Amtrack: On A Collision Course This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   During the railroad's heyday, there were thousands of inter-city passenger trains. Over the past 40 years, there has been a dramatic reduction in this number. Some states, like Vermont, chose to operate the discarded routes with state funds, and trains such as the Vermonter have been highly successful. Far too few states have followed Vermont, leaving our skeleton passenger rail system in shambles. A private company is needed to save the passenger railroad, not a government bureaucracy.

Amtrak, officially named the National Passenger Railroad Corporation, was founded in 1970 to alleviate the responsibility of serving non-profitable routes. Recently, the giant Penn Central system lapsed in bankruptcy. Once great railroads (the Erie Lacakawanna, the Reading Railroad and more) all followed Penn Central's lead.

Trying to improve service, Amtrak continued the newly initiated electric Metroliner service from Washington D.C. to New York City. These trains were an attempt to compete with the airlines and automobiles on the fiercely competitive Northeast Corridor (Washington to Boston). These experiments were a failure, with misinformation in schedules, and the necessity to change trains to travel from Boston to Washington. Amtrak has been operating at a loss since 1971.

The Northeast Corridor is the most heavily traveled route in the United States, which is where Amtrak's focus should be. The track must be upgraded so that trains can operate at full speed. Currently, express trains must slow down at a local station, but this safety measure could be avoided. If overhead or underground walkways connected opposite platforms, trains could sustain their speed without bypassing safety.

Decrepit and frail, the majority of Amtrak's rolling stock (especially that used on the Northeast Corridor) was built for the 1970s. New equipment has been purchased for the West, but these two-level cars cannot be used on restrictive Northeast routes because of low bridges. New sleeping cars are finally arriving, but it appears Amtrak has no intention of replacing the coaches that were built by the Budd company in the early '70s. The Metroliners average a speed of 80-miles-per-hour and rarely reach their potential of 110 miles-per-hour. Strangely enough, they are still in service. Reportedly, the company wants to develop its own high-speed train, incorporating components from different models.

In the wake of several air disasters, this could be the best time to steal passengers from the airlines. With longer lines, stricter security checks, and more delays, travelers might enjoy the ease of getting on a train with no outrageous waits. In some cases, waiting at the airport is longer than the flight itself. If Amtrak was a private corporation, it would have started a media blitz after the ValuJet and TWA crashes. Instead, we hear nothing of the convenience of Amtrak.

Critics and some liberals may claim privatizing Amtrak would only decrease the network of passenger railroads in the country, and no route would be profitable enough to operate. If Congress allowed the same provisions to Amtrak as it did for ConRail, there would be no problem. ConRail is now one of the most successful and largest freight railroads in the country. Like ConRail, the government should give Amtrak loans for a five-to-ten year period to upgrade the system. As a provision, no routes would be cut. If the company operates at a profit for ten years, then the government would begin to sell its shares of Amtrak's stock. Amtrak could effectively compete with airlines using high-speed trains and publicity. Turning a profit would mean speed, comfort, and reliability. The company would be forced to provide all three, or the government would reclaim control of Amtrak. The government could even create two or more corporations to encourage competition and lower prices.

An effective passenger railroad system is an achievable goal. Our current system is a disgrace. We have the best airline service, our highways are unequaled, but our railroads lie in ruins. Running Amtrak like a business would force it to grow or die. With help from the government, we could create a nation that doesn't rely heavily on foreign fuel and doesn't have traffic congestion. With a private Amtrak, we could fulfill the efficient intermodel empire dreamed of. ?


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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