Title

BUYING INTO AMTRAK: ONE WAY TO FIT AMERICAN RAILROADS INTO GOVERNMENT'S TRANSPORTATION SPENDING

Authors

A Perl

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

2002

Subject Area

economics - revenue, place - urban, mode - rail

Keywords

Transportation trust fund, Transportation policy, Tax receipts, Revenues, Restructuring, Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, Public private partnerships, Passenger trains, Interurban transportation, Intercity transportation, Infrastructure, Improvements, High speed trains, Funding, Financing, Amtrak

Abstract

The nearly certain failure of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) to meet a legislated mandate of attaining commercial self-sufficiency in 2002 and the major reassessment of transportation policies precipitated by America's war on terrorism have opened a window of opportunity to improve the terms by which passenger trains fit into U.S. transportation policy. The future success of intercity passenger rail depends on going back to the drawing board of transportation policy to revisit railroads' access to public finance. A major change from the public policy status quo on the rail mode's financing recommends restructuring Amtrak to become a joint venture between government and privately owned railroads, as was envisioned by the original Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970. This change in corporate ownership would occur parallel with, and facilitate the implementation of, a new account in the transportation trust fund devoted to improvements in intercity rail infrastructure. This account would receive the tax revenues collected from some combination of federal excise taxes levied on railroad diesel fuel, other transportation expenditure by railroads (e.g., parts and equipment), passenger tickets, and express freight shipments. A share of railroads' income taxes (or other sources of public revenue) could supplement the public revenues flowing into such a fund. Expenditures would be made on upgrading rail infrastructure capacity to handle increasing volumes of freight and passenger traffic and, where appropriate, to develop dedicated high-speed passenger rail infrastructure alongside existing rail rights-of-way.