AASHTO Journal

Rail Passenger Group Unveils Report Showing Economic Benefits of Amtrak Routes

In a new economic report spurred by proposals to eliminate federal funding for Amtrak's long-distance passenger trains, the National Association of Railroad Passengers argues that such action would hurt many communities in the nation's heartland.

And that same report, the association said, shows that boosting passenger rail investment would spur widespread economic growth.

"Investing in rail for the long-term should be a key priority for the next budget cycle," said NARP CEO Jim Mathews. "Those in Congress who believe that passenger rail is not profitable are mistaken. What they don't see is the big picture. A robust national – and international – intermodal transportation system is crucial to economic growth, especially in those rural and less wealthy areas where travel options are already limited."

dollarpump.jpgNARP said the report, titled "Dismantling a National Transportation Network," gives examples of the economic disparity that would result from cutting portions of the national rail network as President Trump proposed in his budget.

"For instance, household income lags the national average in blue-collar towns between Chicago and New Orleans where service would be cut," the association said. "The same is true in the long corridor from New Orleans to New York and from New York to Chicago. Conversely, the budget proposals would seek to preserve service for wealthy, populous towns along the eastern seaboard between Washington and Boston."

Mathews said: "There are 220 communities in 23 states of so-called 'flyover country' that would pay the economic price when trains disappear from their towns and cities. But, if we have the foresight to invest in middle America, the whole nation would reap the benefits."

As an example of benefits, the report says expansion of the passenger rail network brings more real estate development, as "private developers are more interested than ever in investing in public transportation hubs as catalysts."

In addition, it said that 29 percent of Amtrak's passengers currently use long-distance routes to travel to work, and 61 percent use Amtrak to travel to see family and friends.

The report also lists other ways that it says long-distance passenger rail contributes to the national and local economies. Those include direct jobs at Amtrak, which employs more than 20,000 people and buys $1.6 billion in goods and services each year. In 2014, Amtrak spent more than $800 million on station construction and improvements, and each $1 million supported 23 indirect construction jobs, NARP said.

"Real estate development, construction and jobs are just the tip of the iceberg," said Mathews. He added that rail travel brings substantial safety benefits compared with roadway travel. "If we could shift just one percent of car traffic to rails, we would save 200 lives each year," he said.

Photo / Amtrak

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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