NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bartlett: Case Against Amtrak

January 21, 1998

Reportedly, the White House is considering elimination of federal subsidies to Amtrak in its 1999 budget, to be released in a few weeks. Opponents argue that cutting off Amtrak's $344 million per year subsidy will lead to bankruptcy for the struggling passenger rail line.

Amtrak has managed to survive by promising to reduce its costs and arguing it helps the poor, eases traffic congestion and reduces pollution. In fact, as a 1996 Cato Institute study says:

  • Amtrak carries just .007 percent of daily commuter traffic and 0.4 percent of passengers making intercity trips.
  • More than 73 percent of Amtrak riders made more than $40,000 in 1990, while just 13 percent made less than $20,000.
  • If every Amtrak rider switched to driving a car U.S. energy consumption would rise by just 0.1 percent.
  • Amtrak is by far the most heavily subsidized form of intercity transportation: the average subsidy per rider is $100 or 40 percent of the cost.

On some long-distance routes, such as the New York to Los Angeles run, the subsidy per passenger exceeds $1,000. It would be cheaper for taxpayers simply to buy a round-trip airline ticket for every passenger on these routes.

Source: Bruce Bartlett (senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis), January 21, 1998.  


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