Amtrak is a passenger railroad service that provides medium and long-distance inter-city rail service in 46 states and 9 cities in Canada. It was founded in 1971 as a quasi-public corporation and receives state and federal subsidies. But did you ever wonder why Amtrak trains are often delayed?
Freight trains frequently illegally impede Amtrak trains. Freight trains delayed Amtrak passengers for 1.2 million minutes. That’s 139 trips to and from the moon.
Why Does the Delay Occur?
Outside the Northeast Corridor, DC to Boston, the most common cause of delays is freight train interference, which occurs when our trains traveling on freight railroad tracks are delayed by slower freight trains. While federal law states that passenger trains have priority over freight trains, freight railroads frequently disregard this, which is wrong. Consider driving your car and arriving hours late because trucking companies forced you to stop for their 18-wheelers.
Amtrak owns only 3% of the 21,400 route miles traveled by Amtrak trains, the majority of which are on the Northeast Corridor. The remainder is primarily owned by freight railroads. Before the establishment of Amtrak in 1971, railroads provided freight and passenger services. However, because the railroads were losing money on their passenger trains, Congress established Amtrak to relieve the private railroads of the obligation to operate passenger trains while still providing an efficient way to transport large numbers of people across the country.
In exchange for relieving freight railroads of this obligation, two critical conditions were enacted: Amtrak would have access to the rail lines to operate passenger trains, and this is where things get interesting – those passenger trains would have preference over freight. (Source: Amtrak)
What Happens When Freight Trains Take the Lead?
Right now, almost nothing. Only the Department of Justice has the legal authority to enforce Amtrak’s right to preferential treatment over freight. It has only brought one enforcement action against a freight company in Amtrak’s history – 40 years ago! As a result, freight railroads face no significant consequences for putting their freight ahead of our rail passengers. (Source: Amtrak)
How Did Amtrak Start?
Amtrak, also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, was founded on May 1, 1971, to operate America’s passenger train system. Before 1971, most railroads in the United States had lost money on passenger service. Many railroads’ financial viability was jeopardized due to these losses, so Amtrak was formed to ensure the continuation of passenger trains.
The Rail Passenger Service Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon in October 1970. Only six of the 26 railroads still providing intercity passenger service in 1970 refused to join Amtrak.
Almost everyone involved predicted that Amtrak would fail. The Nixon administration and many others in Washington saw Amtrak as a politically expedient way for the President and Congress to give passenger trains a last hurrah to appease the public. They expected Amtrak to vanish as public interest waned quietly.
Proponents also hoped that the government’s involvement would be limited and Amtrak would be profitable. However, neither was proven correct, as popular support allowed Amtrak to operate for longer than critics anticipated, while financial results made returning passenger train service to private railroad operations impossible. Amtrak is now funded annually by Congress and is reliant on it, as well as state aid and passenger fares. (Source: Amtrak)
Image from CnTraveler