Amtrak Steams Ahead

Amtrak has experienced a big spike in passengers since Sept. 11, a development that has raised new questions about the future of the financially clanky rail system.

First, does the experience of recent weeks demonstrate that rail remains a critical part of the American transportation picture?

Will the traveling public's new interest brighten Amtrak's prospect of winning substantial new funding from Congress?

And even with added funds, is the system capable of chugging toward profitability?

Certainly the nation, and particularly East Coast travelers, can be grateful that a rail system was in place to take up the slack. Even as air travel has resumed, many people are still choosing the train, partly because heightened security is making air travel comparatively slower for short trips like Boston to New York.

Increased ridership could boost political support for sustaining Amtrak past the December 2002 deadline set by Congress for self-sufficiency. Amtrak supporters on the Hill are seeking $3.2 billion to upgrade security and improve equipment. That ought to be approved, since more effective security is a priority for all forms of mass transport.

Longer-term, Amtrak hopes for added billions for new tracks to support high-speed trains. Those hopes will collide with those who see the system as a financial black hole.

Yet, if even a fraction of what has been poured into highways and airports were given to trains, modern high-speed service could make rails truly competitive. Amtrak has made a start with its new Acela trains on the Boston-New York-Washington corridor. The current surge in rail use should encourage policymakers to look a little farther down the track.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK