NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tardy Trains Turn Off Amtrak Customers

November 15, 2002

The last thing Amtrak, the government's passenger rail service, needs is to discourage riders. It is already losing $28 million in ticket revenue per year due to overall service problems -- chiefly late trains -- and only hangs on because of government subsidies.

  • Some of its long-distance trains run late as much as two-thirds of the time -- even though trains that pull into stations as much as 30 minutes late are officially considered punctual.
  • Delays have contributed to significant ridership losses on 18 long-distance lines -- several of which lose more than $200 per passenger.
  • The on-time performance of all Amtrak trains fell over the past five years -- from 78.6 during the 1997-98 fiscal year to 76.9 percent this past fiscal year.
  • Beyond the heavily traveled Northeast corridor, on-time performance for the rest of the country sank from 70.4 percent five years ago to 58 percent this past year.

The Amtrak hierarchy offers up reasons and excuses. The company's freight business -- created to shore up the bottom line -- creates delays because freight cars have to be switched or added. Poor track conditions create delays, along with cleaning requirements and problems with station connections.

Source: Ledyard King, "Punctuality a Problem for Amtrak," USA Today, November 15, 2002.


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