Intercity passenger rail : assessing the benefits of increased federal funding for Amtrak and high-speed passenger rail systems
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Intercity passenger rail : assessing the benefits of increased federal funding for Amtrak and high-speed passenger rail systems

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  • English

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      The Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 created Amtrak to provide intercity passenger rail service. Like other major national intercity passenger rail systems in the world, Amtrak has received substantial government support?nearly $24 billion for capital and operating needs through fiscal year 2001. About 22 million passengers in 45 states ride Amtrak?s trains each year (about 60,000 passengers per day, on average). Amtrak operates a 22,000-mile passenger rail system, primarily over tracks owned by freight railroads. Amtrak owns 650 miles of track, primarily in the Northeast Corridor, which runs between Boston and Washington, D.C. About 70 percent of Amtrak?s service is provided by conventional trains; the other 30 percent of the service is provided by high-speed trains (up to 150 miles per hour)

      operating in the Northeast Corridor. With the growth in the nation?s highways and aviation system in the previous decades, intercity rail passenger service has lost its competitive edge. Highways have enabled cars to be competitive with conventional passenger trains (those

      operating up to 90 miles an hour), while airplanes can carry passengers over longer distances at higher speeds than can trains.

      High-speed rail systems (with speeds over 90 miles per hour) are intended to make trains more competitive with these other modes. The Federal Railroad Administration defines high-speed rail transportation as intercity passenger service that is time-competitive with airplanes or automobiles on a door-to-door basis for trips ranging from about 100 to 500 miles. The agency chose a market-based definition, rather than a speed-based definition because it recognizes that opportunities for successful high-speed rail projects differ markedly among different pairs of cities. High-speed trains can operate on tracks owned by freight railroads that have been upgraded to accommodate higher speeds or on dedicated rights of way. The greater the passenger train speed, the more likely it is to require a dedicated right of way for both safety and operating reasons.

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