• In 1970/1971, why was Amtrak created instead of subsidizing private railroads?

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by Nightjet
 
If I am understanding correctly, in 1970 and 1971, when Amtrak was created, an alternative that was considered was subsidizing private railroads to run their own passenger trains, and creating Amtrak was more supported by Democrats and subsidizing private railroads was more supported by Republicans.

Did private railroads favor one approach or the other? Or did they not care? How close did the US come to simply subsidizing private railroads to run their own passenger trains?
  by eolesen
 
Professor Norman had a second row seat to some of that debate, so looking forward to his commentary.

My understanding is the railroads wanted to unload their common carrier obligations to provide passenger service entirely. A subsidy option wouldn't have done that. It would have simply absorbed some of the costs. It would have also hampered any ability to trim their systems once Staggers happened.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
From Hampton Inn Casselton; Indianapolis---

During the early days, the railroads simply held "turnkey" purchase of service agreements with Amtrak. Beyond a minimal amount of signage, it was essentially business as usual.

I wasn't there; but the very first Amtrak train was a NY-Phila train that left Penn at 1201A Sat May 1. If one were to ask any of the "3-D (Drunk, Dazed, Doped) passengers "hey you are on the first Amtrak train", they'd probably say "what's Amtrak"?
  by ctclark1
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Thu Nov 24, 2022 8:24 pm During the early days, the railroads simply held "turnkey" purchase of service agreements with Amtrak.
So, what I'm reading is that it was basically "subsidized" until Amtrak actually got its feet under it and could hire its own crews/purchase its own equipment?
  by conductorchris
 
Things I have read have suggested that there was a sentiment that freight railroads had screwed passenger trains up and were not to be trusted with the job. I imagine Penn Central (the largest passenger carrier and the closest to the center of power and decision-making in Washington/New York) was primarily responsible for this mood. What I have read suggests that simply subsidizing the freight carriers was never seriously considered because the goal by the planners was to improve upon the situation.
  by amtrakowitz
 
Nightjet wrote: Thu Nov 24, 2022 4:33 pm If I am understanding correctly, in 1970 and 1971, when Amtrak was created, an alternative that was considered was subsidizing private railroads to run their own passenger trains, and creating Amtrak was more supported by Democrats and subsidizing private railroads was more supported by Republicans.

Did private railroads favor one approach or the other? Or did they not care? How close did the US come to simply subsidizing private railroads to run their own passenger trains?
The premise is a false dichotomy. Private railroads were already being subsidized in many cases. The third option, removing punitive taxation and deregulating railroads so that they could rebuild both passenger and freight business (both were under siege by the aforementioned taxation/regulation regimen) and perhaps even restart the many private-sector high-speed passenger initiatives that taxation and regulation killed was never engaged in by the federal government back then. Nixon never even entertained the notion, signing Amtrak into law.

But perhaps that might be a subject for a different forum?
  by eolesen
 
conductorchris wrote: Sat Nov 26, 2022 5:08 pm Things I have read have suggested that there was a sentiment that freight railroads had screwed passenger trains up and were not to be trusted with the job.
That may have been a regional sentiment in the Northeast.... I've always heard that the C&O, SRY, BN, DRGW, ATSF and UPRR were still running a decent quality product at the time.
  by John_Perkowski
 
eolesen wrote: Sat Nov 26, 2022 9:26 pm
That may have been a regional sentiment in the Northeast.... I've always heard that the C&O, SRY, BN, DRGW, ATSF and UPRR were still running a decent quality product at the time.
Take a look at Kratville, UNION PACIFIC STREAMLINERS (Kratville Publications, 1975). The short version is ALL the Class Ones wanted out of the passenger business. The losses were deep from the passenger traffic departments.

The debate in Chicago, Omaha, Atlanta etc was could they hold out through the mandatory operation period without having a shareholder rebellion.
  by ExCon90
 
John_Perkowski wrote: Sat Nov 26, 2022 10:01 pm
eolesen wrote: Sat Nov 26, 2022 9:26 pm
That may have been a regional sentiment in the Northeast.... I've always heard that the C&O, SRY, BN, DRGW, ATSF and UPRR were still running a decent quality product at the time.
Take a look at Kratville, UNION PACIFIC STREAMLINERS (Kratville Publications, 1975). The short version is ALL the Class Ones wanted out of the passenger business. The losses were deep from the passenger traffic departments.
The difference was that the passenger losses of the Class Ones listed above were a much smaller proportion of total revenue than those of PRR, NYC, and NH, and the losses experienced by those other roads were not as apparent to many observers but were just as real. In my personal experience the ATSF and UP kept up their characteristic high standards until the end, since the losses could be borne for a while longer, but for another five years? ATSF (as pointed out in an earlier post) might have been stuck with a choice of either paying who knows how much for access to CUS or having to somehow take over the C&WI and Dearborn Station on its own.

A question just occurred to me: what did happen to the C&WI after 5/1/71? Surely the approach routes continued to be used by the freight railroads. I assume it did well from "adaptive re-use" of Dearborn Station and its approaches.