Amtrak: Overview   [open pdf - 1MB]

"Amtrak is the nation's primary provider of intercity passenger rail service. It was created by Congress in 1970 to preserve some level of intercity passenger rail service while enabling private rail companies to exit the money-losing passenger rail business. It is a quasi-governmental entity, a corporation whose stock is almost entirely owned by the federal government. It runs a deficit each year, and relies on congressional appropriations to continue operations. Amtrak was last authorized in the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (Title XI of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST Act; P.L. 114-94). That authorization expires at the end of FY2020. Amtrak's annual appropriations do not rely on separate authorization legislation, but authorization legislation does allow Congress to set multiyear Amtrak funding goals and federal intercity passenger rail policies. Since Amtrak's inception, Congress has been divided on the question of whether it should even exist. Amtrak is regularly criticized for failing to cover its costs. The need for federal financial support is often cited as evidence that passenger rail service is not financially viable, or that Amtrak should yield to private companies that would find ways to provide rail service profitably. Yet it is not clear that a private company could perform the same range of activities better than Amtrak does. Indeed, Amtrak was created because private-sector railroad companies in the United States lost money for decades operating intercity passenger rail service and wished to be relieved of the obligation to do so."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R44973
Public Domain
Retrieved From:
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html
Media Type:
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