Amtrak Has Problems, But a Lack of Federal Funding Is Not One of Them Veronique de Rugy.
After the recent Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia, some politicians and pundits used the terrible tragedy to perpetuate the misleading claim that the federal government’s passenger rail operation suffers from a lack of taxpayer assistance. This rush to judgment was unsurprising, given that misfortune is sometimes synonymous with opportunity in the eyes of the political class.
Amtrak has a lot of problems, but a lack of federal funding isn’t one of them.
It was established in 1970 to help the struggling railroad industry by placing its unprofitable private passenger rail lines under federal control. Amtrak’s creators believed that a unified rail network with Uncle Sam in charge would be successful enough that federal funds wouldn’t be needed. Its first chairman, David W. Kendall, claimed, “This new system can and will succeed because it unifies for the first time the operation and promotion of the nation’s rail passenger service.” More than four decades and $44 billion in taxpayer subsidies later ($70 billion when adjusted for inflation), however, Amtrak has yet to deliver a single year of profitability.
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