Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad

By David C. Nice | Go to book overview

6
Bringing Passengers on Board

As noted in Chapter 1, the decline of private passenger rail service in the United States has been attributed to a variety of causes, from changing technologies and public subsidies of other modes to railroad executives who tried to drive passengers away. 1 Although it is extremely difficult to assess the precise influence of each factor, one point is very clear: the public grew less and less inclined to travel by train from 1944 to 1970. 2 The Amtrak system thus constituted a type of experiment: could the public be persuaded to travel by train again?

Amtrak attacked several of the probable causes of declining ridership. New equipment, both passenger cars and locomotives, replaced the obsolete fleet inherited from the private railroads. Public subsidies helped to offset the funding given to road and air transportation systems for many years. A management team committed to passenger rail service and improved work rules offered the promise of greater concern for passenger needs and greater efficiency. Computerized ticketing and reservation systems and coordinated schedules increased passenger convenience. 3 Whether changes of this sort could attract passengers was very much a matter of uncertainty at Amtrak's creation.

A comparison of year-to-year changes in passenger train ridership, measured in passenger miles, in the closing years of private passenger train service and in the Amtrak era reveals a striking change: from 1945 through 1971, ridership fell in all but two years. In contrast, ridership in the Amtrak era has risen in three out of every four years. Moreover, ridership rose eight straight years between 1982 and 1990. The only comparable upward trend between 1920 and 1970 was in the period from 1938 to 1944, when the economic recovery from the Great Depression and mobilization for World War II combined to spur travel demand and curtail opportunities to travel by car or plane. Clearly the dynamics of passenger train ridership have changed in the Amtrak era. 4

All organizations, whether public or private, need to prepare for future conditions. A transportation service that fails to anticipate rising demand

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Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - Creating Amtrak 1
  • Notes 12
  • 2 - Development: Building the System 15
  • Notes 28
  • 3 - Distribution: Who Gets Service? 31
  • Notes 42
  • 4 - The States: Reluctant Partners? 47
  • Notes 58
  • 5 - International Amtrak 61
  • Notes 69
  • 6 - Bringing Passengers on Board 71
  • Notes 78
  • 7 - The Balance Sheet 81
  • Notes 91
  • 8 - Amtrak: Worth the Cost? 93
  • Notes 103
  • Bibliography 107
  • Index 115
  • About the Book 119
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