Amtrak is kicking ass, at least along the Northeast corridor where passengers traveling the Boston-NYC-Philadelphia-DC route having been fleeing the airlines in droves. On the route between New York and Washington, about 75 percent of passengers now ride the rails, up from about a third of travelers a little more than a decade ago. Between New York and Boston, Amtrak's market share has climbed from 20 percent to 54 percent.
The Northeast corridor is one of the only Amtrak routes to turn a profit, but thanks in part to the growing cost and inconvenience of air travel, nationally, rail ridership is at an all time high, prompting Amtrak to propose a $151 billion capital plan to upgrade bridges and rails to support higher speeds.
But the plan is opposed by conservatives in Congress who say the government-subsidized railroad has been a failure and should be privatized. Amtrak gets about $1.3 billion a year from the government, but still loses money — $1.2 billion last year.
Um, passenger air travel has consistently proven a money losing enterprise. Between 2000 and 2009 (the last year for which the Air Transport Association provides data), the US airline industry lost a combined $55.5 billion! There have been 189 US airline bankruptcy filings since 1990 alone. When you account for the huge public subsidy in airports and other infrastructure, the US airline industry has yet to turn a profit over the course of its nearly 100-year history. Airlines are "the worst sort of business" investment guru Warren Buffett once famously noted: "Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down."
So yeah. If only Amtrak operated more like the airlines.