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Amtrak Hopes to See More Green with Federal Funding, Increased Ridership

by Kate Trainor on February 4, 2008

AmtrakGreen Amtrak Hopes to See More Green with Federal Funding, Increased Ridership
Over Christmas, two eco-savvy friends of mine took the train from San Francisco to the Southwest. They each spent close to $1K for a round-trip ticket, and nearly two days in a stylish commuter car. Apart from the bad food, they were satisfied with their choice. They chocked it up to a clean conscience: they’d avoided air travel (the most polluting mode of travel, period) and had left their car parked at home.

As fuel prices rise and air travel becomes more of a nuisance, Amtrak has become a more popular choice—especially among environmentally-conscious travelers who want to minimize their footprint.

But, reports Treehugger.com, there’s another reason travelers are ditching driving or flying to ride the train:

…According to the AP, another factor seems to be "the investment by Illinois and 13 other states in short-distance corridors Amtrak wouldn’t otherwise offer, essentially paying for a service where they see a need." The result has been a consistent rise in ridership, with numbers climbing to 24.3 million passengers last year.

While trains are a lesser evil than cars or crowded, carbon-belching airplanes, Amtrak isn’t without its concerns. The company is $3.3 billion dollars in debt and is asking the government for financial support. Amtrak, says Treehugger, "gets enough funding to survive, but not to flourish."

Late last fall, the Senate passed a bill to provide $11.4 billion in funding to Amtrak over a period of six years. Currently, the federal government subsidizes most modes of transport, and gives billions of dollars to the airline industry every year. So far, Amtrak hasn’t seen a dime.

In a statement, Sen. Trent Lott, who proposed funding for Amtrak, said: "We can’t keep asking Amtrak to operate like a business while we string the company along year to year." Democrats have long rallied for federal support of America’s trains.

Expanding routes and increasing the frequency of train service has helped Amtrak to meet its bottom line, but it still has a long way to go. Federal funding, say supporters, will help boost ridership and income, diminishing commuters’ reliance on cars, planes, and other polluters. Ridership in Northern California, from Sacramento to the Bay Area, has tripled in the last eight years, since Amtrak added eight trains to the route.

Photo via flickr by mark242.


Related posts:

  1. Record-Breaking Ridership on Amtrak’s Downeaster
  2. House to Vote on Intercity Rail Funding
  3. U.S. Train Travel on the Rise
  4. Federal Funds for NYC’s Second Ave Subway
  5. Trains: The 200 Year Old Solution to Our Travel Problems
  6. Recent Posts

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 B.J. February 9, 2008 at 4:57 am

There was a segment on NPR about this issue yesterday, and they said that with all the calculated CO2 output that ethanol is worse for the environment, with the main factor being that more ethanol means more forests cleared away.


2 Bill February 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm

I hope that technology catches up soon (cellosic and wood conversion), because here in British Columbia we have masses of wood waste from logging that is burned each year. BC is a big place, several Californias? and we harvest timber across much of it. Debris from logging is piled and burned at the logging site, but so far there is no really obvious answer techologically to convert this to useful energy.


3 Papa_K April 23, 2008 at 4:37 pm

This is all wrong and has nothing good to be gained. All we are doing is encouraging the use of an oil based economy.

By using food or plants as alternative fuels it is destructive to the environment. You can’t keep planting corn year after year in the same place without depleting the soil of natural nutrients.

Alternative fuel is thinking outside of the space between our ears. Some car companies have the right idea, hybrid hydrogen fuel cells.

But we don’t have a distribution mechanism. Whine whine whine.

A few years ago (and I’m sure many of you computer using car drivers out there don’t remember this) we used computers without a mouse. What a concept.

No mouse. Command line and no gui. Or do any of you even remember the real purpose of putting games like minesweeper on your computer? To get you acclimated to use the mouse. Within a few years we couldn’t use a computer without a mouse.

If you wait till the last minute to do anything you won’t have time to do anything in the last minute.

Do it. Honda has a pilot program in two cities in California for it’s FCX series. Looks like a great alternative. Opens new markets and trends.

Sure we won’t have any use for the oil based mechanics but if they don’t stay up to date with the latest they will be out of a job. Wow what a concept, keeping up with the changing environment. Does sound rather futuristic doesn’t it.

Better than staying on this treadmill that takes us to nowhere. The FCX currently goes 500 on a full tank it’s waste product is water. It goes 80mph. That’s perfect. I’m not a nascar driver and if 80mph is the start of a hydrogen car (remember 10 mph was tops for the first gas powered cars) then we could top out at 200 mph within a few decades.


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