Riding the Subsidized Rails of Amtrak at a Loss of $32 per Passenger


The Pew Charitable Trusts SubsidyScope Project has just released a new report that finds 41 out of Amtrak's 44 routes lose money. The losses ranged from nearly $5 to $462 per passenger, depending upon the line, and averaged $32 per passenger. According to the report:

The line with the highest per passenger subsidy—the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles—carried almost 72,000 passengers last year. The California Zephyr, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco, had the second-highest per passenger subsidy of $193 and carried nearly 353,000 passengers in 2008. Pew's analysis indicates that the average loss per passenger on all 44 of Amtrak's lines was $32, about four times what the loss would be using Amtrak's figures: only $8 per passenger. (Amtrak uses a different method for calculating route performance).

The Northeast Corridor has the highest passenger volume of any Amtrak route, carrying nearly 10.9 million people in 2008. The corridor's high-speed Acela Express made a profit of about $41 per passenger. But the more heavily utilized Northeast Regional, with more than twice as many riders as the Acela, lost almost $5 per passenger.

Nothing succeeds in DC like repeated and costly failure. The Obama administration put $13 billion for building various new high speed rail lines in its $787 billion dollar stimulus package.

Go here for a nifty interactive map of the Amtrak system that details the profit and losses on each route.

Disclosure: I intend to keep riding the new daily Amtrak train between Charlottesville, Va. and Washington, D.C. as long as taxpayers can be hornswoggled into subsidizing me. Thanks y'all.