S. railroads grew from 53,000 to 245,000 miles (85,000 to 394,000 km); during the same period, key technological innovations (including standard gauge track, more powerful locomotives, air brakes, signaling systems, and steel passenger cars) brought significant improvements in the safety and speed of rail travel. By 1910, railroads handled 95% of all intercity travel in the U.S. Peak volume of passenger rail travel was reached in 1920, when 1.2 billion passengers were carried.

Even in the 1920s, railroads faced increasing competition for rail passengers from automobiles and buses, which used an expanding network of paved roads, many built with governmental funding. By 1929, intercity rail transportation had declined by 18%. A major casualty was passenger service on branch lines, which were increasingly subject to abandonment as total track mileage began a long, steady decline. As automobiles and buses took the place of passenger trains on short- and medium-haul trips, railroads lost the feeder services that had formerly brought throngs of passengers to their intercity services.

Although passenger rail travel declined further during the Great Depression, new, diesel-powered streamliners, beginning with 1934's gleaming silver Pioneer Zephyr, brought many travelers back to the rails; in 1939, when 90 streamliners were in operation nationally, passenger travel had increased 38% from the 1932 level.

During World War II, restrictions on automobile fuel use and troop movements led to explosive growth in passenger rail travel. The railroad companies had to scramble to find enough equipment to meet the demand.

After the war, many railroad executives believed that — despite competition from automobiles and the then-nascent airline industry — a profitable market existed for intercity passenger rail travel. Thousands of gleaming, streamlined passenger cars were ordered, and a fleet of fast, beautiful, and often luxurious streamliners — epitomized by the Super Chief and California Zephyr — inspired an impressive resurgence in passenger rail travel. In 1948, Santa Fe CEO Fred G. Gurley reported a "complete reversal of our passenger traffic picture," with 1947 revenues exceeding those of 1936 by 220%. Inspired by America's technological leadership in passenger train design, railroads in Europe and Japan launched new, high-speed streamlined services expressly modeled on American innovations.

The resurgence of passenger rail service in the U.S. proved to be short-lived. Although a few of the leading trains continued to generate modest profits through the 1950s and early 1960s, passengers disappeared in droves, and so did the trains. Between 1946 and 1964, the number of passengers carried per year declined from 770 to 298 million. In 1954, U.S. railroads operated more than 2,500 intercity (non-commuter) passenger trains; by 1969, there were fewer than 500. By 1970, with only a few exceptions, U.S. passenger rail service had declined to what can only be described as a miserable state: decrepit equipment, cavernous and nearly empty stations in dangerous urban centers, and management that seemed intent on driving away their few remaining customers. Even some of the most highly efficient private-sector railroads such as the Norfolk and Western Railway could not earn a profit or even recover the direct operating expenses for passenger service.

The rise of commercial aviation and the Interstate Highway System beginning in the 1950s, the former heavily subsidized by taxpayers and the latter funded by gas taxes, drew would-be passengers away. However, intercity bus services also saw declines in ridership despite the efficiencies of the new Interstate Highway System. For ground transportation, more and more Americans chose the flexibility, convenience and privacy of personal transportation by automobile over public transportation by rail or bus. The 1960s also saw the end of railway post office revenues, which had helped some of the remaining trains break even despite the dearth of passengers.

At the same time, the U.S. Federal government maintained regulatory policies that were unfavorable for passenger service:

  • In 1947, the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ruled that passenger trains could not exceed 79 mph (127 km/h) without special in-cab signaling systems; railroads complained that such systems were not needed outside a few congested intercity corridors and that they would have to spend the equivalent of a half billion dollars to comply with the regulation. As a result, plans to develop high-speed intercity services were shelved.
  • A World War II-era excise tax of 15% on passenger rail travel was not repealed when the war ended; it survived until 1962.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) was formed in 1967 to lobby for government funding to assure the continuation of passenger trains. Its lobbying efforts were hampered somewhat by opposition of the Democratic Party to any sort of subsidies to the privately owned railroads, and Republican Party opposition to the nationalization of the railroad industry. The proponents were aided by the fact that few in the federal government wanted to be held responsible for the seemingly-inevitable extinction of the passenger train, which most regarded as tantamount to political suicide. The urgency of the need to solve the passenger train problem was heightened by the bankruptcy filing of the Penn Central, the dominant railroad in the Northeastern United States, on June 21, 1970.

Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970

Under the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, Congress created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC) to subsidize and oversee the operation of intercity passenger trains. The Act provided that

  • Any railroad operating intercity passenger service could contract with the NRPC, thereby joining the national system.
  • Participating railroads bought into the new corporation using a formula based on their recent intercity passenger losses. The purchase price could be satisfied either by cash or rolling stock; in exchange, the railroads received Amtrak common stock.
  • Any participating railroad was freed of the obligation to operate intercity passenger service after May 1, 1971, except for those services chosen by the Department of Transportation as part of a "basic system" of service and paid for by NRPC using its federal funds.
  • Railroads that chose not to join the Amtrak system were required to continue operating their existing passenger service until 1975 and thenceforth had to pursue the customary Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) approval process for any discontinuance or alteration to the service.

While it appeared for some time that President Richard M. Nixon would veto the legislation, ultimately it was signed into law on October 30, 1970. The original working brand name for NRPC was Railpax, but shortly prior to the company's assumption of intercity rail passenger operations, the name was changed to Amtrak.

At the time, many Washington insiders, including President Nixon and his aides, viewed the corporation as a face-saving way for the President and Congress to give passenger trains the one "last hurrah" demanded by the public, but expected that the NRPC would quietly disappear in a few years as public interest waned. However, while Amtrak's political and financial support have often been shaky, popular and political support for Amtrak has allowed it to survive long past its expected lifetime.

Early days

At Amtrak's startup, 20 out of the 26 eligible railroads had elected to join the Amtrak system:

  1. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
  2. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (no service until the West Virginian began September 8, 1971)
  3. Burlington Northern Railroad
  4. Central of Georgia Railway (has never hosted Amtrak service)
  5. Chesapeake and Ohio Railway
  6. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad
  7. Chicago and North Western Railway (has never hosted Amtrak service)
  8. Delaware and Hudson Railway (no Amtrak service until the Adirondack began August 6, 1974)
  9. Grand Trunk Western Railroad (no Amtrak service until the Blue Water Limited began September 15, 1974)
  10. Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad
  11. Illinois Central Railroad
  12. Louisville and Nashville Railroad
  13. Missouri Pacific Railroad
  14. Norfolk and Western Railway (no Amtrak service until the Mountaineer began March 25, 1975)
  15. Northwestern Pacific Railroad (has never hosted Amtrak service)
  16. Penn Central Transportation
  17. Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad
  18. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad
  19. Southern Pacific Railroad
  20. Union Pacific Railroad

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, Georgia Railroad, Reading Company and Southern Railway continued to run their own intercity trains after the Amtrak startup date. The Alaska Railroad provided long-distance service, but was already owned by the federal government. In addition, the Canadian Pacific Railway's Atlantic, taken over by VIA Rail in 1978, crossed northern Maine until 1994, and for a time another Canadian local service crossed part of northern Minnesota just south of the international border.

Amtrak began operations May 1, 1971 on a system about half the size of that operated the previous day. Several major corridors, including the New York Central Railroad's Water Level Route across Ohio and the Grand Trunk Western Railroad's Chicago-Detroit line, became freight-only in favour of parallel lines. A 19-hour layover at Cincinnati was necessary for eastbound Chicago- Newport News travelers on the James Whitcomb Riley and George Washington. On the other hand, Amtrak's Coast Starlight (named November 14) was a first, running along the west coast from San Diego to Seattle, combining three separate trains operated by three railroads into one.

The first timetable was compiled from former Official Guide of the Railways schedules with only minor changes. Former names were kept, and some trains were unnamed at first. By the July 12 timetable, service had returned to the Water Level Route with the Lake Shore (named November 14), and the Northeast Corridor received an Inland Route via Springfield, Massachusetts, thanks to money from New York, Ohio and Massachusetts. Due to pressure from Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, the North Coast Hiawatha was implemented as a second route to the Pacific Northwest. The first all-new timetable was dated November 14, 1971, and included several name changes and names for most of the formerly unnamed trains. New numbers were also assigned to all trains. Another barrier, at Chicago, was broken with the Milwaukee- St. Louis Abraham Lincoln and Prairie State.

Amtrak #928, a former PRR GG1, speeds through North Elizabeth, New Jersey in December, 1975.
Amtrak #928, a former PRR GG1, speeds through North Elizabeth, New Jersey in December, 1975.

The Southern joined on February 1, 1979, when its Southern Crescent became Amtrak's Crescent. The D&RGW last operated its Rio Grande Zephyr April 25, 1983, and Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr was renamed the California Zephyr. The Zephyr's rerouting onto the scenic D&RGW was delayed by a mudslide at Thistle, Utah and did not take place until July 15, 1983. The bankrupt CRI&P ran its last intercity passenger trains (the Chicago- Peoria Peoria Rocket and the Chicago- Rock Island Quad Cities Rocket) on December 31, 1978. The last Georgia Railroad mixed train was operated May 6, 1983 by the Seaboard System Railroad. The Reading Philadelphia- Newark Penn Station service stayed around into Conrail and was discontinued in 1983. CSS&SB trains still operate, now by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District. Both the Reading and CSS&SB operations qualified as intercity passenger service, but were fundamentally longer-than-average distance commuter train operations.

Except for the joining of routes through Oakland, California to create the continuous Coast Starlight, all Amtrak services on day one were continued from pre-Amtrak operations. The first all-new Amtrak route, in other words a route that had not been operated immediately prior to Amtrak, was the Montrealer/ Washingtonian. That route was inaugurated September 29, 1972 along Boston and Maine Railroad and Canadian National Railway track that had last seen passenger service in 1966.

Amtrak did not own any track in its original conception. Following the bankruptcy declaration of several northeastern railroads in the early 1970s — particularly that of Penn Central, which owned and operated the Northeast Corridor, Congress passed the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 to create a consolidated, federally subsidized freight network called Conrail. As part of this legislation, the vital Northeast Corridor passenger route was transferred to Amtrak. In subsequent years, various short route segments needed for passenger operations but not for freight were transferred to Amtrak ownership. However, the majority of Amtrak's routes are hosted by private freight railroads, to which Amtrak pays the costs of adding its passenger trains.

The host railroads supplied the rolling stock and operating crews in 1971 when Amtrak commenced operations. Amtrak soon purchased the best of the railroad equipment and subsequently has purchased new equipment. Today, Amtrak trains are staffed by Amtrak employees but, other than on the routes that Amtrak owns outright, are dispatched by the host railroads on whose tracks these trains operate.

The fuel shortages of the mid-1970s discouraged travel on the nation's highways, and higher costs for aviation fuel increased air fares. Both these effects renewed interest in passenger rail travel. Given that railroads use fuel very efficiently, passenger rail travel no longer seemed quite so outmoded. Consequently, Amtrak's ridership began to increase. Another short-lived rebound in ridership occurred after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Conflicting goals

Amtrak Train at the Brattleboro, Vermont, station, 18 March 2004.
Amtrak Train at the Brattleboro, Vermont, station, 18 March 2004.

Amtrak was established to relieve railroads of their federally mandated responsibility to transport passengers as a priority over freight. This was causing increasingly large financial losses for the railroads as the networks of federally funded highways and airports expanded and rail ridership levels plunged. From the outset, Amtrak was expected to pursue conflicting goals: Amtrak was supposed to continue providing a national rail passenger service in the face of a continuing trend of significantly diminished demand and passenger revenue, while simultaneously operating as a self-supporting and theoretically profitable commercial enterprise.

Amtrak is in many ways dependent on freight railroads. As it owns little track, it must rely on maintenance done by the freight owners, and sometimes has to cancel service over routes taken out of service by the host freight railroad (as occurred with service to Phoenix, Arizona) or pay to maintain the tracks.

Politically appointed leaders and congressional funding

Without a dedicated source of capital equipment and operating funding (except for competitive passenger fares and even less express income), Amtrak's continued operation has always been dependent upon the Executive and Legislative branches of the U.S. government. Both congressional funding and appointments of Amtrak's leaders are subject to political considerations, which have varied widely during its existence through seven U.S. presidencies and major shifts of power in the U.S. Congress. Political pressures extend to Amtrak's very route structure. As with any federally supported activity, the more states and congressional districts served, the more political support in Congress.

Because Amtrak's board and president are all political appointees, some have had little or no experience with railroads. However, Amtrak has also benefited from both highly skilled and politically oriented leaders.

For example, in 1982, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy and retired Southern Railway head W. Graham Claytor Jr. brought his naval and railroad experience to the job. Claytor had served briefly as an acting U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the cabinet of President Jimmy Carter in 1979, and came out of retirement to lead Amtrak after the disastrous financial results during the Carter administration (1977-1981). He was recruited and strongly supported by John H. Riley, an attorney who was the highly skilled head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Reagan Administration from 1983-1989. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole also tacitly supported Amtrak. Claytor seemed to enjoy a good relationship with the Congress for his 11 years in the position. Of course, politics aside, that may have also been because he did a good job. According to an article in Fortune magazine, through vigorous cost cutting and aggressive marketing, within seven years under Claytor, Amtrak was generating enough cash to cover 72% of its $1.7 billion operating budget by 1989, up from 48% in 1981.

Modern history (1980s to present)

Two of the leaders who followed Claytor lacked freight railroad or private-sector experience. Further, they each inherited the goal of making Amtrak operationally self-sufficient, an idea which began under David Stockman and his successors at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) while Claytor was Amtrak's president (circa 1986).

Claytor's replacement was Thomas Downs. Downs had been city administrator of Washington, D.C., and oversaw the Union Station project, which had experienced both massive delays and cost overruns. Under Downs, Amtrak began to claim that it could achieve operating self-sufficiency, and its leaders seemed to be increasingly misleading as to the prospects of achieving that goal when pressed by Congress and the media.

After Downs left Amtrak, George Warrington was appointed by the board as the company's next president. He had previously been in charge of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Business Unit. When he took the helm of Amtrak in January, 1998, self-sufficiency was still officially a stated goal, although it was becoming elusive in the eyes of Congress. Under Warrington's administration, Amtrak was mandated by the Administration and Congress to become totally self-sufficient within a five-year period, and all its management efforts were directed to that goal. Passengers became "guests" and there were expansions into express freight work. Finally, at the end of the 5-year period, it became clear that self-sufficiency was an unachievable goal, no matter how much additional express revenue was gained or how many cuts were made in Amtrak services.

A Michigan-bound Amtrak train passes through Porter, Indiana, after departing from Chicago in 1993.
A Michigan-bound Amtrak train passes through Porter, Indiana, after departing from Chicago in 1993.

In fairness, while both Downs and Warrington had extensive experience in government, neither had the non-governmental cost accounting or practical experience in private-sector railroading that Claytor had. Claytor also enjoyed the benefit of serving during the Reagan Administration when increases in federal spending on military items were drawing much of the political attention in Congress.

The efforts to expand Amtrak's express income were unpopular with the host freight railroads, who did not want the additional Amtrak traffic it brought (or the competition). The express work also brought Amtrak new political enemies in the powerful trucking lobby before Congress. Warrington also had the burden of delays in implementation of the new Acela Express high-speed trainsets, which promised to be a strong source of income and favorable publicity along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington DC.

When David L. Gunn was selected as Amtrak president in April 2002, Amtrak self-sufficiency had largely fallen out of favour as a realistic short-term goal. Gunn came with a reputation as a strong, straightforward and experienced operating manager, but his blunt style sometimes put him in conflict with others. Years earlier, Gunn's refusal to "do politics" had put him at odds with the WMATA (Metro) board, which includes representatives from the District of Columbia and suburban jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia during his tenure from 1991-1994. He drew experience from being General Manager and Chief Operations Officer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) from 1979 to 1984. In addition, his work as president of the New York City Transit Authority from 1984 to 1990 and as Chief General Manager of the Toronto Transit Commission in Canada from 1995-1999 earned him a great deal of operating credibility, despite a sometimes-rough relationship with politicians and labor unions. The two agencies were each the largest transit operations of their respective countries. Prior to 1974, Gunn also gained private-sector railroad experience with Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, the New York Central Railroad System (before their 1968 merger into Penn Central) and for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Before that, he had experience with the U.S. Navy in the Naval Reserve. Supporters consider Gunn's credentials to be the strongest at the head of Amtrak since W. Graham Claytor came out of retirement by request in 1982.

Gunn was polite but direct in response to congressional criticism. He was also seen as more credible than some of his recent predecessors by Congress, the media, and many Amtrak supporters and employees. Perhaps more than any past president of Amtrak, Gunn seemed willing to publicly confront the policy and budget positions of the President of the United States who appointed the board at whose pleasure the Amtrak president serves.

In a departure from his recent predecessors' promises to make Amtrak self-sufficient in the short term, the Gunn administration took the stance that no form of mass passenger transportation in the United States is self-sufficient as the economy is currently structured, and that Amtrak should not be judged by different standards than other transport modes. Highways, airports, and air traffic control all require large government expenditures to build and operate, coming from The Highway Trust Fund and Aviation Trust Fund paid for by user fees, highway fuel and road taxes and in the case of The General Fund by people who own cars and do not. These expenditures are indirect subsidies unlike Amtrak's which fall under the watchful scrutiny of Congress when budget allocations are made yearly. Before a congressional hearing, Gunn answered a demand by leading Amtrak critic Arizona Senator John McCain to eliminate all operating subsidies by asking the Senator if he would also demand the same of the commuter airlines, upon whom the citizens of Arizona are dependent. McCain, usually not at a loss for words when debating Amtrak funding, did not reply.

Some of Gunn's actions have been seen by many as politically wise. He had been very proactive in reducing layers of management overhead and has eliminated almost all of the controversial express business. He had stated that continued deferred maintenance will become a safety issue which he will not tolerate. This improved labor relations to some extent, even as Amtrak's ranks of unionized and salaried workers have been reduced.

Acela 2038 tailing Acela 2030 en route to Washington, D.C. at Providence, RI in 2005
Acela 2038 tailing Acela 2030 en route to Washington, D.C. at Providence, RI in 2005

On November 9, 2005, Amtrak's board of directors asked David L. Gunn to step down as president. He refused and was terminated. David Hughes, previously the Chief Engineer of Amtrak, was named as acting president and CEO until a permanent replacement could be appointed. David Laney, Amtrak's chairman, stated "Amtrak's future now requires a different type of leader who will aggressively tackle the company's financial, management and operational challenges. The need to bring fundamental change to Amtrak is greater and more urgent than ever before." The board envisions fundamental changes for the railroad including increasing competition and shared financial responsibilities with states. Given the solid performance by Gunn, many Amtrak supporters have viewed Gunn's termination as the death knell for Amtrak.

On August 29, 2006, Alexander Kummant was named as the railroad company's new president and CEO effective September 12, 2006.

Federal funding

Amtrak's Empire Builder train passing through the Columbia River Gorge enroute to Spokane, WA from Portland, OR in 2006
Amtrak's Empire Builder train passing through the Columbia River Gorge enroute to Spokane, WA from Portland, OR in 2006

Amtrak's ongoing need for federal government funding leads to recurring debates over its possible elimination. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, during which Amtrak kept running while airlines were grounded, the value of a national passenger rail service was briefly acknowledged in Washington. But when Congress returned to work following the attacks, the airlines received a $15 billion bailout package, and inattention toward Amtrak resumed.

A stalemate in federal subsidization of Amtrak then led to cutbacks in services and routes as well as some deferred maintenance. In fiscal 2004 and 2005, Congress appropriated about $1.2 billion for Amtrak, $300 million more than President George W. Bush had requested. However, the company's board has requested $1.8 billion through fiscal 2006, the majority of which (about $1.3 billion) would be used to bring infrastructure, rolling stock, and motive power back to a state of good repair. In Congressional testimony, the Department of Transportation's inspector-general confirmed that Amtrak would need at least $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion in fiscal 2006 and $2 billion in fiscal 2007 just to maintain the status quo.

As has been the practice in most years, the current budget proposal from the U.S President to the Congress does not support Amtrak's continued existence in its current form. Hoping to spur Congress to overhaul the way Amtrak does business, the budget proposed by the Bush Administration for fiscal 2006 would eliminate Amtrak's operating subsidy and set aside $360 million to run trains along the Northeast Corridor once the railroad ceases operating.

Amtrak received just under $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2006, with a few conditions. Amtrak was required to reduce (but not to totally eliminate) food and sleeper service losses. The food service cuts were done through a more simplified dining service. The simplified dining service requires two fewer on-board service workers. The food will be prepared off train and then heated in convection ovens and served on high quality plastic plates with silverware.

Several states have entered into operating partnerships with Amtrak, notably California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Vermont.

Labor dispute

One problem associated with the federal funding is Amtrak's labor disputes. Many of Amtrak's employees have been working without a contract for over five years; the last contract signed in 1999 was mainly retroactive.

Amtrak routes and services

Map of Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor.
Map of Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor.

As a general rule, even-numbered routes run north and east while odd numbered routes run south and west. However, some routes, such as the Pacific Surfliners, use the exact opposite numbering system, which they inherited from the previous operators of similar routes, such as the Santa Fe Railroad. Amtrak gives each of its train routes a name. These names often reflect the rich and complex history of the route itself, or of the area traversed by the route.

The most popular and heavily-used routes in the Amtrak system are those on the Northeast Corridor, which include the Acela Express, and Regional. These routes serve Boston,New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond (Regional only), and many other smaller cities and towns between Boston and Newport News. Shuttle trains operating between Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven and connecting to the Northeast Corridor at New Haven are also classified as Northeast Corridor trains.

Other popular routes throughout the country that operate many times per day include:


  • Empire Service between Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Albany, and New York
  • Keystone Service between Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and New York
  • Downeaster between Portland and Boston


  • Hiawatha between Milwaukee and Chicago
  • Wolverine between Chicago, Detroit, and Pontiac

West Coast

  • Pacific Surfliner between San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego
  • Capitol Corridor between Sacramento, Oakland, and San Jose
  • San Joaquins between Oakland, Stockton, and Bakersfield and between Sacramento, Stockton, and Bakersfield
  • Amtrak Cascades between Seattle, Portland, and Eugene

Schematic of Amtrak routes

Amtrak's Busiest Stations in 2005

City - Station Name State Passengers
1 New York - Penn Station NY 8,500
2 Philadelphia - 30th Street Station PA 3,700
3 Washington - Union Station DC 3,700
4 Chicago - Union Station IL 2,500
5 Los Angeles - Union Station CA 1,400
6 Newark - Penn Station NJ 1,200
7 Baltimore - Penn Station MD 980
8 Boston - South Station MA 971
9 Sacramento - I Street Station CA 932
10 Trenton NJ 901
11 San Diego - Union Station CA 839
12 Wilmington DE 779
13 Princeton Junction NJ 765
14 Rensselaer (Albany-Rensselaer) NY 734
15 New Haven - Union Station CT 654
16 Seattle - King Street Station WA 605
17 Linthicum (BWI Airport) MD 579
18 Irvine CA 565
19 Emeryville CA 500
20 Providence RI 490
21 Portland - Union Station OR 479
22 Milwaukee WI 475
23 Fullerton CA 402
24 Solana Beach CA 400
25 Bakersfield CA 370


Gaps in service

The only states that are not served by Amtrak are Hawaii, Alaska (which is served by the Alaska Railroad) and South Dakota. Wyoming lost service in the 1997 cuts, but is still served by Amtrak's Thruway Motorcoaches. It should be noted, while operating in 47 states, Amtrak serves many states only nominally through stations along borders and/or away from major population areas.

Damage to railroad track caused by Hurricane Katrina took large portions of the Sunset Limited train out of service. Originally the train departed from Orlando, Florida – but the aftermath of the hurricane caused the train to now originate at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.

In addition, several major cities and regional business centers (including four with more than a million residents) are not directly served by Amtrak, including:

  • Phoenix, Arizona (#14, metro pop 3.7M) (see below)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (#32, pop 1.6M) (lost service in the 1997 cuts)
  • Columbus, Ohio (#33, pop 1.5M)
  • Nashville, Tennessee (#39, pop 1.3M)
  • Louisville, Kentucky (#50, pop 1M) (lost service with the elimination of the Kentucky Cardinal in 2003)
  • Dayton, Ohio (#53, pop 950K)
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma (#45 pop 986K)
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana (pop 502K)
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado (pop 500K)
  • Boise, Idaho (pop 430K) (also ended in 1997)

Other cities are not served directly due to inconvenient water barriers; they include Norfolk (#31) and Virginia Beach in the Hampton Roads area; San Francisco, where trains stop across the bay in Oakland and Emeryville; and St. Petersburg, Florida where trains stop across the bay in Tampa.

Phoenix, Arizona is served via thruway motorcoach from the Southwest Chief at Flagstaff, Arizona — or the nearby, yet remote due to a lack of any public transportation connection, Maricopa, Arizona, roughly thirty miles from the city. Phoenix lost service in June of 1996 when now-defunct Southern Pacific (now a part of Union Pacific) threatened to abandon the line from Phoenix to Yuma .

  • Article on the missing markets that America's rail service doesn't serve. Analysis and charts.
  • Chart showing U.S. population centers and Amtrak service.

Commuter services

Through various commuter services, Amtrak serves an additional 61.1 million passengers per year in conjunction with state and regional authorities in California, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, and Virginia:

  • Caltrain ( San Francisco and San Jose)
  • Sounder Commuter Rail (Seattle, Washington and the Puget Sound area)
  • San Diego Coaster ( San Diego)
  • MARC ( Maryland)
  • Shore Line East ( Connecticut)
  • Virginia Railway Express (VRE)

In the past, Amtrak has operated Metrolink, and MBTA Commuter Rail.

Additionally, Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner (formerly San Diegan) train service is mostly funded by Caltrans and not the Federal Government.

Intermodal connections

Intermodal connections between Amtrak trains and other transportation are available at many stations. With few exceptions, Amtrak rail stations located in downtown areas have connections to local public transit.

Amtrak also code shares with Continental Airlines providing service between Newark Liberty International Airport (via its Amtrak station and AirTrain Newark) and Philadelphia 30th St, Wilmington, Stamford, and New Haven. In addition, Amtrak serves airport stations at Milwaukee and Baltimore.

Amtrak also coordinates Thruway Motorcoach service to extend many of its routes, particularly in California.

Guest Rewards

Amtrak operates a loyalty program called Guest Rewards, which is similar to the frequent flyer programs offered by many airlines. Guest Rewards members accumulate points by riding Amtrak and through other activities. Members can then redeem these points for free or discounted Amtrak tickets and other awards.

Amtrak in comparison to other transportation

Outside of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak was a minor player in transportation markets. It since has added frequent-interval service in a number of corridors in the East, Midwest, California, and the Pacific Northwest. In 2003, Amtrak accounted for 0.1% of US intercity passenger miles (5,680 million out of 5,280,860 million total, of which private automobile travel makes up the vast majority). In fiscal year 2004, Amtrak routes served over 25 million passengers, while in calendar year 2004 commercial airlines served over 712 million passengers. Amtrak, however, serves many communities which have no air service or other public transportation.

Mode Revenue Energy consumption Safety Reliability
Domestic airlines 12.0¢ per passenger mile 3,463 BTU per passenger mile 0.02 deaths per 100 million passenger miles 82%
Intercity buses 12.9¢ per passenger mile 3,496 BTU per passenger mile 0.05 deaths per 100 million passenger miles N/A
Amtrak 26.0¢ per passenger mile 2,100 BTU per passenger mile 0.03 deaths per 100 million passenger miles 74%
Automobiles N/A 3,570 BTU per passenger mile 0.80 deaths per 100 million passenger miles N/A

Freight services

Amtrak Express provides small package and less-than-truckload shipping services between more than 100 cities. Amtrak Express also offers station-to-station shipment of human remains to many express cities. At smaller stations, funeral directors must load and unload the shipment onto and off the train. Amtrak also hauled mail for the United States Postal Service as well as time sensitive freight shipments, but discontinued these services in October of 2004.

On most parts of the few lines that Amtrak owns, it has trackage rights agreements allowing freight railroads to use its trackage.

Trains and tracks

Most tracks are owned by freight railroads. Amtrak operates over all seven Class I railroads, as well as several short lines — the Guilford Rail System, New England Central Railroad and Vermont Railway. Other sections are owned by terminal railroads jointly controlled by freight companies or by commuter rail agencies.

Tracks owned by the company

Along the NEC and in several other areas, Amtrak owns 730 route-miles of track (1175 km), including 17 tunnels consisting of 29.7 miles of track (47.8 km), and 1,186 bridges (including the famous Hell Gate Bridge) consisting of 42.5 miles (68.4 km) of track. Amtrak owns and operates the following lines.

Northeast Corridor

The Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark and New York is largely composed of Amtrak's own tracks. These are combined with those of several state and regional commuter agencies in what amounts to a cooperative arrangement. Amtrak's portion was acquired in 1976 as a result of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act.

  • Boston to the Massachusetts/Rhode Island state line (operated and maintained by Amtrak but owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts)
  • 118.3 miles (190.4 km), Massachusetts/Rhode Island state line to New Haven, Connecticut
  • 240 miles (386 km), New Rochelle, New York to Washington, D.C.

Keystone Corridor

This line runs from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As a result of a successful investment partnership with the state of Pennsylvania, signal and track improvements were completed in October, 2006, and now allow all-electric service with a top speed of 110 mph (about 175 km/h) to run along the corridor.

  • 104 miles (167 km), Philadelphia to Harrisburg ( Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service)

Empire Corridor

  • 11 miles (18 km), New York Penn Station to Spuyten Duyvil, New York
  • 35.9 miles (57.8 km), Stuyvesant to Schenectady, New York (operated and maintained by Amtrak, but owned by CSX)
  • 8.5 miles (13.8 km), Schenectady to Hoffmans, New York

New Haven-Springfield Line

  • 60.5 mi (97.4 km), New Haven to Springfield ( Regional and Vermonter)

Other tracks

  • Chicago-Detroit Line - 98 miles (158 km), Porter, Indiana to Kalamazoo, Michigan ( Wolverine)
  • Chicago-Detroit Line - 4 miles (6 km) in Detroit, Michigan, CP Townline to CP West Detroit ( Wolverine)
  • Post Road Branch - 12.42 miles (20 km), Post Road Junction to Rensselaer, New York ( Lake Shore Limited)

Amtrak also owns station and yard tracks in: Chicago, Hialeah (near Miami, Florida) (leased from the State of Florida), Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland (Kirkham Street Yard), Orlando, Portland, Oregon, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington, DC

Amtrak wholly owns the Chicago Union Station Company ( Chicago Union Station) and Penn Station Leasing ( New York Penn Station). It has a 99.7% interest in the Washington Terminal Company ( Washington Union Station) and 99% of 30th Street Limited (Philadelphia 30th Street Station). Also owned by Amtrak is Passenger Railroad Insurance.

Motive power and rolling stock

Amtrak Auto Train dining car awaits passengers next to auto carrier which will join it at rear of train (Lorton, VA, 2000). Photo courtesy of
Amtrak Auto Train dining car awaits passengers next to auto carrier which will join it at rear of train (Lorton, VA, 2000). Photo courtesy of
Connecting a private business car (formerly the D&RG 101) to the end of an Amtrak train
Connecting a private business car (formerly the D&RG 101) to the end of an Amtrak train

Amtrak operates 425 locomotives (351 diesel and 74 electric).

Diesel Locomotives

Builder Model Locomotive Numbers Years of Service Notes
GE P42DC 1-207 1996-Present Amtrak's main locomotives.
GE P40DC 800-843 1993-Present Several of these units are stored, and the Connecticut Deptartment of Transportation has leased eight units.
GE P32-8WH (Dash 8) 500, 503-519;
2051, 2052 ( Amtrak California)
1991-Present Used as backup or for switching. The entire class is now undergoing overhaul. 501 & 502 were sold to the California Department of Transportation.
EMD F59PHI 450-470;
2001-2015 (Amtrak California)
1994-Present Primarily used for trains on the west coast.

Diesel Switcher Locomotives

Builder Model Locomotive Numbers
EMD SW1 737
EMD SW1000R 790-799
EMD SW1001 569
EMD SSB1200 558-567
EMD SW1500 540, 541
EMD MP15 530-539
MPI GP15D 570-579
RPI GG20B 599
EMD GP38 720-724
EMD/ Norfolk Southern GP38H-3 520-527
Former Diesel Locomotives
Builder Model Locomotive Numbers Years of Service Notes
EMD F40PH 200-415 1977-2003 Formerly Amtrak's main locomotives. Many are still used by several Amtrak as " cabbage cars", a hybrid baggage non-powered control unit (NPCU). Those that were not converted were retired and scrapped or sold off by 2003. A small number were also donated to museums.
EMD GP40TC 192-199 (Original) 1989-Present (rebuilt) Ex- GO Transit locomotives. Currently the units are used for MOW service and have been rebuilt into "GP38-H3" units by Norfolk Southern.
EMD F69PHAC 450, 451 1990-1993 Experimental locomotives built in a joint venture between EMD and Siemens, and designed to test AC locomotive technology. Only two were constructed. They were returned to EMD in 1993. At least one, stripped of parts, exists in a scrapyard.
GE P30CH 700-724 1975-1991 Amtrak's second new locomotive. Based on the GE freight locomotive U30C. All have been scrapped.
EMD SDP40F 500-649 1973-1985 Amtrak's first new locomotive, originally designed for ready conversion to freight service in the event Amtrak did not survive. These locomotives were prone to derail at passenger train speeds on track that had not been maintained well. They were sold off, traded, or scrapped by 1985. One has been preserved.
Former Diesel Locomotives Inherited from other Railroads

These locomotives were inhereted from many of the Class 1 railroads that joined Amtrak. Several examples of each type survive.

  • EMD E9
  • EMD E8
  • EMD FP7
  • EMD F7
  • EMD F3B
Electric Locomotives
Builder Model Locomotive Numbers Years of Service Notes
GE P32ACDM 700-717 1995-Present Diesel-electric locomotive
Bombardier Transportation Acela HHP-8 650-664 1998-Present High-speed train.
EMD AEM-7 901-953 1979-Present Rebuilt starting in 1999.

Twenty Acela Express trainsets have been used to provide popular high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor between South Station in Boston and Union Station in Washington D.C. This service has been so popular, in fact, that supporters claim the Acela trains even cover their "above the rail" costs (operating expenses, but not capital to maintain infrastructure).

However, these trainsets have not been without problems. In April 2005, all were removed from service to repair cracked brake rotors. They returned to service by September of that year.

Former Electric Locomotives
  • GE E60 - One example has been preserved.
Former Electric Locomotives Inherited from other Railroads
  • EMD FL9 - Most have been sold off to commuter lines.
  • PRR E44 - These locomotives were inhereted from Penn Central.
  • PRR GG1 - These locomotives were inhereted from Penn Central. Several examples survive.
Rolling Stock

Amtrak's 2,141 railroad cars include several types of passenger cars (including 168 sleeper cars, 760 coach cars, 126 first class/business class cars, 66 dormitory/crew cars, 225 lounge/café/dinette cars, and 92 dining cars). These include:

  • Superliner I and II
  • Amfleet I and II
  • Horizon Fleet
  • Viewliner
  • Heritage Fleet
  • California Cars
  • Surfliner Cars
  • Talgo Cars

Baggage cars, autoracks for Auto Train service, and maintenance of way rolling stock make up the remainder of the fleet.

Private railroad cars may also be hauled by Amtrak trains if suitably certified and equipped with Head End Power (HEP). Well organized groups such as the American Association for Private Rail Car Owners, Inc., (AAPRC) represent the interest of car owners in dealing with private and public organizations such as Amtrak. These private cars may be used by their owners or chartered by individuals for private travel behind regularly scheduled Amtrak trains.

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