Issues & Facts
Since the rapid rise of the automobile culture in America, passenger rail has been the subject of an ongoing argument over its continued role in the U.S. transportation network. However, government overemphasis on highways and aviation has led to crippling congestion and sprawl, leading to a great public outcry for faster and more frequent trains and transit.
Since 1967, NARP has played a leading role in the legislative battles that created Amtrak, preserving the foundation upon which the American intercity and high-speed train network is being built. We are working to transform the nation’s long distance passenger train network from a neglected, barebones operation into a robust and thriving mobility machine.
Below, you will find a brief introduction to the issues NARP fights for, and the benefits of passenger train investment in the U.S. See more details in the Advocacy Materials and Promotional Materials sections.
We'll give you the facts and figures you need to educate your local and federal representatives, media to get other Americans on-board with the many benefits (and pleasures!) of train travel, and advocacy tips and tools to recruit your fellow passengers in the grass roots movement working for the world class passenger rail network America needs.
The National Rail Network
Amtrak’s trains stop in over 500 communities, connecting people who live in mega-cities, small villages, and everything in between. With roads and airports mired in congestion, the American public is turning to passenger rail. Amtrak has set 10 ridership records in 11 years, and the only limit on is capacity. Unfortunately, government support has lagged behind demand, and funding levels fall well short of what is needed to maintain even the current network in good repair, much less enable expansion. That is why NARP is working to include passenger rail in the federal surface transportation fund, securing a stable, multi-year source of funding for Amtrak.
Long distance train routes form the foundation of this national passenger train network. Their unique capabilities allow them to connect congested urban areas and bring economically viable mobility to rural areas and small towns, many of which are becoming more isolated from major cities as regional airline and intercity bus service disappears.
High Speed Rail
As megaregions in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West Coast struggle to handle population growth—with over 89 million additional Americans expected by 2050—high speed passenger rail service will become increasingly important. This technology has proved capable of transporting high volumes of people across densely developed regions in international markets. The U.S. has lagged behind other first developed countries, and must catch up if it hopes to compete in a 21st Century global economy.
On corridors under 500 miles, high speed rail is able to allow economic cooperation. By connecting a string of cities—as opposed to the point-to-point connections that occur from air travel—the efficient sharing of economic knowledge and human capital is enabled. We’ve seen this demonstrated along the Northeast Corridor where Amtrak dominates competing airlines, capturing almost 70% of the air-rail market.
Transit & Commuter Rail
Public transit is a crucial transportation link for Americans looking to travel to work and to school. An urban resurgence has led younger Americans to increasingly rely on transit for their everyday transportation needs, and the statistics back it up:
- Over 35 million transit trips are made each and every day in the U.S.
- Americans took over 10.5 billion trips in 2012.
- From 1995 to 2012, public transportation ridership increased by 34% bringing public transit ridership to levels not seen since 1957.
This trend is shaping the cities and towns we live in. Economic growth and development naturally occurs around transportation nodes. People want to have access to transportation options; train stations and intermodal transit hubs allow real-estate developers to invest in new residences, confident that there will be a market. Businesses are created and expanded to serve the communities that align around these transportation hubs. Though it is a complex idea, “livability” is what the public most tangibly experiences as the product of a healthy transit system.
In 2011, the total financial cost of congestion to the U.S. economy was $121 billion, or $818 per U.S. commuter. By investing in passenger train service, America can build a balanced transportation network that compliments our current road- and air-network, allowing the public to move freely and our economy to grow.
Passenger and freight rail currently accounts for more than 300,000 jobs in America, and public transportation employs more than 380,000 people—good-paying, trained jobs that cannot be sent overseas . And a study done by the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that for every $1 billion invested in rail, 20,000 jobs are directly created. A similar study showed that every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates and supports 36,000 jobs.
A true modernization, moreover, could revive the domestic passenger train industry—most significantly, through adding demand for passenger rail cars and locomotive manufacturing. Economic analysts predict that the FRA’s vision for high-speed rail could create as many as 1.6 million construction and manufacturing jobs in total.
Quality of Life
The average U.S. household spends 18% of their collective income on transportation. Of that money, 94% on average is expended buying, maintaining, and operating cars—the single largest financial obligation after housing. Public transit, by allowing people to drive 4,400 fewer miles on average, saves families that are likely to use it on a given day $9,000 annually. Compare that $9,000 savings to the yearly operating cost of $7.5 million that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation had projected for the planned Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee train—the reason that Wisconsin Governor-Elect Scott Walker gave for killing the project. That operating fee would have broken down to about $1.33 for each Wisconsin resident, per year.
Greater than the financial cost, there is the toll in human life. In 2012, over 34,000 Americans were killed in automobile accidents, and roughly 2.4 million people injured. In 2013, out of 673.2 million passengers carried, the FRA recorded 1,507 passenger injuries and only six deaths (that figure includes pedestrians and drivers struck while on tracks).
Energy & Environmental Benefits
Amtrak is 30.2% more energy efficient than cars, and 19.9% more efficient than air travel (BTU expended per passenger piles). Commuter rail is 22.7% more energy efficient than cars, and 11.3% more efficient than air travel. Public transportation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline every year—more than three times the amount that the U.S. imports from Kuwait.
In 2011, traffic congestion wasted a total of 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, leading to an additional 56 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (around 380 pounds per auto commuter!). Burning all this oil erodes air and water quality, harming the environmental legacy Americans look to pass on to their children.