News Culture

Amtrak on the Path to Self-Sufficiency?

The passenger railway service says it covered nearly 95 percent of its operating costs in 2017.

Amtrak, the passenger railway service that operates as a for-profit company but relies on federal funding, achieved several milestones in fiscal 2017, including recouping almost 95 percent of its operating costs.

In a statement highlighting results from its fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Amtrak reported record ridership, revenue, earnings and record cost recovery, covering 94.7 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenue.

The railway service reports 31.7 million passenger trips, up 1.5 percent from fiscal 2016, with total revenue of $3.2 billion, an increase of 1.1 percent from the previous fiscal year. Operating earnings improved 15.7 percent over fiscal 2016, meaning Amtrak ran a deficit of $194 million.

The Northeast Corridor had its highest ridership year ever, with 12 million riders, up 1 percent from 2016, while state-supported services experienced a 2.1 percent yearly bump to 15 million riders, and long-distance routes carried 4.6 million riders, a hike of 0.9 percent from the prior fiscal year.

As could be expected, Amtrak put in a plug for continued government funds, with Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia saying in the statement that the railway service offered “a vital transportation service to more customers and created strong value for the federal investment.”

Amtrak aims to cover all of its costs over the next several years by strengthening its services and creating more efficiency, Coscia added.

Perhaps with airlines in mind, Amtrak co-CEO Wick Moorman pointed to the service’s comfortable travel experience, which he said, includes “plenty of leg room, and no middle seat.”

In May, Amtrak requested $1.6 billion in federal funds and argued against the administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for its long-distance services in fiscal 2018.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers released an economic report at the end of September, arguing that cutting train service across the country would disproportionately affect low-income households in rural communities, with increased federal funding for Amtrak and passenger rail would spur growth in the same areas. 

“The report is a sharp rebuke to recent budget proposals from the White House and members of Congress that would have negatively affected the local economies for 45 percent of American taxpayers,” the group said.