Amtrak got off to a rocky start due to several factors:
Today, Amtrak faces one major problem:
I don't like subsidies any more than the next person. However, I also don't like unfair playing fields. Amtrak is the only major form of transportation that relies on a direct line-item subsidy in the Federal Budget. This makes it a convenient item to be attacked every year by our Congressmen and Senators.
However, we clearly subsidize our other major forms of transportation. The Interstate Highway System was built using taxpayers dollars. And as anyone living in LA knows, building MORE highways, or widening existing ones doesn't necessarily alleviate congestion. In fact it can make it worse.
Many airports have been built with taxpayer money and the Air Traffic Control system is funded by a combination of airline fees and taxpayer money.
We also fought a war in the Gulf recently to guarantee the free flow of oil. (Then President Bush's other comments not withstanding.)
Every major rail passanger system in the world is subsidized. (Since I've written this, apparently the British Rail System has been taken over by Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Records.)
So, don't think Amtrak's subsidy is unique by any means.
Since 1981, Federal money spent on Amtrak has been aproximately $1 Billion dollars a year. Since 1981, Federal funding for highways has increased from about $9 Billion Dollars to about $19 Billion Dollars. Aviation has seen an increase from $4 Billion Dollars to about $7 Billion Dollars.
Ridership on Amtrak has been rising lately. To see some information, check out Press releases from Amtrak.
Amtrak in an attempt to provide better and faster service along the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington DC) is in the process of upgrading the route from New Haven CT to Boston MA. Changes include the addition of overhead wires, straightening of curves and relaying of track. When completed this will allow trains to travel at 150 miles an hour! This could cut the existing journey from NYC to Boston from 4.5 hours to 3 hours!
There is also work being done on increasing speeds from Albany to NYC. This could make the trip (which can take around 2 hours and 25 minutes) last less than 2 hours.