On this National Train Day, Amtrak marks 42 years in operation

In 1989 two authors – Gary W. Dolzall and Mike Danneman – in their book “Steel Rails Across America” described the nation’s passenger railroad – Amtrak – thusly: “After a decade and a half of life, Amtrak stands on stable turf, freed of the annual budget reductions it suffered in the 1970s, and offering rail service on roughly 23,500 of America’s 181,000-mile railroad system. Amtrak now owns its busiest route (the multi-track Boston-New York-Washington Northeast Corridor), has molded its New York state and Los Angeles-San Diego corridors into success stories, and has re-equipped its long-distance trains with new or rejuvenated equipment. Aboard carriages variously stenciled ‘Amfleet’ and ‘Metroliner’ and ‘Turboliner’ and ‘Heritage Fleet’ and ‘Superliner’ Amtrak today carries more than 20 million passengers per year.”1

Now compare that to the Amtrak of 2012.

According to the Brookings Institution in its “A New Alignment: Strengthening America’s Commitment to Passenger Rail,” report by Robert Puentes, Aidee Tomer, and Joseph Kane, Amtrak operates 44 routes nationally providing service covering a combined distance of 29,121 miles on which there were 62,481,130 annual boardings and alightings on 170 weekday departures for calendar year 2011.2

In concluding the Brookings Institution authors write: “Amtrak carried over 31.2 million passengers in 2012, making it the fastest-growing domestic transportation mode over the last fifteen years. It also outpaced the growth in population and economic output, further illustrating its role in the broader American economy.”3

320px-FLV_California_train[1]As for my own interest, at no time is American railroading more exciting than it is right now. Joining long-established passenger train services are myriad new ones. And, as would be expected, there has been corresponding growth in passenger counts. Old records are continually being broken.

Reasons for this are several. Factors include congested roads and highways, volatility in gas pricing, not to mention a greater availability of transportation options to a larger proportion of a growing population.

Regarding congestion, after continued decline in VMT (vehicle miles traveled) beginning about 2004, miles driven in America is once again on the upswing.

This is substantiated by INRIX in its Traffic Scorecard, “Key Findings: 2012-2013 INRIX Traffic Scorecard Annual Report.”

INRIX notes, “So far this year, 61 of America’s Top 100 Worst Traffic cities have experienced increased traffic congestion. This is a dramatic shift from 2012, where only six cities experienced increases and 94 saw decreases.”

What’s more, INRIX found, “In 2012, the worst travel corridors in the U.S. can cost their drivers 62 hours a year from sitting idle in gridlock, almost twice the national average (38 hours).”

Adding insult to injury, AAA in its May-June 2013 VIA magazine reports idling in traffic resulted in drivers forfeiting 2.9 billion gallons of fuel – wasted fuel. Using an arbitrary national average $3.50 per gallon of gas, in dollar terms this equates to $10.15 billion effectively vanishing into thin air. The term “thin air,” by the way, could also be thought of in an entirely different context, that is, as in air’s physical characteristics and composition and what affect such has on breathing.

Added to this, the International Union of Railways in High Speed Rail and Sustainability, in November 2011 reports, “Among all sectors, the transport sector is the only one in which emissions are continuing to increase in spite of all the technological advances. Moreover, transport emissions, for instance in Europe, increased by 25% between 1990 and 2010. By contrast emissions from the industrial and energy sectors are falling.”4 The reality is that this deficit situation need not be this way at all.

Of all transportation types, those that are wholly internal-combustion-engine-powered, that is, when it comes to having the least impact on air as well as being the most energy efficient, trains definitely pull their weight. And on that note, my hope is that high-speed rail in America will soon come of age.

So, not just on Train Day but all throughout the year, recognize that the train offers a viable means with which to move around, not only going places where people need, but want to go.

With this in mind, as for National Train Day, 2013 marks the 6th annual NTD celebration with events held coast to coast.

Look for a National Train Day event near you. To learn more, visit: http://www.nationaltrainday.com/s


  1. Gary W. Dolzall and Mike Danneman, “Steel Rails Across America,” Chapter 1 – “American Railroading: Transition and Tradition,” 1989, p. 11.
  2. Robert Puentes, Aidee Tomer, Joseph Kane, “A New Alignment: Strengthening America’s Commitment to Passenger Rail,” Appendix B, Brookings Institution, 2013, pp. 21-22.
  3. Ibid. p. 17.
  4. High Speed Rail and Sustainability, International Union of Railways, Nov. 2011, p. 15.

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