It's the end of Amtrak as we know it

Posted by Brian Schmidt
on Sunday, February 4, 2018

The NTSB investigates the fatal Jan. 31 grade crossing collision in Crozet, Va. By photo by National Transportation Safety Board
As we learn more this Sunday morning about the overnight collision between Amtrak's Silver Star and a CSX Transportation freight, I can't help but think that the national passenger carrier is on the cusp of a major change – for better, or worse.

With three high-profile incidents in less than 60 days, Amtrak is undoubtedly under scrutiny from regulators, legislators, and host railroads. It's possible (but not likely) that none of those will be found to be Amtrak's fault; it's also possible (but again not likely) that they will all be found to be Amtrak's fault. We just don't know yet.

What those answers are will change the course of passenger rail in the U.S. Amtrak could march on with positive train control, new equipment, and expanded frequencies on non-corridor routes. Or it could be defunded and gone as a national entity in the next budget cycle.

Amtrak is consistently moving record numbers of passengers on a network that's smaller than at its inception with equipment that is often older than that it used at start-up. People want trains. The unknown here is at what cost.

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