Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad

Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad

Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad

Amtrak: The History and Politics of a National Railroad


A study of the history of Amtrak, this text reviews the circumstances, expectations, and politics that led to the creation of the USA's national passenger rail system from a collection of struggling private services. The complex politics and fiscal issues behind the service are also discussed.


We seem to be afflicted with a chronic desire to be on the move. The urge to travel is reflected not only in the immense amount of traveling that U.S. citizens in particular do each year but also in many aspects of popular culture. Travel is a prominent theme in many movies, books, and magazines; an entire cable television channel is devoted to the topic.

Transportation policies profoundly influence daily life, including matters as basic as access to employment opportunities and the ability to travel in reasonable safety and comfort. From a broader perspective, transportation policies affect the quality of the environment, the functioning of the economy, and a nation's dependence on foreign energy sources.

Although transportation policies have generally not been as controversial in the United States as issues such as welfare or taxes, some transportation programs, such as Amtrak, seem to be constantly embroiled in conflict. In this study, I will explore a number of the issues that face the Amtrak system.

I have been doing research on Amtrak for approximately fifteen years; this book draws on a number of studies completed during that time. I thank the following journals for permission to use materials from these articles: The States and Passenger Rail Service, Transportation Research 21A (1987): 385-390 (with kind permission from Elsevier Science Ltd., The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington OX5 1GB, UK); Program Survival and Termination: State Subsidies of Amtrak, Transportation Quarterly 42 (1988): 571-585; Stability of the Amtrak System, Transportation Quarterly 43 (1989): 557-570; Service Distribution on a National Scale: The Case of Amtrak, Polity 23 (1991): 487-503; Passenger Train Ridership in the Amtrak System, Transportation Quarterly 45 (1991): 121-132; Financial Performance of the Amtrak System, Public Administration Review . . .

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