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Sean R Das

It is a fact that America's auto obsession killed passenger train popularity. However, with the economics of car ownership becoming impractical in this day and age, fewer people are driving and America's obsession is beginning to wane. One source claims that America's love affair is shifting from cars to smartphone apps. Adding to the decline, post-9/11 air travel restrictions and policies mean fewer people are flying due to the hassles. The end result is more people are taking Amtrak, yet Amtrak refuses to expand its network in response to increased ridership.

The question is--Given the facts above, what can be expected in the short- and long-term future of passenger rail in the US? Will Amtrak open up new routes? Will Amtrak add additional trips to long-distance trains to reduce sell-outs? Will major cities that have not seen a passenger train in decades (including SD and WY) finally get service restored? Will passenger service be privatized once again? Will DMU's have a future in the US for short-haul services where locomotive-hauled equipment would be too expensive?


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"Will Amtrak open up new routes?" Regional services where there is a public backing for more service. Viable routes will be limited by cities that lack effective public transportation at the end of the rail portion of the trip. Generations of urban sprawl is a problem rail alone can't solve.

"Will Amtrak add additional trips to long-distance trains to reduce sell-outs?" Probably not. Long distance services keep an Amtrak presence in enough legislative districts to protect funding. Short of dramatic increases in fuel costs or emissions regulations, the airlines will keep the long haul market. A ticket for tomorrow Chicago to Los Angeles is $330 by rail with 43 hour transit and $440 by air with 5-1/2 hour transit. While the vacation traveler will whine about airport security he’ll still fly. Time will always be important to the professional traveler and they know what 3-1-1 means.

"Will major cities that have not seen a passenger train in decades (including SD and WY) finally get service restored?" Where there is a short to mid haul market. SD and WY I’m afraid will still be off the beaten path.

"Will passenger service be privatized once again?" Doubtful. Even in the good old days, passenger service in many routes was marginally profitable at best. Before you could price it today at the rates of return private enterprise needs there would be public outcry for regulation or a shift away from the service. More likely you’ll see private enterprise submit proposals to be the operator of public backed services.

"Will DMU's have a future in the US for short-haul services where locomotive-hauled equipment would be too expensive?" Commuter service yes. Anything longer than that will need speed and speed needs the weight of a locomotive at the head end for the grade crossing collisions.
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Sean R Das

In the March '14 issue of Trains, there is an editorial in which the author says that Amtrak is "a joke"--they have not expanded their network to any large extent since the 90's, there are still many states served by only one of their routes, they haven't invested in new equipment until their existing fleet started to break down (they're buying 130 new Viewliners this year), and funding issues still continue.

However, I do realize that expansion does not happen overnight. There are environmental reviews, host railroad negotiations, facilities considerations and new equipment. For example, adding a second daily departure on the Coast Starlight would mean Amtrak would have to have built 4 additional Pacific Parlor Cars in order to make it happen. And on the subject of new routes--say, for (an obviously fictional) example, Portland to Denver via Boise and Cheyenne, would mean Amtrak would have to build or refurbish stations along the route as part of their service implementations.

If there is one thing that is a boon to America's passenger rail future it is the introduction of the DMU. Though common elsewhere, these self-propelled passenger cars ("buses on rails") found little favor in the US (in pre-Amtrak times, anyhow) chiefly due to their light weight. So the mantra until now was "locomotive-hauled or nothing." But some services are not economical with locomotive-hauled equipment at all, and the US has finally come to its senses on the matter.

Sean R Das

What major cities are in those states? Cheyenne, the largest city in Wyoming, had a population of about 59,000 in the 2010 census. Waukesha, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee, which is considered a second-tier city itself, had a population of about 70,000 in the same census. It's easy to be a big fish in a small pond.

The point is to make passenger rail accessible to everyone in the country. In other words, I want the network to be as complete as possible--in other words I want passenger trains to be more widespread and diverse as in pre-Amtrak times (when 95% of the population lived near a rail station).


Active Member
Let me make the point that Amtrak and rail service should not view the airlines as their competitors. I predict that in ten years travel by plane will be available, but ridership will decline. In Kansas City there are three terminals and one has been shut down as a result of a 38% drop in passengers (since 2001). The biggest target market is travel by automobile and in some cases it's faster than on some Amtrak routes. High Speed Rail, not realistic! Higher Speed rail is quite attainable. We had it in the 30's, 40's and 50's on some routes. The population is aging and old people (such as myself) would welcome an alternative. Have also seen many young people on Amtrak lately. Surprised thay know what a train is.

Sean R Das

I recently found out that Amtrak is cutting onboard amenities to save money. Is this what the future of passenger rail is destined for? Will passenger rail "catch up" to freight (in terms of how much they've improved since the 1950's)?

In my mind, in communities without interstate highways, passenger rail service is almost a necessity. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.

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