Amtrak, the federally-subsidized passenger rail that runs across the country, experienced a 3.5 percent jump in ridership last fiscal year, with a total of 31.2 million passengers taking the train. More people rode Amtrak trains last year than any time since 1971.
But despite the growth in rides (and the subsequent jump in profits, as revenue from tickets grew 6.8 percent), the Republican party sees Amtrak as an unprofitable venture, and called in their platform to privatize it entirely, a move that would likely cut off train service to rural Americans who don’t live on high-frequency train routes.
In fact, the National Association of Railroad Passengers believes privatization “would be tantamount to shutting down the entire Amtrak network, because the remaining routes could not cover the system’s overhead costs.”
Which isn’t to say that the system is perfect as-is. Many of the trains on Amtrak lines are more than 30 years old. Even those trains in top condition are slowed by other failing infrastructure, such as America’s crumbling bridges.
But investment, the opposite of privatization, might actually be the better option. America’s construction sector has been flat lining as the rest of the economy recovers, and a long term project to upgrade the rails would likely bring job growth to that sector:
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that “more than $200 billion is needed through 2035 to accommodate anticipated growth” of railroad use.
It’s proven that such investment creates jobs. The Economic Policy Institute studied a single project in Los Angeles and found that, simply on the issue of investment in new trains, “a $1.1 billion purchase of transit railcars from U.S. producers could generate as many as 8,200 jobs.”