Amtrak 90: A Route to Success

Amtrak 90:
A Route to Success

Executive Summary

July 1982
Ronald C. Sheck

Associate Professor
of Geography and Planning
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico


Professor Sheck’s report is a far-reaching, comprehensive plan that not only will establish a truly nationwide rail passenger system, but will also turn Amtrak into a profitable system that can stand on its own financially, providing the United States with a quality intercity rail passenger system.

The report was scanned and formatted for HTML viewing, with minor typographical corrections, by William Lindley.
Please remember, this report was written in 1982. Reprinted with permission of the author.


The author gratefully acknowledges the financial contributions made through the New Mexico State University Foundation to assist in the printing of this Executive Summary. Individuals and organizations who have supported this effort include George A. Forman, Jr., John Bonds Germany, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Harding, Adrian D. Herzog, Michael D. Setty, Samuel E. Stokes, Jr., Donald C. Tustin, Hugh K. Wilson, Citizens for Rail California, and Rail Passenger Association of the Southwest.1

Marilynn Wilson labored with the author’s hand-written scrawl in typing the draft. Final preparation of the manuscript would have been impossible without the assistance of Elizabeth Legarreta and Joyce Miller, who entered the copy on the word processor and made subsequent revisions. Richard Miller and William Wieworka prepared the maps and graphs.

A special “thank you” goes to Ree Sheck, who provided moral support, critical commentary, and the sharp touch of an editor’s pencil from draft to final revision.

1 The Rail Passenger Association of the Southwest was the predecessor to the Arizona Rail Passenger Association and the New Mexico Rail Passenger Associaton. [wl]


  • Figure l. Amtrak Revenues and Subsidies, 1972-1981.
  • Figure 2. Amtrak Network and Train Frequency, 1982
  • Figure 3. Comparative Network Utilization.
  • Figure 4. Network Growth, 1983 – 1990.
  • Figure 5. Proposed Passenger Train Frequency 1990.
  • Figure 6. Market Potential of Existing Network.
  • Figure 7. Market Potential of Network Additions.
  • Figure 8. Capital Budget.
  • Figure 9. Sample Fare Structure.
  • Figure 10. Hudson-Great Lakes Corridor Schedule, 1986.
  • Figure 11. Train Connections at Chicago, 1986
  • Figure 12. 1990 Speed Goals
  • Figure 13. Operating Economies of Scale, Hypothetical Case.
  • Figure 14. Train Mile Revenue and Cost Projections, 1983-1990.
  • Figure 15. Projected Cost/Subsidy Ratios, 1983-1990.
  • Figure 16. Projected Financial Performance, 1983-1990.
  • Figure 17. Actual and Projected Train Miles, 1982-1990.
  • Figure 18. Additional Equipment Requirements, 1983-1990
  • Figure 19. High Density Hudson-Great Lakes Corridor
  • Figure 20. Chicago Radial Corridors
  • Figure 21. Sunbelt Medium-Density Corridor






Intercity rail passenger service in the United States is at a critical juncture. The decade-long efforts of Amtrak, the quasi-public corporation created by Congress in 1970 to operate the nation’s rail passenger service, have successfully turned the tide of decline and given the public a glimpse of what quality rail service can be. Ridership has increased more than 60 percent since Amtrak’s inception and passengers are riding in new cars pulled by new locomotives. Trains arrive closer to scheduled times than they have in many years.

Yet problems linger-the Amtrak network is thin and little changed, the number of trains operated is not much different from 1971, massive subsidies are required to keep the system running, and there is a noticeable lack of direction concerning the corporation’s future. In a time of severe government financial squeeze, serious questions are asked about the priority of federal subsidies for train service that carries only 22 million passengers a year.

Two alternatives for Amtrak seem to be most frequently discussed. One is essentially a continuation of the status quo. While it emphasizes cost-cutting measures in operation of the system for a slow, gradual financial improvement, it also requires high subsidies for a long time. The other alternative, the one that has been frequently practiced by federal budget makers, is to rapidly reduce subsidies by cutting back the system. Neither alternative is politically very attractive. It is clear that greater fiscal responsibility in government spending makes high subsidy requirements increasingly unpalatable. The cutback alternative means some areas lose service entirely, as happened in 1979 and 1981. Cutbacks of the system also have long-term negative impacts on Amtrak because they reduce the constituent support for the system in Congress. Neither alternative is conducive to continuation of a national rail passenger system.

Amtrak 90: A Route to Successoffers another alternative-a far-reaching, comprehensive plan that not only will establish a truly nationwide rail passenger system by the end of this decade, or by 1990, but also that will turn Amtrak into a profitable system that can stand on its own financially and provide the United States with a quality intercity rail passenger system. Amtrak 90 is a way out of the difficult dilemma that is facing decision makers who wrestle with the problem of intercity rail passenger service. Two major goals are laid out in Amtrak 90: the development of a geographically broad system that meets the needs of the traveling public and a system that is operationally efficient and generates enough revenue to cover all costs of operations and contributes towards future capital investment needs.

Emphasis is placed on the solutions to the problem of turning the corporation’s financial situation around through a systematic program of planned expansion. The public gains by having a more usable rail passenger system and one that no longer is a drain on the federal budget. There are no losers in this plan, only winners.

This Executive Summary highlights only the strategy and the results contained in Amtrak 90. The detailed year-by-year budgeting, operating techniques, system-wide schedules and equipment allocations, economic forecasting methodology, and physical plant investment priorities are in the full study, a culmination of three years of research efforts.

The Executive Summary was prepared to introduce the ideas and concepts of the plan to a broad audience and to present an overview of the profitable and comprehensive national rail passenger service that would result from implementation of Amtrak 90.


Amtrak Performance: Problems Identified

Amtrak has been sharply criticized for many things during its brief 10-plus year history. Certainly travelers had much to complain about over most of that decade-late trains, broken-down trains, trains too hot in summer and too cold in winter, dirty trains, unpalatable food, poor schedules, infrequent trains.

As many of these conditions have improved, criticism of the increasing government subsidy to Amtrak has grown louder. There is little question that the deficit, and hence need for government subsidy, far exceeds what the original creators of Amtrak had anticipated.

Important as all of these issues are, they have perhaps masked the deep underlying problems that continue to plague the corporation. To identify these fundamental problems, Amtrak 90 has analyzed the corporation’s operations since its inception, investigated U.S. passenger railroading history, and compared Amtrak with operations in other countries. The study groups problems identified into four broad, yet interrelated areas: economic performance, market perception, operational constraints, and planning. The high points of each of these problem areas are outlined in following sections.

Economic Performance

The most fundamental of Amtrak’s problems is its economic performance. Although ridership has grown significantly and revenue has tripled, the corporation’s subsidy needs from the federal government have outstripped income growth (Figure 1). In 1981, revenues from ticket sales, express and mail services, and other sources totaled some $496 million, yet an additional $712 million from federal and state sources was necessary to meet total operating expenses of $1.2 billion.

Figure l. Amtrak Revenues and Subsidies, 1972-1981.

Probing deeper into the revenues and expenses of Amtrak, two major cost categories appear. The first of these can be classified as direct costs and includes the basic expenses associated with moving passenger trains over the railroad: labor, fuel, and other expendables, railroad charges, etc. The second category, indirect costs, includes costs of maintaining Amtrak as a railroad system or network. Stations, servicing facilities, repair shops, reservations systems, car and locomotive maintenance, management, insurance, taxes, etc., make up the indirect costs. In Amtrak’s case, because of the overall low frequencies of train service, the revenues generated are inadequate to offset these common expenses, which make up an excessively large and disproportionate share of corporate costs. In FY 1980 Amtrak incurred total expenses of $1.1 billion, yet the actual cost of direct operating expenses (moving the trains over the tracks-labor, fuel, expendables, etc.) was only $272 million, or about 25 percent of the total. Indirect expenses (stations, yards, shops, maintenance of locomotives, cars, and the small amount of track owned by the corporation) totaled $644 million, or 56 percent of expenses. Revenues generated from ticket sales, food and beverage sales, and the movement of mail and express in the year ending September 30, 1980, totaled just over $410 million. On a direct-cost basis Amtrak’s trains earned more than the cost to operate them by some $127 million. The high infrastructure costs are clearly a major problem and reflect serious diseconomies of scale.

Figure 2. Amtrak Network and Train Frequency, 1982

The high ratio of indirect costs to total costs is at the heart of Amtrak’s financial problems. The very nature of Amtrak’s operation as a passenger railroad is largely responsible for this imbalance. Some 500 stations scattered over a 24,000-mile network in 45 states is Amtrak’s service area. Yet over some 75 percent of this extensive network only a single train a day (or less) operates in either direction (Figure 2). Stations, servicing facilities, and repair shops must be in place to allow passenger access to trains and to keep the trains running.

These basic infrastructure elements are prerequisites of operation-whether one train or several is operated over a particular part of the network. Servicing a train at an intermediate stop may require upwards of a half dozen people, plus the normal station complement of ticket agent and baggage/express handlers. If only one train in each direction is operated, the full-time servicing crew may be engaged in work for only an hour or two each day. Multiply this scene across the network and the reasons behind high indirect costs become a little more clear. Simply put, the large physical plant costs are not offset by adequate revenue generation. The level of train service is extremely thin, and this of itself is the single most important element in the financial problem.

In comparison, no European railway main line sees less than several trains per day (Figure 3), even on long-distance routes in excess of 400 or 500 miles.

Market Perception

The market for rail passenger service in the United States has been grossly underestimated and badly misinterpreted. In 1971, the year of the corporation’s birth, neither Amtrak’s detractors nor many of its advocates would have forecast the growth in ridership that occurred in the subsequent decade. This increase from 16 million to 22 million passengers took place on a system that experienced scant change in route miles and only a small increase in the number of trains.

Citing small use of long-distance trains between end terminals, Amtrak management and Department of Transportation (DOT) policy makers in the corporation’s early years almost wrote off long-haul markets. Often overlooked was the fact that long-distance trains also provide travel opportunities for short- and medium-distance travel. Long-distance trains experienced exceptionally strong traffic increases, often leading ridership growth.

Percentage of passenger network served by different levels of train frequency


Trains per day in each direction
5 or more
Amtrak 75.6 14.1 5.7 4.6
BR (Britain) 4.4 95.6
SNCF (France) 9.5 90.5
SBB (Switzerland) 100.0
RENFE (Spain) 16.3 83.7


Number of passenger trains per route mile per day


Amtrak 2.3
DB (Germany) 37
SNCF (France) 23
OBB (Austria) 27
SBB (Switzerland) 61
NS (Netherlands) 90


Figure 3. Comparative Network Utilization.

While playing down long-distance travel growth opportunities, Amtrak emphasized the possibilities in a number of corridors-routes serving closely spaced metropolitan areas. Although the corporation identified more than a dozen of these corridors, increases in service have only taken place on those where external state (New York, Michigan, California) or federal (Northeast Corridor-Boston-New York-Washington) pressure was exerted.

On several routes linking large urban centers separated by short distances, only one passenger train a day operates and no effort has been made to increase frequencies. There appears to be a serious lack of sensitivity to the fact that the intercity travel market requires frequent service. The argument is often heard that since ridership is not at capacity on the single train operating in a corridor, no further growth could be expected.

When, at the behest of the state of California, Amtrak increased the frequency of trains between Los Angeles and San Diego from three to six a day, ridership tripled. Market research apparently has failed to consider total travel volume by other modes (air, bus, automobile) and expects rail to capture a very limited share. The approach is neither aggressive nor upbeat.

Failure to understand the diverse travel preferences of the public is another marketing weakness. Although people travel for different purposes and come from many socioeconomic and age groups, the assumption is that all can adjust their travel plans to take the one train, fit into the same type of accommodations, and be satisfied with limited food and beverage offerings. The tendency is to fit customers into what is offered, rather than to design an attractive service that meets customer desires.

Pricing is also a part of marketing. Amtrak marketing policy has been to maximize revenues through keeping fares at a high level, resulting in Amtrak tariffs that are often totally out of line with competitive modes. Little is done in the way of incentive pricing to encourage repeat rides, and fare policies seem incapable of rapid change to meet fluctuating demand.

Advertising has been severely limited because of budgetary constraints, but a large share of expenditures have been devoted to national image’ building, rather than to identifying how Amtrak might satisfy specific travel desires.

Operational Constraints

Equipment shortages, restrictive labor rules, and policies and procedures of the railroads contracted to run passenger trains place severe constraints on improving Amtrak’s finances. Some of these constraints are summarized here.

Equipment Shortages

Insufficient capacity to generate adequate levels of ridership is the basic underlying cause of Amtrak’s dismal financial performance. In an [era] of [supply] side economics, it is indeed ironic that growth of ridership is thwarted by a static inventory of rolling stock and locomotives. The nearly $1 billion spent by Amtrak on new passenger cars and locomotives over the past decade has replaced worn out equipment, but it has not provided any opportunity for significant growth. The new equipment has reduced maintenance costs, improved operating performance, and given travelers a more pleasant ride and better on-time arrivals and departures. Because new passenger cars have higher seating capacity and spend less downtime for repairs, fewer of them are needed to equip the existing train fleet on a system-wide basis. However, Amtrak’s rolling stock inventory contains some 12 percent fewer cars in 1981 than at its peak period in 1976. The system is stretched to near capacity, and the ridership growth surge developed in the 1970s will level off: trains are full and cars are not available to lengthen existing trains or to add new trains for greater market penetration on those segments of the system where growth potential exists. A decade of inadequate capital funding is in large part the cause of continued high operating deficits and hence the need for hefty federal subsidies.

The thin supply of rolling stock in relation to the size of the system can be seen in the following comparison. The Amtrak figures are from the 1980 Annual Report; all others are from British Railways Board: Facts and Figures, 1980, and Manual of International Railway Statistics, International Union of Railways, 1979.

Railroad Route Miles Number of Passenger Cars
Amtrak 24,000 2,000
British Rail 11,000 24,000
French National 21,000 17,000
Italian State 10,000 12,000
German Federal 17,700 17,000
Swiss Federal 1,800 2,000
Japanese National 13,000 26,000

Restrictive Labor Rules

Labor rules often hamper operational improvements that could enhance revenue or reduce costs. In 1980 contractual agreements calling for a second crew member in the cab of new, self-propelled rail diesel cars delayed the introduction of this equipment, which was more economical to operate. Requirements that a switching crew be called to add or subtract cars to trains at main-line stations, although road crews could handle the job, increase costs to the point where it is cheaper to haul empty cars to the end of the route. This results in poor equipment utilization and constrains movements of through cars from one train to another. High labor costs resulting from manning requirements established in the last century have been cited as making operations of some trains prohibitively expensive.

In order to comply with a congressional directive for food services to break even, Amtrak in 1981 substituted prepackaged microwave-heated meals for on-board cooking-the only way in which significant staff reduction, and hence cost savings, could be achieved in food services.

Policies and Procedures of Contracting Railroads

Amtrak contracts with 22 private railroads to operate its trains over their lines. The service provided varies with each railroad because they have different attitudes toward passenger trains. While most of these carriers attempt to operate Amtrak trains expeditiously, others have been known to delay passenger trains for freight, to shift freight traffic away from routes used by Amtrak trains (thereby paving the way for downgrading of track and signal systems), or to refuse to operate certain Amtrak locomotives or cars.

A frequently cited agreement by these operating railroads against possible increases in the number of passenger trains is that they interfere with the railroad’s main purpose of hauling freight. Railroad operating practice is to run freight trains on an unscheduled, or “extra” basis, which requires a longer time slot than that of scheduled trains. If more scheduled passenger trains are added, then the time available for unscheduled freights is reduced. However, if all trains (freight as well as passenger) were scheduled and operated punctually, capacity on a given track segment would rise.

Another major operational difficulty is that engine and train crews work directly for the contracting railroad and do not fall under the management control of Amtrak, except in the Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns and operates.


Amtrak is sure neither where it is going nor how it will get there. Although the corporation has established broad, vague goals for providing the United States with a quality intercity rail passenger system, no specific plans have been released that detail where this system will go, what frequencies or types of service will be offered, when various segments will be added to the system, or how much it will cost.

Planning is essential to meeting the for-profit goal. Specific objectives must be laid out and a strategy developed to meet those objectives. Included in the strategy should be the necessary steps that must be followed, including financial requirements, equipment needs, marketing tools, and operational policies. Laying out a plan that shows how the objectives can be obtained in a logical, orderly manner increases the probability for support in the political arena. States and local communities are then able to know when they can expect improvements in service. Decision makers responsible for appropriation of the necessary capital funds and operating subsidies are able to determine when investments will pay off and see at what point subsidy requirements will decline.


Planned Growth for Profitability

The plan outlined in Amtrak 90 is designed to meet two major goals: to show that the Amtrak system can become economically profitable and that it can become a passenger rail system that is national in deed as well as in name. The following sections discuss the strategy and tactics for realizing the plan and provide financial projections.


The basic thrust to the strategy in Amtrak 90 is to increase revenues at a faster rate than expenses. This can be done by increasing carrying capacity and controlling the fixed costs, thereby maximizing existing investment in physical plant. The existing Amtrak network is in place and has a physical plant that is in generally good condition. Because of investments by Amtrak, the states, and the private railroads, the track used by Amtrak’s trains is in better shape than a decade ago. Some expansion of stations and maintenance facilities will be required, and the quality of many stations needs improvement for purposes of customer attraction, but the basics are there. Additional investment for further upgrading of the physical plant is supplementary rather than basic. What is not there is an adequate number of cars and locomotives to provide the capacity to generate the revenues needed to attain profitability. Investment in rolling stock and locomotives is the main ingredient in the new strategy. The new equipment must then be used in a logical manner. Three steps are followed in the strategy of increasing revenues: (1) strengthen the capacity of existing trains by adding more cars, (2) place additional trains in service on the present network, and (3) expand the network by adding links between existing terminals that are not now connected.

Increasing Train Capacity

The most economical way of increasing revenues is by adding cars to existing trains. No additional fixed plant capacity is needed and the cost of operating more cars per train is minimal. By Amtrak’s own unofficial estimates, more than 1 1/2 million riders were turned away in the summer of 1980 because of unavailable space.

Though Amtrak has invested some $2 billion in equipment and to upgrade the physical plant, the money for equipment has gone for replacing old rolling stock with the new Amfleet, Superliner, or Turboliner equipment or with extensively refurbished conventional cars now dubbed Heritage Fleet, and placing new locomotives in service. While this was necessary, it was replacement, not additional equipment.

Adding a single Superliner coach and two Superliner sleeping cars to each of Amtrak’s western long-distance trains would increase their capacity by about 45 percent. As expected, revenues would increase by a similar amount, yet the operating cost would increase only about 18 percent, for a significant increase in “profit” available to offset indirect costs. The same basic train crew is needed to operate a 6-car train carrying 300 people as to operate a 10-car train carrying 500.

As an operating comparison, Amtrak trains have an average capacity of around 325 passengers. Most European trains in main-line intercity service offer seating for between 500 and 600 passengers. The two newest trains in European intercity service, the British HST and the French TGV, have capacities of 419 and 386 respectively. However, in operation the TGV trains are usually made up of two sets with a total capacity of 772. American railroads have realized economies of longer freight train operations for years. The same principle needs to be applied to passenger trains.

There are limits as to the length, and hence capacity, of passenger trains. The need to minimize walking distance for passengers at stations has generally limited platform length to about 18 car lengths, or some 1,600 feet. Other limitations on train length include the capacity of locomotives to supply electricity for heating, lighting, and air conditioning. Nevertheless, within the generally accepted limits of 18 cars, passenger-carrying capacity can vary from 300 in a low-level, all sleeping car train to more than 1,100 in a train composed of bi-level chair cars.

Theoretically, the greatest potential for revenue enhancement by adding cars is on long-distance trains. Unfortunately the problem with strengthening long-distance trains in the short term is that most of these trains that serve routes west of Chicago are operated with bi-level Superliner cars. Amtrak received 284 bi-level Superliner cars between 1979 and 1981 and all are allocated. No additional Superliner cars have been ordered and older, out-of-service low-level cars that could be converted quickly to head-end power and refurbished are not really compatible with Superliner equipment.

Therefore, the greatest short-term opportunity for train strengthening lies in low-level corridor trains, and on the long-distance trains operating out of New York to Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Florida, and New Orleans. On the shorter runs, particularly in corridors with multiple frequencies, the need for longer trains is greatest in peak hours and on certain peak days–particularly weekends and holidays.

Additional Trains on the Existing Network

Examination of travel patterns by all modes (rail, bus, air, automobile) on the routes served by Amtrak and testing of travel potential by the use of gravity models indicate that numerous segments of the Amtrak network show great opportunity for large-scale ridership increases if trains can effectively tap these travel markets. To do so, it is absolutely essential to offer a greater range of travel opportunities than present train service provides. Most intercity travel takes place between urban centers and is greatest between cities of large size that are closely spaced–a situation that exists along a number of Amtrak routes–e.g., New York-Cleveland-Chicago; New York-Pittsburgh-Chicago; Chicago-Detroit; Chicago-St. Louis; Boston-New York-Washington. On the first two routes Amtrak operates low levels of service, usually one train per day over the whole route. Only between Boston and Washington in the Northeast Corridor where frequent train service exists does Amtrak have a large share of the intercity travel market. However, the size and spacing of cities indicates great market potential on these other routes.

Here most of the intercity travel is short distance, less than 250 miles, and is very sensitive to travel time and to scheduling. The short-distance traveler wants to be able to go at a given time and often to return in the same day. Waiting to travel at only one specific hour is not satisfactory. European railroads recognize the sensitivity of short-distance travel to frequent scheduling; intercity trains operate at intervals as close as half-hourly in some countries. In West Germany major trunk lines have hourly service that interconnects conveniently at transfer points from one route to another, enabling the rail traveler to complete his journey quickly and to go whenever he wants.

Development of those segments of the Amtrak network where great potential exists for tapping into these kinds of markets is essential. Adding trains on these routes is the only way the market can be tapped. It is an economically efficient use of the rail system–stations and other infrastructure are already in place. One train a day performs rather poorly because few people are willing to adjust travel plans to fit the schedule. Rather, the schedules must be developed to fit the traveler’s desire. A case in point is where Amtrak and the state of California collaborated to increase the frequency of service between Los Angeles and San Diego from three trains a day to six a day (a seventh frequency was added in 1981). In 1976 the three daily trains carried 463,821 passengers. By 1979 when the number of trains had doubled to six daily, ridership soared to 1,176,557, an increase of 156 percent. Over the same time period, the revenue/cost ratio increased from 29 percent to 82 percent, reflecting greatly improved economies of operation.

Incorporated into this plan is the development of those segments of the network where market penetration is maximized through the introduction of additional trains. Because of the severe shortage of locomotives and rolling stock and the time needed for new car orders to be filled, the introduction of these services can only proceed at a slow pace during the first two years of the implementation period. A few new trains can be introduced by using upgraded conventional rolling stock currently in storage and by reallocating equipment for more efficient use through shortened turnaround times, more efficient maintenance, etc. Large-scale addition of new trains and resultant economies can only take place beginning in FY 1985 when new cars become available in quantity under the Amtrak 90 plan. By FY 1986 these additions will result in a subsidy decrease of more than $150 million.

The placing of additional trains on a given route will also increase ridership on the existing train or trains, because as frequencies increase and the traveler is faced with choices that fit his plans better, rail becomes a more attractive option. The train then fits into a greater number of desired trip opportunities for potential travelers and is able to increase its market share.

Network Expansion

Additional financial potential exists in expanding the Amtrak network. Expansion opens up new markets and provides access to points not now served by passenger trains, or allows more direct travel between places that are only connected by circuitous routings. New routes provide increased connectivity to the network and strengthen the existing portions of the system where they connect to trains already operating.

By increasing the network coverage, a truly national system is developed. Amtrak 90 details expansion from the present 24,000-mile system to some 39,000 miles (Figures 4 and 5) in eight years. An additional 35 million citizens would be offered the opportunity for rail travel and service would be extended to some 60 urban areas with a total metropolitan population of 19 million.

Fiscal Year Route Miles Percent Annual Growth Growth as Percent of 1982 Network
1982 23,589 100.0
1983 23,663 .3 100.3
1984 24,224 2.3 102.7
1985 26,289 8.5 111.4
1986 28,236 7.4 119.7
1987 29,889 5.8 126.7
1988 32,190 7.6 136.5
1989 34,993 8.7 148.3
1990 38,976 10.1 165.2

Figure 4. Network Growth, 1983 – 1990.

Network expansion would proceed slowly and would maximize the use of existing terminals and servicing facilities; most of the new routes would connect major metropolitan areas where rail passenger service is already established. It will be possible to develop some of these new routes without opening any new station facilities. For example, St. Louis-New Orleans service could be instituted by running a connecting train to Carbondale, Illinois, where a station already exists on the Chicago-New Orleans route.

The expansion will add more than 15,000 route miles to the system and train service will be brought to 271 additional communities. Only 111 of the new stations will be manned. Routes served by one or two trains daily in each direction will see unmanned stations at most communities of less than 15,000 population.

Figure 5. Amtrak Network and Train Frequency, 1990

Planned Growth for Profitability


The tactics outlined below are essential ingredients to the attainment of overall goals.

  • Route Identification
    Summary: A profitable, truly national rail passenger system must begin with development of the market potential of the various segments of the existing network and expansion of that network through the addition of routes that will contribute to overall system performance. By applying various models of intercity movement and examining existing travel patterns of rail, bus, airline, and automobile, it is possible to predict the number of potential rail travelers along a given route segment. Using this ratio of potential daily passengers per mile (PM/RM) developed in Amtrak 90, a target system for 1990 was determined (Figure 5). This approach tailors passenger train service to market.
  • Service Levels
    Summary:Three basic types of trains are needed to service the various markets on the 1990 national system:

    • Long-Distance Trains
    • Medium-Distance Trains
    • Short-Distance Trains

    Using these types of trains where each is appropriate in maximizing market penetration is the major key to turning Amtrak into a successful financial operation. To fully develop the market potential by strengthening the capacity of existing trains, adding new trains to the present network, and expanding the network, it will be necessary to spend $4.75 billion over an eight-year period.

  • Capital Needs
    Summary: The biggest single obstacle to expanding the capacity of the Amtrak system to maximize market potential is the lack of passenger cars and locomotives.This capital improvement program is summarized in Figure 8
  • Marketing
    Summary: Effective marketing is much more than advertising and salesmanship. It includes designing and delivering a product that is attractive to potential users, informing them of the advantages of the product, and making the product accessible to them in physical and economic terms.
  • Labor Productivity
    Summary: Three major areas of concern are wages and hours, craft and territorial boundaries, and manning levels.
  • Operations
    Summary: The overall operating philosophy of Amtrak 90 is for maximum utilization of cars and locomotives to meet train requirements as established by marketing goals.
  • Northeast Corridor
    Summary: A three-level, fixed-interval service restructuring is proposed.

Route Identification

A profitable, truly national rail passenger system must begin with development of the market potential of the various segments of the existing network and expansion of that network through the addition of routes that will contribute to overall system performance. By applying various models of intercity movement and examining existing travel patterns of rail, bus, airline, and automobile, it is possible to predict the number of potential rail travelers along a given route segment. Using this ratio of potential daily passengers per mile (PM/RM) developed in Amtrak 90, a target system for 1990 was determined (Figure 5). This approach tailors passenger train service to market.

Because urban centers are the major traffic generators, considerable attention has been given to the size and spacing of cities in constructing the target system. Figures 6 and 7 rank the various network routes and segments according to potential traffic in target year 1990. Four categories are identified:

  • low potential, 400-1,000 PM/RM;
  • moderate potential, 1,000-2,500 PM/RM;
  • high potential, 2,500-5,000 PM/RM; and
  • very high potential, greater than 5,000 PM/RM.

Even the lowest is expected to recover direct operating costs per train mile and to contribute to fully allocated costs. While current congressionally mandated criteria require a minimum of 150 passenger miles per train mile, the lowest performance level proposed here (assuming one train per day in each direction) would be 200 passenger miles per train mile.

Figure 6 breaks down the present Amtrak network according to traffic potential. Planning of service increases on the existing system is largely predicated upon this listing. The Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington and its New Haven-Springfield and Philadelphia- Harrisburg appendages are not included because they are the only portions of the present system that attain or approach service levels that should allow maximum market penetration.

Segments that should be added to the existing system to meet the goal of a nationwide network that will be cost-effective and provide the traveler with the largest possible choice of destinations are classified in Figure 7. Addition of these segments will produce some changes in the classification of the existing system as identified in Figure 6. For example the addition of the Kansas City-Denver and Denver- Albuquerque-El Paso routes would raise the potential of the Kansas City-La Junta and Trinidad-Albuquerque portions of the present Kansas City-Los Angeles route from “low” to “moderate.”

The planned 1990 network (Figure 5) is the sum of the present system (Figure 6) and proposed new routes and segments (Figure 7). Selection of the exact trackage to be used is based upon location of intermediate towns and cities, conditions of track with reference to speed, signaling, and capacity, and volume of freight train operations. Some shifting of present routes to serve additional traffic generating points is included in the final 1990 system. For example, the present Chicago-Omaha segment would be rerouted to an upgraded and predominantly passenger service line over the former Rock Island track. Approximately 800,000 inhabitants would be added to the potential market along this route by serving the Des Moines and Quad Cities metropolitan areas. A similar shift between Chicago and Milwaukee from Milwaukee Railroad to Northwestern System track would permit direct service to the intermediate urban areas of Kenosha and Racine. Extensive changes in the Texas Triangle would bring Waco and Bryan-College Station onto the network as well as reduce travel times between end points on the routes.

Some reroutings will require track rehabilitation and upgrading, track restoration (Indianapolis-Dayton), and even new track in the Texas Triangle (Waco-Bremond). Less than 3 percent of the designated 1990 network would require extensive upgrading or new construction. These segments would be predominantly or exclusively for passenger train operations and ownership and operational control of them would pass directly to Amtrak.

Service Levels

Three basic types of trains are needed to service the various markets on the 1990 national system.

  • Long-Distance Trains. These trains operate over routes ranging from 700 to 2,500 miles between major metropolitan areas and involve end-point to end-point travel times ranging from 15 to 50 hours. Serving many intermediate cities and towns, they therefore offer the greatest possible number of trip combinations of any train type. Users include those making the entire trip, those traveling from either end-point city to other places along the route, and those traveling only between intermediate points. A full range of coach and sleeping car accommodations is required plus a variety of food services.
  • Medium-Distance Trains. These trains run in the 400- to 700-mile trip range. Two subtypes are recognized-the day train and the overnight train. Journey times range from 7 to 14 hours. Each subtype caters to a different market. 0ay trains will have a greater number of users at intermediate centers and the overnight trains will be used by those traveling predominantly between the end points of the journey. The overnight trains have great potential as carriers of mail and express. Coach and first-class seating plus a wide range of food services are offered on day trains; economy and first-class sleeping car service plus limited food and beverage offerings supplement coach offerings on overnight trains.
  • Short-Distance Trains. These daytime-only passenger trains operate on runs of less than 400 miles. They cater to short-distance travelers that make up the bulk of all the intercity travel market. Because passengers are on the train for a shorter period, they have more limited demands for food service, but both first-class and coach seating are offered to satisfy different preferences.

Using these types of trains where each is appropriate in maximizing market penetration is the major key to turning Amtrak into a successful financial operation. A single long-distance train may be adequate to satisfy demand on those routes ranked with a low potential. The advantage of the long-distance train is that it meets a variety of travel needs-long distance, medium distance, and short distance-along such a route. On those route segments where demand is high or very high, most of the journeys are of relatively short distance, and here medium- and short-distance trains can satisfy the demand if they provide a greater frequency of departure and arrival times-shorter trips are much more sensitive to the frequency of travel opportunity. Medium-distance travel needs may be largely met by trains that permit late evening departures and overnight travel, with arrival at the destination in the early morning. Short-distance routes require more frequent service and several trains per day may be needed to serve high and very high demand routes.

Because long-distance, medium-distance, and short-distance trains all operate simultaneously over some route segments, it is possible and desirable to integrate them into schedules so that long-distance and medium-distance trains may also provide short-distance functions at appropriate times of the day. This avoids duplication of service and allows for more effective equipment utilization and cost reductions.

Train frequency and scheduling are other important aspects of developing the correct level of service to optimize market potential. The highest potential travel demand is in the major corridors and most trips will be of less than 300 miles. People making these tyges journeys want to be able to select from a range of departure and arrival times. Often they want to be able to travel from their home origin point to a destination, carry out an activity at the destination, and return home the same day. This obviously requires a morning departure one way and an evening return. Timetables developed in Amtrak 90 offer schedules of two or more departures daily at appropriate times between paired cities of 500,000 or more separated by distances of 250 miles (for example, Chicago-Indianapolis, Miami-Tampa, Dallas-Houston).

For larger and more closely spaced cities, frequencies may be increased even to hourly intervals during the day (New York-Boston, Chicago-Milwaukee, Los Angeles-San Diego).

Cities 450-600 miles apart where train trips can be completed in 8-10 hours are ideally suited to service by a daytime train and a nighttime train in each direction. The overnight travel trip, widely popular in other parts of the world, has yet to be exploited by Amtrak. The Amtrak 90 plan establishes such a service between many city pairs (Chicago-Kansas City, Detroit-Atlanta, New York-Raleigh, Dallas-New Orleans). In addition to catering to travelers who prefer not to lose daylight hours for the journey, the overnight trains have great potential for capturing mail and express traffic.

Long-distance trains cater to travelers who are less time sensitive. They must be carefully planned so that schedules do not have inconvenient (after 10 p.m. or before 7 a.m.) arrival and departure times at important origin and destination points along the route.

Because Amtrak 90 envisions the operation of a nationwide system that makes train travel as convenient as possible, planned schedules facilitate connections between trains at terminals and junctions.

Capital Needs

The biggest single obstacle to expanding the capacity of the Amtrak system to maximize market potential is the lack of passenger cars and locomotives. Up to this point capital funding has allowed the corporation to purchase new equipment to replace the old. Little growth capacity has been added. Amtrak has increased its train miles only slightly between 1971 and 1982. Growth in available seat miles has experienced a slight increase because of the increased capacity of some newer cars.

To fully develop the market potential by strengthening the capacity of existing trains, adding new trains to the present network, and expanding the network, it will be necessary to spend $4.75 billion over an eight-year period. This amount will enable Amtrak to acquire more than 2,700 new cars and rehabilitate 450 older ones; to add more than 500 new locomotives; to renovate and modernize older stations, repair . shops, and servicing facilities or to build new ones; and to raise train speeds through track and signaling improvements. This capital improvement program is summarized in Figure 8.

Equipment Needs

Amtrak currently operates more than 2,000 passenger cars and 300 diesel and electric locomotives. Seven Turbotrains, 68 electric multiple-unit Metroliner cars and 14 diesel rail cars complete the fleet. Although the corporation acquired more than 2,000 cars by purchase and lease in its first years from the private railroad companies, most were more than 20 years old and many were in poor condition. These cars had been built by four manufacturers to dozens of different plans as ordered by the many purchasing railroads. Electrical and heating and air-conditioning systems were often incompatible. In the years immediately preceding the takeover of passenger operations by Amtrak, routine maintenance had been delayed and deferred. While Amtrak struggled to operate a nationwide system with this old equipment, it moved to order new rolling stock in quantity, rolling stock based on standardized designs with interchangeable and compatible components. Some 492 low-level Amfleet cars, 284 bi-level Superliner cars, and 13 five-car Turboliner trains were placed in service between 1975 and 1981. Although these acquisitions were significant, they largely replaced existing stock that could not be rehabilitated. Some 400 older steam-heated cars were also rehabilitated and converted to electric heating compatible with the Amfleet equipment. These refurbished cars have been designated Heritage Fleet by Amtrak.

Even before new passenger cars were procured, new locomotives were ordered to meet an even more acute motive power problem. In 1972 Amtrak ordered, and began receiving a year later, 150 SDP-40 diesel locomotives that were essentially a passenger version of an existing freight design. Subsequently, orders were placed for a four-axle, lighter locomotive that could be used to pull the new, electrically heated Amfleet and Superliner cars. The original 150 SDP-40 locomotives experienced several operating problems and most have been rebuilt to the newer F-40 model. Two types of electric locomotives have also been placed in service on the New Haven-Washington segment of the Northeast Corridor. The most successful of these is the AEM-7, an Americanized version of the Swedish Railways RE4/4 built in the United States. Amtrak will have acquired 47 of these electric locomotives by mid 1983.

Not enough new locomotives and passenger cars have been received to permit any expansion of passenger services. At peak holiday season the Amtrak motive power and car fleets are stretched to the limit. Although another 500-600 steam-heated cars are sitting in yards and shops, funds have not been available for their refurbishment and modernization. This standby, unused fleet is slowly deteriorating. In order to permit any significant expansion of service that would improve Amtrak’s financial performance, it is absolutely essential that new cars and locomotives be ordered immediately. The necessary lead time for construction means that the earliest delivery days for new equipment would be 18 to 20 months after orders have been placed. On the other hand, the older cars can be refurbished using Amtrak’s own Beech Grove shops and railroad contractors, with delivery times cut to 4 to 5 months, and rehabilitated cars cost less than half the price of new ones. Refurbishing of these 450 cars would provide a quick and economical way to expand service while awaiting delivery of newer equipment. These cars would eventually be placed into a reserve pool as new cars take over daily assignments.

The varied operating conditions of Amtrak require that both low-level and bi-level intercity cars be used. While bi-level Superliner equipment has higher carrying capacity per car and greater operating economies, limited track clearance in tunnels, bridges, etc., prohibit these cars from operating into major centers along the Northeast Corridor (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Baltimore). Their operation is currently limited to trains west of Chicago; however, bi-level equipment can be used in other directions out of Chicago and should be considered as part of the short-distance fleet. Most commuter authorities in Chicago operate bi-level suburban trains.

Passenger Cars. The Amfleet, Heritage Fleet, and Superliner car types are the mainstay of Amtrak’s current passenger operations. The idea of standardization of components and the economies of manufacture and operation in these car types should be continued in an expanded car fleet. For operating simplicity the number of interior configurations should be kept at a minimum. However, operating economies should not dictate the configurations and cars should be designed to meet the needs of the traveler. The equipment proposed in Figure 8 builds on the existing well-tried types now in use by Amtrak. All cars will be equipped with head-end power and all low-level equipment will be compatible. Three basic passenger car designs are used for new equipment in Amtrak 90. Amfleet III and Superliner II will be the designations of the new orders of intercity equipment. One new type of equipment, a bi-level design based either on the Superliner body or the Hawker-Siddeley GO-Train cars, will be introduced for push-pull operation in near-metropolitan, short-distance services. Conversion of 450 older cars now out of service will expand the current inventory of Heritage Fleet cars.

Fulfillment of these purchases and conversions will give Amtrak a fleet of about 4,500 cars and 800 locomotives by 1990. The number of new locomotives required is relatively low because new designs will be of higher horsepower and a single diesel locomotive will suffice on many trains now requiring two locomotive units.

The addition of almost 3,000 new and rebuilt cars to the system in a short eight-year period can be compared with purchasing programs of European railroads. Since 1975, French National Railways has taken delivery of more than 3,400 modern design, locomotive-hauled Corail passenger cars built to some 17 different interior plans. The French have also received about 40 of an 87 set order of articulated trains for the new TGV line between Paris, Lyon, and other points in southeastern France and adjacent Switzerland. Italy has announced plans to purchase 1,200 new intercity coaches over the next few years. British Rail is now receiving an order of 210 sleeping cars for overnight trains. East Germany, the leading nation in production of passenger roll>ng stock, produces about 8,000 cars per year, mostly for railways in Soviet Block countries.

Locomotives. To pull the additional trains that will be required by the Amtrak 90 plan, new locomotives will be required. The first acquisitions will be further purchases of the 3,000-horsepower F-40 diesel locomotive, the current basic Amtrak power unit. Although the F-40 has performed well, it is a single-ended locomotive that has to be turned at the end of the run, or two units must be run back-to-back. Trains with more than eight low-level cars or six bi-level cars require two of these locomotives. Amtrak 90 recognizes the need for a higher horsepower locomotive with cabs at each end to avoid turning and to reduce the number of units per train. A new design, the “X-90,” is proposed to fulfill that need. A prototype unit would be built and thoroughly tested before entering volume production in 1986. In the interim, additional F-40 units would meet the motive power needs of the new trains that the plan proposes.

The only electrified section of the present Amtrak network is the New Haven-New York-Washington portion of the Northeast Corridor and its Philadelphia-Harrisburg branch. The only extension of this electrified trackage envisioned in Amtrak 90 is the planned New Haven-Boston segment already contained (although actual work may be deferred) in the U.S DOT’s Northeast Corridor Improvement Project (NECIP).

Fixed Plant Investment

Amtrak 90 budgets more than $1.2 billion for fixed plant investment in the 1983-1990 period. Just over half of this amount is for stations (repair, maintenance, and servicing facilities) and related track and signal work associated with these stations and yards.

Car Repair Shops. At the present time, all of Amtrak’s major car repairs are handled at the company’s Beech Grove, Indiana, facility or are farmed out to private contractors. As the car fleet grows, it will be necessary to open additional facilities. To reduce the need to deadhead out-of-service equipment to and from shops, a geographic balance must be achieved in the location of new facilities. By 1990 the following facilities would be in operation for all types of car repairs, including complete rehabilitation of damaged rolling stock.

Beech Grove, Indiana    In service
Long Island, New York   1986
San Jose, California    1987

Locomotive Repair Shops. For geographic balance and also to reduce out-of-service transit time for locomotives undergoing repair, five repair shops capable of carrying out a full range of activities from running maintenance to complete rebuilding would be in service by 1990.

Chicago                 In service   Diesel
Wilmington, Delaware    In service   Electric
Albany, New York           1985      Diesel and Electric/Diesel
Los Angeles                1986      Diesel
New Orleans                1988      Diesel

Major Servicing Centers. Fifteen major servicing centers have been designated for the 1990 system. These locations have been selected because it is possible to have every passenger car and locomotive scheduled with layover time at one of these centers within a seven-day operating cycle. In addition more than 90 percent of all trains will originate, terminate, or pass through one or more of them. These centers will offer complete train servicing, including refueling, watering, provisioning of food and beverages, linen supply, garbage and chemical effluent disposal, interior and exterior cleaning, routine electrical and mechanical repair, etc. Each of these centers will also have a complete commissary where fresh and precooked food items will be prepared and loaded aboard dining and other food service cars. Some expansion of existing in-service facilities will be necessary to bring their offerings up to a complete range of servicing items. The 15 centers and their phase-in dates are listed below.

Center Phase In
Albany          In service
Chicago         In service
Los Angeles     In service
New Orleans     In service
New York        In service
Washington      In service
San Jose           1985
Cincinnati         1986
San Antonio        1986
Atlanta            1987
Boston             1987
Kansas City        1987
Seattle            1987
Denver             1988
Jacksonville       1988

Secondary and Tertiary Servicing Centers. In addition to the major facilities listed above, some 34 intermediate and 37 minor facilities will be established. Intermediate facilities will provide refueling, cleaning, secondary food and beverage supply, and minor mechanical and electrical repair. Only water and electrical connections, trash and garbage removal, housekeeping supplies, and top-off beverage and food items would be available at the minor facilities.

Station Facilities. By 1990 the number of stations on the Amtrak network will increase from the present number, about 500, to more than 800. Most of this increase will be stations on new route segments. However, about 50 new stations will be opened up on existing routes to better serve the traveling public. Some will be in communities where trains do not stop and others will be in suburban locations within metropolitan areas. Because many of the present Amtrak major metropolitan stations will also serve new routes, very few major new stations will have to be built. To scale down the expenses of large older stations, Amtrak has built several new smaller stations in major metropolitan areas (Richmond, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Cincinnati). They are located away from the city center or in locations that are for other reasons undesirable. Some of these older abandoned stations have very good locations and with extensive rehabilitation and joint development can be brought back into service.

A list of major new stations needed and others targeted for extensive refurbishing and renovation follows. The new stations are expected to be constructed as joint development projects with Amtrak, local metropolitan governments, and private funds. Where possible, they would be intermodal transportation centers and closely tied into local transit systems. Hotels, shops, offices, and multifamily residences would be constructed in association with station facilities. Amtrak funding would not exceed 50 percent of total costs. No Northeast Corridor stations are listed because their development and/or rehabilitation is programmed in the existing DOT NECIP. For those stations listed under rehabilitation, work will include station structures, platforms, ancillary buildings, and track work.

New Stations Rehabilitation
St. Louis 1984 Cleveland 1985
Syracuse 1984 Cincinnati 1985
Columbus 1985 Kansas City 1985
Memphis 1985 Buffalo 1986
Richmond 1985 Harrisburg 1986
Des Moines 1986 Pittsburgh 1986
Mobile 1986 Oklahoma City 1986
Oakland 1986 Toledo 1986
Atlanta 1987 Detroit 1987
Chattanooga 1987 Tampa 1987
Louisville 1987 Nashville 1987
Jacksonville 1988
Tulsa 1988
Houston 1989

Approximately 50 smaller stations will be constructed during the eight-year period. Again, where possible, joint funding will be used and every consideration should be given to effective ties with local transit and other intercity carriers. Eighty-five existing stations will receive some renovation at an average cost of $1 million.

More than 145 unmanned stations will be included in the system. Most of these will be on lightly trafficked lines with only one train a day in each direction. Where possible, these will be existing railroad freight facilities where waiting space and shelter can be leased and where freight agents will sell tickets on a commission basis. Elsewhere, railroad tickets may be available from local travel agents or bus operators. If no local ticketing facility is available, tickets will be sold on board the trains. Another possibility is refinement and use of credit-card-activated ticket machines.

Transfer of existing stations to Amtrak ownership could be facilitated by new laws suggested in Amtrak 90 that would allow railroads to donate such facilities to cities, counties, transit authorities, or state agencies and to receive a tax credit for doing so. These government agencies could then lease such facilities to Amtrak and/or other intercity and local transportation operators, but Amtrak would have guaranteed access. Provision could be provided for direct donation to Amtrak with the same tax credit benefits.

Track and Signal Systems. Although more than 85 percent of the designated 1990 network is in good condition and adequate for passenger train operation, some upgrading will be necessary. More than half of the money designated for track and signal upgrading will be spent on route segments that will pass directly under the operating control of Amtrak. These segments will include:

  • Joliet, Illinois-Omaha, Nebraska, 463 miles of the former Rock Island Railroad would be acquired by the states of Iowa and Illinois, rehabilitation with state and Amtrak ($120 million) funds, and leased to Amtrak for operation primarily as a passenger line. Local freight operations would be subcontracted to private carriers, but train dispatching and track maintenance would be under Amtrak control. Iowa has $200 million in state bond authorization available for railroad rehabilitation. East of Joliet, Amtrak would obtain trackage rights from the regional transit authority.
  • Indianapolis, Indiana-Dayton, Ohio. This 110-mile segment, an essential part of the new Amtrak route from Ohio to St. Louis and Chicago, would be rebuilt by Conrail and Amtrak funds ($75 million) and leased to Amtrak, with Conrail retaining local freight rights.
  • Waco, Texas, to Bremond, Texas. Some 44 miles of new railroad would be built either by the state of Texas or by private investors. Amtrak would provide $35 million. Track would be leased to Amtrak with, operating control passed to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, the major operating carrier in the Texas Triangle.

Most of the remaining funds will be spent for signaling, occasional double tracking, curvature easing, superelevation, and other passenger-train-related needs on other parts of the system.

Other Capital Expenditures

Some $65 million will be allocated for expansion of the ARROW reservation system and for capital expenditures associated with common corporate costs as the network grows.


Effective marketing is much more than advertising and salesmanship. It includes designing and delivering a product that is attractive to potential users, informing them of the advantages of the product, and making the product accessible to them in physical and economic terms.

Expansion of the capacity of the system is of course a market-related aspect. Users will be in part attracted by a greater range of possible destinations and a wider choice of departure and arrival times. Trains must go where people want to go-and when they want to go. The demographics of the travel market also indicate a wide range of trip purposes-business, leisure, social reasons, medical, etc. Travelers also come from a variety of income levels and have different life styles. They have different perceptions of what they are willing to pay and what they expect in the way of comfort and other amenities while traveling. Cadillacs and Volkswagens illustrate the automotive industries’ response to these different tastes and incomes. Airlines have long recognized the diversity of the travel market by offering two or three different levels of fares and service. Almost all railway systems in other parts of the world, including those in Communist block countries, provide travelers with a choice of first and second, or “hard” and “soft” accommodations.

Two-Class Service

Amtrak should provide a two-class service in order to better accommodate a wider range of client preferences. This will allow for greater market penetration. The features of this two-class service would include:

  • A basic standard coach class service on all trains with two-abreast seating on either side of the aisle, differing only in spacing of seats and provision of leg rests on trains used on longer runs.
  • A premium fare club class service during daylight hours on trains in corridor operations, with fares about 30 percent above standard coach service. Seating would be two seats on one side of the aisle and a single seat on the other side. While Amtrak currently operates such a service in the Northeast Corridor and on a few trains elsewhere, Amtrak 90 expands this systemwide. Food and beverage service would be available at the passenger’s seat.
  • A standard economy sleeping car service using the general plan contained in Superliner economy and family bedrooms. Rooms would contain between two and five beds, accommodating single travelers and all the way up to families of five. Drinking water and washbasins would be provided in the room, but toilet facilities would be separate, elsewhere in the car.
  • Deluxe sleeping accommodations with larger rooms, wider beds, and complete bath facilities-toilet, washbasin, and shower-in double and master rooms accommodating between two and five persons. Singles (roomettes) would have toilet and washbasin facilities only, with separate showers elsewhere in the car. Charges for these accommodations would be 30 percent above those of economy sleeping car fares. All trains operating in overnight service would offer both economy and deluxe sleeping accommodations.


A basic fare structure would be established on a per mile rate for coach and first-class fares and for economy and deluxe sleeping accommodations. First-class fares would provide the traveler with club seating for daytime travel and access to deluxe sleeping car service upon payment of the appropriate accommodation charges.

Round trip discounts of up to 30 percent would be offered for both coach and first-class rail travel. Sleeping accommodation charges would not be discounted for round trips. Amtrak’s existing family plan discounts would be maintained. Round trip and family plan travel discounts encourage travelers to use the train for return journeys and are an incentive to family users. Both help to maintain travel volumes.

Beyond the basic fare structure and round trip and family discounts, there need to be further incentives for both repeat riders and for group travelers. To attract the repeat riders, a series of discount passes would be offered by both coach and first-class service. The following types of passes would be instituted.

  • Route-specific monthly, quarterly, and annual passes. These would be designed to encourage travelers making frequent trips on the same route.
  • Regional passes good for unlimited travel within a particular area of the country for 15-day, 21-day, 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day duration.
  • A national pass good for unlimited travel systemwide on a 15-day, 21-day, 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day basis.

The basic fare structure and its application to sample trips in the 500-mi 1 e (e. g. , New York-Raleigh) and l, 000 mile (e. g. , Chicago-Denver) range plus family plan discount benefits are outlined in Figure 9.

Group travel must be encouraged by a strong incentive program that offers users considerable savings. A 10-20-30-Carload Plan would offer groups of 10 or more a 10 percent discount; 20 percent for 20 or more; 30 percent for 30 or more in a group, and for groups of carload size, basic rail fare discounts of 40 percent. Pass fares and group fares would average out to offer users an approximate rate of 8.5¢ per mile coach and 12.0¢ per mile first class. The growth in these two categories would account for more than half the total revenue increase by 1990.

Reservation Access

Although Amtrak has made major strides in developing a reliable nationwide reservation system through its ARTS and ARROW programs, further refinements are possible to increase revenue. A major step should be the introduction of computer terminals and ticket printers in travel agent offices and development of low-cost hardware and software for placing similar but less complex equipment in stations of low-traffic volume. An additional improvement would be a tie-in with phone access and printers controlled from a central agency that would allow reservations and ticket delivery at unmanned stations and during hours stations are closed. Credit-card-activated machines with charge capabilities could expand potential customer access.

Cooperative Marketing

Amtrak should coordinate marketing efforts with other intercity carriers, particularly bus operators, to make intermodal trips easier for the traveler. Through-ticketing, baggage handling, use of common terminals, coordinated scheduling, joint sales, and advertising efforts will pay dividends for collaborating carriers by attracting more riders. These marketing efforts should also aim at integration of intercity travel with urban systems that make journey completion easier. Information on public transportation in the local community should be available at the train station for the arriving passenger. Improved intermodal connections would open rail travel up to a much larger market through the use of a bus to get to places not on the rail network. The potential user pool could be expanded by upwards of 30 million through these types of improvements.

Food and Beverage Services

One of the toughest problems facing rail passenger management is on-board food and beverage service. High labor costs associated with traditional dining car operations prompted Congress in 1981 to mandate a break-even point for Amtrak food services. To trim costs, Amtrak cut dining car manning levels by some 50 percent and substituted a limited menu of frozen, microwave-heated food for on-board preparation items. The result has been a significant drop in dining car patronage. Railroad dining car food had previously been a major attraction; the recent changes have brought a new low to train meals. And while Amtrak has reduced its food and beverage losses by 50 percent, they still remain high.

The idea that food and beverage services must always lose, like the concept that passenger trains themselves are chronic deficit producers, does not hold up under investigation. Examination of European train catering facilities indicates that quality can be high and costs greatly reduced. With a four-man crew, many European dining cars can serve a multicourse meal cooked on board to 56 passengers-while Amtrak uses a three-man crew to serve 48 people prepackaged microwave food. Borrowing from European experiences, the following kinds of on-board food and beverage services should be instituted.

  • Full dining service with dining cars on long-distance trains. A four- or five-man crew can prepare meats and salads. Prepackaged and fresh foods would be combined to keep costs and losses down yet offer meals equivalent to or better than on first-class air flights. Reservations would be taken for particular sittings and entree choices would be expanded.
  • Cafeteria-grill cars offering a la carte service from counters where passengers make a choice from hot and cold items. Items would range from snacks to complete meals similar to the offerings t of the French Grill-Express, German Quick-Pick, or Swiss SelfService dining cars. A three-man crew would be adequate and some foods would be cooked on board.
  • At-seat meal service on first-class day accommodations in corridor operations. The car attendant would serve meals in the same manner as an airline flight attendant. Passengers would request meals at the time of making reservations and choose entrees.
  • Dinette services with a carry-out counter and seats would be offered on corridor trains. One or two attendants would handle the food service: snacks, hot and cold sandwiches, and tray meals for consumption either in the dinette car or at the passenger’s seat.
  • Cafe service of limited food offerings, snacks, sandwiches, and beverages, from a carry-out bar in coaches or lounge cars. A single attendant would be adequate.

Trains offering full-dining cars would also have cafeteria-grill cars or cafe cars to provide a full range of items from carry-out beverages and snacks to full meals. Just as passengers would find seating or sleeping accommodations to fit a range of preferences and budgets, they would also be able to find food and beverage items to suit various tastes and pocketbooks.

As the system grows, standardization of levels of service will become more cost-effective and will be possible because greater traffic volumes will support a more extensive infrastructure of commissaries. Where economies of pre-prepared foods can be realized and re-provisioning of trains will be more frequent to ensure better qualities of fresh food. Although equipment would be standardized, food offerings would be diversified with regional specialties and daily and seasonal menu changes to avoid limited choice for repeat riders.

A quality food and beverage service is a major asset that will encourage repeat riders and attract new ones. There is no reason that such a service cannot be achieved, and every attempt should be made to reach a financial break-even point.

Other Amenities

Amtrak 90 points out certain other amenities that should be available to train travelers. Although it is difficult to measure their exact impact, the fact that they make the journey more pleasant can only have a positive impact upon ridership.

Information dissemination is very important. “What is available” and “how to use it” can take some of the frustration away from the first-time rail traveler and make the trip more enjoyable for the repeat user. Signage, print material, and public address announcements should inform the passenger of locations of restrooms, drinking water, food and beverage services, and of smoking policies, station arrival and departure times, what train staff can and cannot do for them.

Labor Productivity

Railway labor costs offer a great opportunity for change that will benefit intercity rail passenger operations. Work rules have long been cited as a major obstacle to reduction of operating costs. Three major areas of concern are wages and hours, craft and territorial boundaries, and manning levels.

Considerable criticism has been leveled at operating employees. The target is that wages are high for hours worked: as pay has increased, work hours have shrunk. This is in large part because train crews have traditionally been paid on the base of a 150-mile day, or what was roughly eight hours of train travel in 1870. Within the past decade new contracts have extended the average run for train personnel but reduced the number of runs per crew per month. While the number of crew changes on a long-distance train may be one third less than 10 years ago, the total number of employees for that train on an annual basis has not changed. Many train crew members only put in between 25 and 30 hours per week. Inequities also exist between locomotive crews and train crews. An effort must be made to increase work hours closer to a 40-hour week.

Craft and territorial jurisdictions for different activities have been a major obstacle to increased productivity. Gradually, improvements are being made but much remains to be done. Train crews are often restricted from making simple repairs when problems occur on the road, resulting in having to bring in electrical or mechanical specialists from some distance at considerable expense. Road crews are frequently limited from switching cars in and out, or making simple electrical connections, necessitating the introduction of specialist staff for these activities. Fortunately a breakthrough in new agreements is taking place on a small scale. For example, road crews can now handle switching of the New York and Washington sections of the Broadway Limited at Pittsburgh, eliminating the need to bring in a three-man switching crew for the job. A run-through agreement between Southern Pacific and Santa Fe train crews reduced labor costs and saved those trains from probable extinction in 1980. Problems linger, however. Switching out of cars at intermediate points that would improve equipment utilization and allow for more efficient mail and express handling is often not done because of high costs resulting from the requirement to employ a separate crew for the job.

Manning levels on passenger trains have been little changed since the late 1800s. The basic crew consists of engineer, fireman, conductor, and brakeman. Many trains have an additional brakeman. Although firemen were eliminated from freight and switching operations in the 1960s, and by law on commuter operations in 1981, they still form part of the crew on intercity passenger trains. Most European railroads operate with one man in the locomotive cab and one or two trainmen. The comparison may not be too equitable since signal systems and automated train control are more widespread and sophisticated in Europe, and ticket collection activities simpler. Even so, some staff reduction is possible on U.S. trains, particularly where signal systems are reliable.

On-board-service staffing levels are very high on American trains. Amtrak has recently succeeded in making dramatic cuts in food service personnel. Unfortunately, the quality of food service has also deteriorated, not because of smaller staff but because of unfortunate policy decisions and poor management practices. European dining cars offer fully cooked meal s to as many as 56 patrons at a sitting with a staff of four to five. The traveler in an Amtrak dining car seating 48 will find it takes a staff of three or four just to deliver prepackaged microwave meals. Few European trains have coach attendants, while U.S. operating procedures call for one attendant per coach on long-distance trains. Some reduction in personnel is clearly possible.

Greater flexibility in function is necessary for both on-board service personnel and station staff. There is no reason why the same person cannot make up beds in the sleeping car during the morning and help serve meals in the dining car at noon and evening meals.

Labor productivity of train crews and on-board staff could be increased by at least 20 percent by work rule adjustments achieved through contract negotiations.

Rail road labor in the United States has declined from more than 1 million in 1940 to less than 400,000 today. Implementation of Amtrak 90 would provide for about 36,000 new jobs at Amtrak by 1990. Some 8,000 of these would be at stations, servicing centers, yards, and repair shops for such activities as track maintenance and dispatching. Administrative tasks, reservations, and other management-related support would increase by about 1,800. The remaining positions would be in train operations and on-board services. Considerable employment growth would also take place among car and locomotive builders, subcontractors, suppliers, etc.


The overall operating philosophy of Amtrak 90 is for maximum utilization of cars and locomotives to meet train requirements as established by marketing goals. Reliable and punctual train operation is essential to produce satisfied customers and to efficiently utilize equipment. Systemwide on-time standards must reach 95 percent or better. Late trains mean missed connections for travelers and require that additional equipment be held in reserve. As punctuality improves and as schedules are tightened through increasing speeds, equipment turnaround times can be reduced and more cars can be available for train assignments. As system expansion takes place and new or strengthened servicing centers are brought on line, other operating efficiencies also accrue. The average number of miles per car and per locomotive will increase and downtime will drop.

As the frequency of train service increases in many of the corridors, scheduling of both passenger and freight trains will be essential to maintain capacity. This will require a significant change in operating philosophy of owner railroads where passenger and freight traffic is intermingled on the same route. The time-honored railroad practice of “running extra” will have to be changed and specific time slots assigned for freight trains as well as passenger trains. Slots can remain unused if demand slackens. It is far easier to program a train into an operating diagram and cancel it than to add a train to an already planned schedule. This practice has permitted European railroads to handle up to 80 trains per day on single-track lines and more than 200 per day on double track.

Station capacity can also be increased through reliable operations and proper scheduling. For example, by improving on-time performance and reducing station dwell time, all of the trains proposed for major stations like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., can be handled without additional platform tracks. A station with four tracks for train arrivals and departures should be able to handle 30 to 40 trains per day if schedules are properly planned and maintained.


Detailed schedules have been developed for short- and long-term scenarios of this plan. They are based upon market needs, equipment availability, travel time, plant capacity, and maximum connectivity.

Various densities of service are offered that reflect overall travel demand (Figure 5). On a few routes that operate through areas of low population density and connect widely separated cities, a single long-distance daily train is adequate to meet demand. Here operating costs are kept down by using unmanned stations at many small communities, with tickets sold through travel agencies or on board the train. Most of the Amtrak 90 system, however, offers multiple frequencies of service that reflect higher travel demands. For example, urban areas of 500,000 or greater separated by 500 to 700 miles of distance would have daytime and overnight services. Where similar size places are closer together, travel demand intensifies and the number of trains is increased to meet that demand. These trains are then scheduled at reasonable intervals throughout the day to offer a wider choice of travel times. Thus the train is more competitive with other modes. To illustrate, Figure 10 shows the sample schedules proposed for 1986 for the Hudson-Great Lakes Corridor. Long-distance, medium-distance daytime and overnight services, and short-distance corridors are all integrated into a service that offers a wide range of travel time choices in shorter, time-sensitive markets (e.g., Toledo-Cleveland, Albany-New York. It offers day and night services between wider spaced city pairs (e.g., Chicago-Buffalo, Buffalo-New York) and maintains a through service between the end-point cities of Chicago and New York.

Planning of schedules must also maximize connections at the end points of each route. Through careful integration of schedules of the various corridors radiating from Chicago (Figure 11), it is possible to make trips easily from a community on one route to a station on another one if the connections are convenient and do not require a lengthy layover. Examination will show that it is easy to travel from Milwaukee to Ft. Wayne or from Springfield to Kalamazoo or from Champaign to Davenport because connections are good for these short-distance trips. The same holds for the possibility of making connections from long-distance to short-distance trains or from medium-distance overnight (e.g., Omaha to Chicago) to a medium-distance day train (e.g., Chicago to Cleveland). The range of conveniently possible train trips greatly increases with this type of scheduling.


Amtrak trains outside of the Northeast Corridor are slow not only in comparison with passenger trains operated on main-line railroads in other parts of the world, but they are frequently slower than trains two decades ago on the same routes. While more than $2 billion has been spent in upgrading the 456-mile spine of the Boston-New York-Washington Northeast Corridor for 125-mile-per-hour operation, there is no need to make an investment of that magnitude in order to bring overall passenger train speeds up to competitive levels. Figure 12 shows target end-to-end travel speeds, and some sample journey times for 1990 illustrate goals for the planning period. Speeds in these suggested ranges are considerably above automobile trip times and for journeys of up to 300 miles may equal or better aircraft times if airport-to-downtown travel is included.

Other Operational Considerations

A major benefit of an expanded system will be a better physical support base. At the present time many Amtrak long-distance trains receive no intermediate servicing other than refueling or the addition of water between the end terminals on journeys that may exceed 2,000 miles. One train a day hardly justifies the expense of keeping staff on hand for a 30-minute replenishment of food, cleaning, etc. If several trains operate at an intermediate point, it then becomes economically justifiable to provide better intermediate support. In 1990 when Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City each see several trains a day, justifying additional servicing facilities and staff, then the long-distance San Francisco Zephyr also will benefit from better supply and maintenance.

Blocks of traffic that cover only a portion of a particular train’s trip can be more effectively handled by switching out or picking up cars at points where travel volume drops off or increases. This reduces hauling empty cars, and thereby increases equipment utilization.

For example, passengers might board a parked passenger car at 9p.m. although the car would not be switched onto a passenger train until 1:30 a.m., or have the convenience of remaining in one set out at 4:30a.m. until 7: 00 or 8:00 a.m.

This type of service, particularly suited to overnight sleeping car travel, was practiced by American railroads for many years and is still widely used in Britain and on the Continent. It is also useful for express and mail cars that can be loaded or unloaded at leisure instead of requiring lengthy stops. Through cars switched from one train to another are a good way of handling traffic between points where there is limited demand that may not justify a through train.

The introduction of bi-level cars designed for push-pull service will lead to operational efficiencies in short-distance trains running out of Chicago and Los Angeles. Push-pull trains have a locomotive at one end and a passenger car equipped with a control cab at the other. Locomotives pull the train on the outward journey from major terminals and push the train on the inward return. This eliminates the need to turn the train around or switch locomotives from one end to the other, thereby reducing terminal time. Another advantage is that it facilitates the operation of trains through major stub-ended terminals like Chicago and Los Angeles. For example, a train being pushed into Los Angeles from Santa Barbara could pull directly out and continue on to San Diego, making operation of the through Santa Barbara-San Diego service much easier.

Push-pull trains are widespread in U.S. commuter railroading and are used in short-distance, high-volume service in the Netherlands, Switzerland, West Germany, Belgium, and Denmark.

Northeast Corridor

Amtrak 90 proposes no physical plant changes for the NECIP, which is being carried out with massive federal funding under separate administration to upgrade the Boston-New York-Washington corridor for high-speed passenger service. This project has been underway for several years and will result in significantly reduced travel times between the major cities along the route. Track upgrading, signaling improvements, electrification rehabilitation, and extensive rehabilitation of stations, yards, and maintenance facilities have been incorporated into this plan, now targeted for completion in 1986.

However, an operating restructuring is proposed in Amtrak 90 for FY 1987 to improve service and separate intercity and local train financing. A three-level, fixed-interval service would be inaugurated at that time. This service would include:

  • Intercity express service departing between New York and Washington on the hour, making the trip in 2 hours 40 minutes with stops at Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. Intercity express service would operate every other hour between New York and Boston in 3 hours 20 minutes, with stops at New Haven and Providence.
  • Semifast service departing hourly between New York and Washington with additional stops at Newark, Metropark, Trenton, Baltimore- Washington International Airport, and Lanham. Semifast service departing hourly between New York and Boston with additional stops at Stamford, Bridgeport, New London, Kingston, Route 128, and Back Bay.
  • Local services operating hourly on the following segments:
  • Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia-New York
  • New York-New Haven
  • New Haven-Providence
  • Providence-Boston

Semifast services would also be operated between New York and Harrisburg, New York and Springfield, and New York and Boston via the Inland Route.

Each level of service would be integrated into a schedule that would provide for maximum connectivity through interchange by cross-platform transfers at Providence, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Amtrak would assume operational control of all trains and financial responsibility for express and intercity trains. Local and regional authorities would contribute to financial support of local services and their primary function would be for local metropolitan and suburban travel. While express and intercity trains would be equipped with cars and locomotives from the Amtrak pool, local services would be provided by electric multiple-unit equipment from the local agencies.


Changing Amtrak into a profitable corporation involves application of the concepts of maximum market penetration and optimal use of physical plant.

As an illustration of the impact of under-utilization of physical plant and the diseconomies of scale in present Amtrak operations, the following situation is offered. “National Pacific” operates one train per day over the 300-mile route between cities A and B. Five intermediate stations are located along the route. Two consists are required to make up the train, one set in each direction. Each consist requires five cars and a locomotive. Two coaches and one locomotive are required as reserves to protect the train operation from breakdowns and during repairs, etc. Figure 13 shows the financial breakdown of what happens when a second and a third train are added to this small, one-route system.

                                     One Train Two Trains Three Trains

Costs (Annual)
  Direct @ $9.45 / train mile        $2,069,550       $4,139,100      $6,208,650

    Terminals at A and B              1,000,000        1,210,000       1,320,000
    Five intermediate stations          625,000          687,000         749,500
      Passenger Cars @ $85,000  (12) $1,020,000  (24) $2,040,000  (36) $3,060,000
      Locomotives    @$120,000   (3)    360,000   (5)    600,000   (7)    840,000
    Administrative 550,000 659,000 769,000
    Subtotal                         $3,555,000        5,196,000        6,738,500

   Sum of Direct and Indirect         5,624,550        9,335,100       12,947,150

Revenues @ $20.05 / train mile 4,390,950 8,781,900 13,172,850
Profit (Loss)                       ($1,233,600)     ($  553,200)     $   225,700

Figure 13. Operating Economies of Scale, Hypothetical Case.

This example shows that while direct costs increase in a linear progression proportional to train miles, the increase in indirect costs is at a much lower rate. The example assumes an operating schedule of 50 miles per hour and a trip time of 6 hours. This schedule might permit one set of equipment to make a round trip and while this would cut maintenance costs by $600,000, the one daily train would still operate at a loss. An accelerated schedule of 60 miles per hour average end-to-end speed would reduce travel time to 5 hours, making single-train operation with one consist or two-train operation with two consists more feasible. If overall average speed could be increased to 70 miles per hour, journey time could be cut to 4 1/3 hours, and if turnaround time were reduced to 40 minutes, then two sets of equipment could provide a service of three trains a day in each direction and generate a profit of almost $3 million. Economies of scale are obvious in increased frequencies of service. They are further enhanced by higher speeds that allow for more effective utilization of equipment.

On the revenue side it is very likely that per train revenues will increase somewhat as the second and third trains are added because greater opportunity exists for cutting deeper into the travel market. This contention is supported by the previously mentioned case of the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor.

The strategy to attain a profit as outlined in Amtrak 90 is to generate revenue faster than common costs rise. When additional trains are placed in service using the same physical facilities, then the ratio of indirect costs to total costs will drop. The application of this idea on an adequate scale can lead to a situation where revenues will eventually cover all costs.

Using the target network projected for 1990, which is based on market potential, and the levels of train service devised to adequately tap that market, operating revenues and direct costs were projected for each year of the eight-year period from 1983 to 1990 (Figure 14).

The data base used for developing these projections was taken from actual 1980 figures reported by Amtrak in its Route Profitability Study.

Daytime medium-distance and short-distance trains have similar operating costs and capacities, so they were grouped together as a single type in these projections. Long-distance and overnight medium-distance trains have higher operating costs because of sleeping facilities and lower revenues-they carry fewer passengers per car (but at higher fares).

Increases in indirect costs were based upon actual staffing needs at stations and servicing and repair facilities and upon an incremental rise in reservations and other common corporate administrative costs. They were prorated on a passenger-mile basis.

An implementation plan is developed in Amtrak 90 for year-by-year additions to the system. Increases in train capacity and addition of new trains and routes takes place in a logical and orderly manner as new equipment becomes available. The plan maximizes use of physical plant. The impact of this staged implementation leading from subsidy requirements to profitability by FY 1989 is portrayed in Figure 15.

Figure 15. Projected Operating Cost and Subsidies

Other budgetary impacts are reported in Figure 16. As can be noted, total capital grant requirements are reduced to $4,271 million by subtracting FY 1989 and FY 1990 profits of $389 million from the eight-year capital costs of $4,750 million. After 1990, profits will cover capital as well as operating costs.

Fiscal Year Revenue
Operating Costs
Revenue as Precent of Costs Operating Subsidy
Operating Profit
Capital Costs
Total Federal Costs
1983 696 1,385 51 689 0 350 1,039
1984 863 1,551 56 688 0 550 1,238
1985 1,188 1,753 68 565 0 650 1,215
1986 1,752 2,279 77 527 0 650 1,177
1987 2,544 2,963 86 419 0 650 1,069
1988 3,104 3,319 94 215 0 650 865
1989 3,691 3,650 101 0 41 650 609
1990 4,326 3,978 109 0 348 600 252
Eight-Year Totals 3,103 4,750 7,464

Figure 16. Projected Financial Performance, 1983-1990.


Careful staging of the various components of the plan is essential to meeting the established goals. Proper timing and sequencing of development tactics is crucial to the best use of resources and manpower. A scenario has been developed in Amtrak 90 that maximizes the use of available equipment and phases in new trains, facilities, and routes in an orderly manner over an eight-year period.

Growth as represented by the development of capacity through additional trains, thereby increasing train miles, proceeds slowly during the first two years of the Amtrak 90 program (Figure 17, below). Only the remaining undelivered cars from a 1979 order placed by Amtrak and currently out-of-service cars upgraded to Heritage Fleet will be available in 1983 and through most of 1984. For implementation to proceed on schedule, it is necessary to place orders for new cars and locomotives early in FY 1983. Lead times for delivery run from 12 to 18 months, therefore, the earliest deliveries would be in late FY 1984. Annual passenger car and locomotive needs are set forth in Figure 18.

The most intensive level of system development planned in Amtrak 90 is scheduled for fiscal years 1986 and 1987. Large quantities of new equipment would be available by then and major infrastructural improvements would be completed. Although development could be spread out more evenly over the implementation period, to do so would delay attainment of the goal of profitability and increase the total operating subsidy required over the eight years. While equipment orders decrease after 1987, they still remain at a high level. The magnitude of these orders is expected to reduce unit costs. An annual procurement program will ensure manufacturers of a stable, continuing market.

The placement of additional trains and network expansion are carefully timed to take advantage of existing infrastructure and the best potential markets. High priority is given to those routes where Amtrak currently operates only one or two trains a day but where travel patterns indicate significant possible diversion to rail.

Fiscal Year Additional Year End Total
1982 29,039,670
1983 2,363,010 31,402,680
1984 3,924,496 35,327,176
1985 9,711,820 45,038,996
1986 15,845,110 60,884,10
1987 20,180,120 81,064,226
1988 10,542,300 91,606,526
1989 9,264,430 100,870,956
1990 9,612,730 110,483,686

Figure 17. Actual and Projected Train Miles, 1982-1990.

Passenger Cars

Year New Trains Reserves and to Strengthen Consists Total New Orders Conversions Reallocated
FY 1983 92 60 152 50* 96 6**
FY 1984 152 55 207 80 127
FY 1985 392 80 472 317 155
FY 1986 643 147 790 663 72 55
FY 1987 842 134 976 846 130
FY 1988 429 64 493 421 72
FY 1989 362 57 419 419
FY 1990 402 60 462 462

Locomotives (Main Line)

Year Number Type
FY 1983 22 F-40
FY 1984 28 F-40
FY 1985 66 F-40
FY 1986 76 X-90
FY 1987 110 X-90
FY 1988 46 X-90
FY 1989 51 X-90
FY 1990 48 X-90

* Balance of 150-car order (125 coaches, 25 food service cars) of Amfleet II design from Budd Corporation.

** Redeployment of cars from Superliner pool to permit San Francisco-San Jose section of Coast Starlight with through cars to Los Angeles.

Figure 18. Additional Equipment Requirements, 1983-1990


The details of this implementation strategy are worked out in three case studies in Amtrak 90. The concepts developed are then applied system-wide. Each case study focuses on short-term development targeted for 1986, the mid-year of the implementation period. Multiple frequency services, schedule coordination, and connectivity are major parameters in these examples.

Figure 19a. The Hudson - Great Lakes Corridor, 1982

Figure 19b. The Hudson - Great Lakes Corridor 1986

The first case study (Figure 19) focuses on the New York-Albany-Buffalo-Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago main line and connectors to Boston, Montreal, Niagara Falls and Toronto, and Detroit. Twenty-two major metropolitan areas with an aggregate population of more than 38 million are located on this route. Currently only a single daily train operates west of Buffalo, although the size and spacing of cities indicates a travel demand only slightly lower than that east of Buffalo. Intermediate travel markets have not been fully tapped even where Amtrak presently operates multiple-frequency services. Track conditions range from good to excellent. The east-west main line has been upgraded in the Conrail rehabilitation program and further improved east of Buffalo by funds from the state of New York for high-speed passenger service. State and Amtrak funds have built new stations or refurbished older stations. Excellent new servicing facilities have been developed at Chicago and Albany. Targeting this route as a high priority for additional service takes advantage of these investments in upgraded physical plant.

Short-distance, medium-distance, and long-distance markets are all served in the memory-sensitive, integrated schedule developed for 1986 (Figure 10). Al1 city pairs receive good service in proportion to the travel potential between them. Operationally the spine of this route is viewed as two medium-distance corridors with a common terminal at Niagara Falls.

Figure 20a. Chicago Hub, 1982

Figure 20b. Chicago Hub, 1986.

The second case study is based on development of a series of corridors that radiate from Chicago (Figure 20). More Amtrak routes converge here than at any other point in the present system. Within a 550-mile radius of the Windy City some 38 million urban residents live in 42 major metropolitan centers along these 13 routes. Again, present service levels are quite low (Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-St. Louis are exceptions). The potential for traffic growth is very high on all of these routes. One, the Chicago-Cleveland-Buffalo-Niagara Falls route, overlaps part of the previously mentioned Hudson-Great Lakes Corridor. These routes all have the advantage of being served by a common maintenance facility at Chicago where Amtrak recently completed a $49 million upgrading and expansion program. Another advantage of the Chicago hub is the ease of connection (Figure 11) between the several corridors.

Like the Hudson-Great Lakes Corridor, the Chicago Radial Corridors scheme places short-distance, medium-distance and long-distance trains together on the 13 routes (no long-distance trains on 5 of the shorter routes) in an integrated manner. Some shifting of 3 of the routes (Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Cincinnati, and Chicago-Omaha) is made to better serve intermediate population centers.

Figure 21a. Sunbelt Long-Distance Route, 1982

Figure 21b. Sunbelt Long-Distance Route, 1986.

The third case study illustrates how a long-distance route can be improved through development on certain segments where urban travel demands indicate strong short- and medium-distance travel potential. The Sunbelt Long-Distance Route (Figure 21) between New Orleans and Los Angeles cuts through one of the nation’s fastest growing areas. Between 1970 and 1980 the 11 metropolitan areas on this route grew by 21 percent to a total urban population of 17.4 million. The spacing of these cities is such that 4 are located in the western 550 miles and 6 are found in the eastern 575 miles of this 2,032-mile-long route. For the 1983-1986 period, improvements focus on a combination of day and overnight services in these two segments, in part provided by new trains and in part by the existing long-distance Sunset Limited, which would become a daily train. Adequate servicing facilities exist at both New Orleans and Los Angeles.

The improvements in these three case studies detailed in Amtrak 90 would lead to a subsidy drop of more than $100 million by 1986. It is the application of this strategy on a system-wide basis that will produce further economies. For the three case studies, additional improvements are also developed for 1987-l990.

Annual Highlights

Annual highlights of the Amtrak 90 plan are itemized as follows:


  • Tampa-Miami double daily service starts.
  • San Francisco-Los Angeles through service is inaugurated by new sections of the Coast Starlight and Spirit of California.
  • Service frequencies are increased in the New York-Albany-Buffalo-Niagara Falls corridor and between Chicago and Indianapolis.
  • Design work begins on a 4,500-horsepower, double-ended diesel passenger locomotive with preliminary designation X-90.
  • Orders are placed for an initial batch of bi-level Superliner II and low-level Amfleet III cars.
  • Amtrak approaches states of Iowa and Illinois for joint development of former Rock Island line between Joliet, Quad Cities, Des Moines, and Omaha.
  • Discussions begin between Amtrak and Conrail for restoration of Dayton-Indianapolis line.
  • Site selection and preliminary architectural and engineering work begin on new stations in Oakland, Louisville, Atlanta, Columbus, and Syracuse.
  • Cardinal becomes daily.
  • Property is acquired in San Jose for new heavy repair car shop.


  • Sunset and Eagle become daily as first Superliner II cars are received.
  • Los Angeles-Phoenix-Tucson day train is inaugurated.
  • International service to Mexico is restored as Amtrak and Nacionales de Mexico begin joint service, San Antonio-Laredo-Monterrey-Mexico City.
  • Service frequency is increased between Chicago and Detroit to five trains a day.
  • Chicago radial corridor development begins with day trains to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, Kansas City, and Topeka.
  • St. Louis to New Orleans through service begins via connection to City of New Orleans at Carbondale.
  • Work commences on Atlanta station and service center.
  • Amtrak returns to Cincinnati Union Station. Work begins on Cincinnati service center.
  • Seattle-Vancouver service is restored with two trains daily in each direction.
  • Construction starts on Albany and Los Angeles locomotive maintenance facilities and on San Jose car shops.
  • Club service is extended to San Diegans, San Joaquins, New York-Albany-Buffalo-Niagara Falls trains, Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-St. Louis trains.


  • Amtrak revenue exceeds $l billion; subsidy begins to decline.
  • Amfleet III cars begin to be received in quantity, including economy and deluxe sleeping cars.
  • Chicago-Milwaukee service is rerouted to Northwestern line via Racine and Kenosha. Frequency is increased by seven additional trains in each direction.
  • Chicago radial corridor development continues with additional day and overnight trains to Cleveland, Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Kansas City-Topeka, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
  • New overnight trains are inaugurated from New York to Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Columbia.
  • Albany locomotive shop opens.
  • Station rehabilitation is completed at Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.
  • Amtrak returns to Cleveland Union Terminal.
  • Pittsburgh-Cleveland service starts with three trains daily in each direction.
  • Chicago-Texas service via Kansas City is restored with revival of Lone Star and new Kansas City-Oklahoma City-Ft. Worth-Dallas day train.
  • San Jose becomes western terminus of San Francisco Zephyr and San Joaquins following upgrading of Oakland-San Jose track.
  • Conrail completes restoration of Dayton-Indianapolis track. National Limited returns.
  • New stations open in Columbus, Syracuse, and Altoona.
  • Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland service is inaugurated with three trains daily in each direction.
  • Amtrak inaugurates operations at North Station, Boston, with trains to Portland and Montreal.
  • Inland route New York-Springfield-Boston service begins.
  • X-90 prototype locomotive undergoes testing.


  • Corporate revenues exceed $1.5 billion and cover 69 percent of costs.
  • Chicago-Omaha service shifts to former Rock Island line serving an additional population of 800,000. Day and overnight trains inaugurated.
  • Chicago radial corridor service intensifies with additions to Omaha-Lincoln, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Dayton-Columbus.
  • Chicago-Cincinnati service is rerouted via Indianapolis.
  • Crescent is rerouted via Montgomery and Mobile. Atlanta-Birmingham section is added.
  • New York/Boston-Albany-Buffalo-Niagara Falls-Toronto services are increased.
  • Cincinnati-Nashville-Birmingham-Mobile-New Orleans route opens with one through train and day services on intermediate segments.
  • Club service is extended to all Chicago radial corridor day trains and New York/Boston-Great Lakes day trains.
  • San Antonio-Houston-New Orleans day and overnight trains are inaugurated.
  • Additional long-distance trains are inaugurated between New York-Miami, Chicago-Denver, St. Louis-Denver, and Seattle-Sacramento-Fresno-Los Angeles.
  • Production model X-90 locomotives enter service.
  • Long Island car repair shop and Los Angeles locomotive shop open.
  • Fixed interval and/or memory-sensitive timetables are instituted in all corridors.
  • Two-class sleeping car service is extended to all long-distance and overnight trains.


  • Subsidy requirements drop to less than $550 million as revenues approach $2 billion and cover nearly 80 percent of costs.
  • New station and service center open in Atlanta.
  • Atlanta radial corridor development begins with services to Chattanooga, Macon, Savannah, Montgomery, and Birmingham.
  • International services begin to Canadian prairies with daytime and overnight services between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Winnipeg.
  • Midwest-Florida long-distance train is inaugurated, providing service from Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati to Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg via Nashville, Atlanta, and Savannah.
  • Two-class day service is extended to all corridor trains.
  • Atlantic City-Philadelphia route is inaugurated with through service to New York and Washington.
  • Northeast Corridor is restructured to fixed interval service with Amtrak providing express and semifast trains between major centers and connecting local services sponsored by commuter authorities.
  • Through trains are established between Washington and Detroit or Cleveland via Pittsburgh.
  • Chicago-Toronto day and overnight service begins in collaboration with Via Rail.
  • First bi-level push-pull cars are delivered and services inaugurated on high-density lines out of Los Angeles and Chicago.
  • Complete range of food and beverage services is extended system-wide.
  • Service frequencies are increased on many short- and medium distance routes.
  • New Haven-Boston electrification is completed.
  • San Jose car repair facility opens.


  • Revenues exceed $2.5 billion and subsidy requirements drop below $400 million.
  • Direct services begin between points in southern California and Arizona and cities along the west coast of Mexico in collaboration with Nacionales de Mexico.
  • New stations open in Tulsa and Jacksonville.
  • St. Louis-Tulsa-Oklahoma City and Omaha-Kansas City-Tulsa routes are inaugurated.
  • A new long-distance train is placed in service linking Minneapolis/St. Paul with Ft. Worth, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
  • Philadelphia-Scranton-Binghamton-Syracuse route is opened, permitting more direct service between Washington, Philadelphia, and upstate New York points.
  • Texas Triangle service commences with multiple-frequency operations linking Ft. Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. A new 44-mile line between Waco and Bremond is included.
  • Service begins on a new route between Carolina Piedmont cities and coastal Georgia and northern Florida.
  • Jacksonville and Denver service centers are brought into operation.
  • Containerized package express and mail service is inaugurated at more than 300 stations system-wide.


  • Amtrak becomes a truly for-profit corporation as revenues exceed costs for the first time. Operating subsidy is no longer needed.
  • A new long-distance train is inaugurated between Chicago and Los Angeles via Amarillo, El Paso, Tucson, and Phoenix.
  • Ft. Worth and Dallas are linked directly to New Orleans with day and overnight trains via Shreveport.
  • Service is revived on the former Gulf Wind route between New Orleans and Jacksonville through Mobile and Pensacola.
  • Norfolk becomService is revived on the former Gulf Wind route between New Orleans and Jacksonville through Mobile and a new East Coast terminal with trains providing direct service to Cincinnati, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Savannah, and Jacksonville.
  • A Washington-Knoxville-Chattanooga-Nashville route is established.
  • Memphis-Nashville service is inaugurated.
  • Additional trains are placed on several short- and medium-distance routes.
  • Studies are begun to evaluate benefits of possible electrification of Northeast Corridor extensions to Albany, Springfield, Richmond, and Pittsburgh and on heavily trafficked corridors radiating from Chicago.
  • New station opens in Houston.


  • Amtrak attains a profit of $348 million, completely eliminating the need for federal capital assistance beginning in FY 1991.
  • New long-distance trains are inaugurated linking Salt Lake City and Denver with Calgary.
  • International services in collaboration with Via Rail Canada provide new rail links between New England cities and points in Quebec and New Brunswick.
  • A daytime train is inaugurated between San Jose, Oakland, and Portland.
  • The former North Coast Hiawatha route is revived with a new long-distance train connecting Minneapolis/St. Paul with Billings, Spokane, Portland, and Seattle.
  • Direct Buffalo-Detroit service is reestablished across southern Ontario.
  • A Denver-Albuquerque-Phoenix-Tucson train is placed in service.
  • Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo are linked to Ft. Worth and Dallas on a new long-distance route.
  • Service frequencies are increased in several corridors.
  • Oldest life-expired Heritage Fleet cars are retired.


Amtrak 90 is a comprehensive, multistage plan for turning deficit-ridden intercity rail passenger service in the United States into an attractive, efficient, profitable operation. By turning this plan into reality, government funding of Amtrak would not be needed after 1990. In contrast, maintaining the status quo would require more than $12 billion in subsidies just to cover the present level of service through the year 2000.

Moving Amtrak’ s finances into the profit column will require $4.7 billion in capital expenditures over an eight-year period. This is less than the New York City Transit authority’s capital improvement program for the next five years. On an annual basis, the capital costs proposed in Amtrak 90 are on a par with investment levels planned by British Rail for upgrading the United Kingdom system. The $4.7 billion required for upgrading and expanding Amtrak into a 39,000-mile national system can also be contrasted with the $2 billion that American High Speed Rail Corporation proposes to spend to develop a 125-mile-per-hour bullet train service on the 120-mile route connecting Los Angeles and San Diego.

The additional locomotives and cars to be acquired under the Amtrak 90 plan are based on proven technology. Because new equipment is required in large quantity, costly risks associated with untried, exotic designs are avoided.

The expanded system as proposed in Amtrak 90 will be a truly national one with rail passenger service to 47 of the lower 48 states. As the network grows from the current 24,000 route miles to nearly 39,000 in 1990, the number of cities and towns with train service will increase from just under 500 to nearly 800, and an additional 35 million Americans will have rail as a travel mode choice.

The quantity and quality of Amtrak service will be greatly improved. Travelers will find themselves able to reach more communities more frequently by train. The options of services and accommodations will provide for a greater choice to fit travelers’ preferences and pocketbooks.

Other positive economic impacts will result from implementing Amtrak 90. Railroad employment will rise with the creation of 36,000 new passenger train jobs. Many additional jobs will be created in the railroad equipment industry and positive ripple effects will be felt by suppliers of components and in basic industries, including steel, glass, aluminum, plastics, fabrics, and other materials.

Once the expanded system outlined in Amtrak 90 is in place, the United States will have a quality intercity rail passenger service upon which further growth can take place through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century.

Selected Bibliography

The following materials have been selected from the extensive resources used in preparation of Amtrak 90 as the most useful and pertinent materials for the preparation of this Executive Summary.


British Railways Board. European Railways Performance Comparisons. London, United Kingdom, 1980.

California State Legislature. Assembly Select Committee on Mass Transit. Scope and State Role in California Passenger Railroad Development, Draft. Sacramento, California, 1980.

Caltrans. Rail Passenger Development Plan: 1980 Through 1982 Fiscal Years. Sacramento, California: Department of Transportation, 1980.

Caltrans. The San Diegans: An Analysis of Passenger Rail Service Between Los Angeles and San Diego. Sacramento, California: Department of Transportation, 1980.

Edmonson, Harold A., ed. Journey to Amtrak. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Books, 1972.

Francaviglia, Richard F., and Silberman, A. Jerome. “The Future of Intercity Rail Passenger Service in the United States.” Proceedings of the Special Session: Geographic Perspectives on the Future of American Railroads, Annual Meeting, Association of American Geographers, Atlanta, Georgia, 1973.

Lieb, Robert C. Transportation: The Domestic System. Reston, Virginia: Reston Publishing Company, Inc., 1978.

Loew, John C., and Moryadas, S. The Geography of Movement. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975.

Nelson, James C. Railroad Transportation and Public Policy. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings, Institute, 1959.

Ohio Rail Transportation Authority. Ohio High Speed Intercity Rail Passenger Plan ( Phase 1). Cleveland, Ohio: Howard Needles, Tammen, and Bergendorff, 1977.

Sampson, Roy J., and Furris, Martin T. Domestic Transportation: Practice, Theory, and Policy. 3rd ed. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1975.

Sheck, Ronald C. Amtrak 80: A Plan for Growth. Las Cruces, New Mexico, 1975.

Stover, John F. The Life and Decline of the American Railroad. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Taaffe, Edward J., and Gauthier, Howard L. Geography of Transportation. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1973.

Transportation Research Institute. Improved Passenger Train Service, TRI Conference Report Number 7. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Carnegie-Mellon University, 1975.

Periodicals and Professional Journals

Annual Bulletin of Transportation Statistics for Europe

Die Bundesbahn

Cook’s Continental Timetable

Current Literature in Traffic and Transportation

European Conference of Ministers of Transport, Annual Report and Resolutions

The Journal, Institute of Traansportation Engineers

Mass Transit

Modern Railroads Modern Railways

Official Airline Guide, North American Edition

The Official Railway Guide

Passenger Train Journal

Passenger Transport

Rail Travel News

Railway Age

Railway Gazette International

Russell’s Official National Motor Coach Guide Trains

Transportation Journal

Transportation Quarterly

Transportation Research

Government Documents and Publications

A wide range of materials have been printed by various branches of the U.S. government on the subject of rail passenger transportation. The Congressional Record contains numerous documents of appropriate house and senate committees. Various reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission include the 1978 Report to the President and the Congress on the Effectiveness of the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which is particularly pertinent. The U.S. Department of Transportation has also printed a wide range of reports on Amtrak. The Federal Railroad Administration is a source of numerous documents, published and unpublished, which are germane to this study. Among these are

Improving Railroad Technology, 1980

Amtrak Origin and Destination Matrix Accounts(various years)

Amtrak Station Train-On and Train-Off Data(various years)

National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)

Amtrak is also a source of published and unpublished materials upon which much of the Amtrak 90 plan has been based. Especially useful have been

Amtrak, Five-Year Corporate Plan (various years)

Amtrak Annual Report,1972 to 1981

National Train Timetables

The Criteria and Procedures for Making Route and Service Decisions, 1975

About the Author

Ronald C. Sheck earned a B.A. from Sacramento State College in 1961 and a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in 1969. Prior to joining New Mexico State University in 1972, he was on the faculty of Ohio State University and has served as a visiting professor at the University of Oregon, Universidad San Carlos (Guatemala), Texas A & M University, New Mexico Highlands University, and at the Centro Panamericano de estudios e investigaciones geograficas in Quito, Ecuador. From 1967-69 he was employed by the USAID Mission to Guatemala as regional and urban planning administrator.

Various papers, articles, and reports reflect Professor Sheck’s academic interest in urban transportation and intercity rail service. In 1979 he spent several months in Europe studying international urban transportation in border cities. During the summer of 1980 he attended a faculty workshop in urban transportation at SUNY-Buffalo and New York Polytechnic Institute as an UMTA Fellow. He has been proposed as a possible nominee to the Amtrak Board of Directors by senators, representatives, and governors from several states.