Amtrak, charting a course of expansion rather
than cuts, aims to become financial viable by serving new passenger
markets and filling a niche in the time-sensitive delivery
The railroad's new "network growth strategy" will be unveiled
officially Tuesday, although portions were disclosed in recent
The plan would expand or improve service in 21 states, add 11
route segments and increase train frequency on three routes. It
also would boost by 10 percent the number of station-to-station
links and bring trains to the areas of 4 million potential new
"This is a very different approach to the business, a
growth-oriented approach as opposed to a
nickel-and-dime-yourself-to-death approach," said Amtrak President
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chairwoman of a Senate
subcommittee overseeing Amtrak, praised the corporation's new
"It's very creative and innovative," she said. "I can't say
enough about the new leadership at Amtrak. They're thinking outside
the box, and that is what Amtrak needed."
Amtrak projects that the changes, when fully implemented, will
generate $229 million in new annual revenue and cause a net gain of
$65 million in 2003. The timing is crucial for Amtrak. Under
legislation passed in 1997, it has until the end of fiscal year
2002 to wean itself from federal operating subsidies or face
The railroad now operates a 22,000-mile system that serves more
than 500 communities in 45 states.
The changes do not require approval by Congress. But in order to
implement them, Amtrak will have to strike deals with various
freight railroads whose tracks is uses.
Under the plan, Amtrak trains will begin stopping in Des Moines
and Iowa City, Iowa; Rockford, Ill.; Vicksburg, Miss.; Monroe and
Shreveport, La.; Lake Geneva and Janesville, Wis.; and destinations
on the Atlantic Coast of Florida including Daytona Beach, Cape
Canaveral and Fort Pierce.
Also, people as far north as Boston will be able to board a
train and travel to Florida without having to transfer in New York.
Gamblers will find more trains to take them to Shreveport's
casinos. Riders can board in Michigan, sleep as their train dashes
through Canada and wake up in upstate New York, on the way to New
There are losers as well.
By taking a northern route through more heavily populated cities
in Texas, the Sunset Limited train will no longer stop in Del Rio,
Alpine and Sanderson.
Similarly, the International will stop in Ann Arbor and
Dearborn, Mich., but no longer serve five other Michigan cities
East Lansing, Durand, Flint, Lapeer and Port Huron.
Warrington said the plan reflects a hard lesson Amtrak learned
in the mid-1990s: Cuts in service bring numerous complaints and
fewer financial savings than expected.
"We've tried in the past to shrink, and all we've done is
irritate people, reduce service and profits and ridership. And
that's no way to run a railroad," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy
Thompson, chairman of Amtrak's governing board. "The board is
committed to building a national railroad system, and this is a
giant step forward to doing it."
Illustrative of Amtrak's new philosophy is its treatment of the
Sunset Limited, a money-loser that threads its way along the
southern United States from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles.
The growth strategy says that eliminating the Sunset Limited
would save $8 million in costs but deprive Amtrak of $9.5 million
in fares from passengers and fees from deliveries that rely on that
line to connect to other routes.
Warrington said dicates that adjustments, not wholesale changes,
are needed to strengthen Amtrak, which was created in 1971
following the demise of passenger service by major railroads.
With the exception of a luxury transcontinental route designed
to link New York and Los Angeles in 60 hours, Amtrak is proposing
no new long-distance routes. Rather, the plan calls for strategic
extensions, shifting equipment around and paying greater attention
to mail and express business.
A case in point is the Crescent, which travels between New York
and New Orleans.
Plans call for the train to separate in Meridian, Miss., with
one segment heading west to Fort Worth, while the other continues
south to New Orleans. This would allow Amtrak to add service to
Vicksburg, Miss., and to Monroe and Shreveport, La., while building
opportunities for mail and express deliveries between Dallas-Fort
Worth and the East Coast.
The expected payoff is an additional $7.7 million a year as of
The mail and express business is key to Amtrak's recipe for
financial recovery, as is a plan to begin hauling meat, poultry,
fruit and vegetables in refrigerated cars attached to intercity
Sensitive to the concerns of freight railroads, Warrington
stressed that he is looking to complement what they do, not to
compete, and to enter into partnerships to make the best use of the
tracks they and Amtrak share.