Amtrak is in a strange place these days. As the company upgrades to alt-fuel powered “GenSet” locomotives, boosts passenger wifi service, and looks into local high speed rail, the once great cross country train lines are receiving little to no funding and their value is once again being questioned.
Cross country train travel in America used to be strong. It was not just a means of transportation, but a symbol of how far America had come – truly a country of United States. The problem is cross country train travel costs a lot to keep up and is not that convenient since air travel is readily available at a cheaper cost and faster travel time. Although some rural areas do benefit from the train lines because they lack easy access to airports, overall passenger train service sees little use outside of the popular Northeast corridor.
Echoing the financial restraints, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman said at the Midwest High Speed Rail Association the agency has a lot on its plate and little in the bank. Overall, Amtrak pays for about 88% of its operating costs, relying on the government to cover the rest. Without actually turning a profit, it is hard to argue for the expansion of rail lines, which could bring in enough money for Amtrak to finally break even.
Unfortunately for Amtrak their high-speed rail lines have been highly scrutinized due to the definition of “high-speed”. A planned high-speed line from St. Louis to Chicago would only reach 110 mph, which compared to the 200+ mph trains of Europe and Asia seems kind of pathetic.
Also, the Not-In-My-Backyard attitude of many people means that lawsuits could delay projects and cost millions more than budgeted. So despite cities like Chicago wanting expanded service to popular places like O’Hare Airport. Expansion in the MidWest could go either way; it could become the next NorthEast corridor, with trains being a popular alternative, or it could be another government money sink.
Can America’s MidWest become proponents of high-speed rail? Or is the money and interest just not there yet?
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison