Manhattan to San Francisco: no finer rail ride in America, But Amtrak's future dimmed by budget cuts
May 1 will be the big Tenth Anniversary Celebration for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, popularly known as Amtrak. During the last decade, Amtrak has made considerable progress in providing energy-efficient and reliable nationwide passenger service with substantial investments in brand-new Superliner, Amfleet and Turbo equipment, hundreds of completely rebuilt Heritage Fleet cars, purchases of new locomotives, construction and upgrading of many stations, and in providing its own service personnel on board the trains.
The results of these improvements have been steadily increasing ridership on nearly every short, medium, and long-distance route in the country, a dramatic rise in on-time performance and a rapid decline in the number of passenger complaints.
Under the new administration in Washington it has been proposed to cut Amtrak's funding in fiscal 1982 from the $850 million that Amtrak requested to maintain the present system (with a few changes) to $613 million, only enough to maintain the Boston-New York-Washington corridor.
Alan Boyd, Amtrak president, has said that if this does happen, virtually the entire system, outside of the Northeast Corridor which accounts for half of Amtrak's ridership, would have to be shut down by Oct. 1. Five hundred communities and 36 states would lose their rail passenger service altogether.
Many transportation experts feel that any substantial cuts in the national system would, within a few years, doom the remaining routes because the higher overhead costs per train would become increasingly unacceptable.
Amtrak's future is now in the hands of Congress, and the next few weeks will determine the passenger train's future in this country.
During the transcontinental rail journey described in the following travel piece, this writer met many travelers who had chosen the train for reasons other than simply pleasure. Some, especially those with families, said that the train was the most affordable way for them to travel long distances. Others said that during the winter months the train was often the on ly safe and reliable way out of town.