Forty-one of Amtrak’s 44 routes lost money in 2008 and on average the railroad lost $32 per passenger, according to Pew’s Subsidyscope.
However, that average doesn’t show the vast range for Amtrak’s money-losing routes. Losses ranged from $5 to $462 per passenger, said Subsidyscope.
The line with the highest per passenger subsidy—the Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles—carried almost 72,000 passengers last year. The California Zephyr, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco, had the second-highest per passenger subsidy of $193 and carried nearly 353,000 passengers in 2008. Pew’s analysis indicates that the average loss per passenger on all 44 of Amtrak’s lines was $32, about four times what the loss would be using Amtrak’s figures: only $8 per passenger. (Amtrak uses a different method for calculating route performance).
The Northeast Corridor line—think Washington D.C. to Philly to New York to Boston—carried 10.9 million people in 2008 and the Acela Express made a $41 per passenger profit. The Northeast Regional, the cheaper and more popular service, lost $5 per passenger.
The AP quotes one transportation wonk who notes that other forms of transportation also lose money, but the question remains. Should that taxpayer have a say in what routes Amtrak runs? And is subsidized rail travel a worthy cause?