The National Passenger Railroad Corporation, famously known as Amtrak, was formed in 1971 to “rescue” the last surviving passenger services in operation in the United States.
By the late 1960s, in fact, due to the competition from airliners and the private automobile, passenger trains in the US were running nearly empty, and due to the fact that they were being operated with dilapdated and obsolete rolling stock, togheter with dilapdated stations and infrastructure (neither of wich contributed to increase the “attractiveness” of the services) it was widely tought that passenger services on US railroads would soon come to an end, as the nearly-bankrupt private companies operating them were looking to get rid of as much expenses as possible.
Thus, in 1970, the US Congress stepped in with the creation of the Rail Passenger Service Act, wich created a pubblicly-owned “National Passenger Railroad Corporation” to consolidate passenger rail operations in a single body, with the new company beginning operations on the 1st of May 1971, branded as “Amtrak”.
Originally, Amtrak inherited only the obsolete passenger cars and the equally obsolete locomotives (anything from the GG1s electrics of the 1930s to the E8 diesels of the 1950s), but not the tracks or right-of-way themselves, as those remained under the ownership of the private freight railroads, only inheriting the electrified North-East Corridor (Boston to Washington D.C. via New York and Philadelphia) from Conrail in 1976.
After copious investments for the purchase of modern rolling stock and the refurbishment of stations and other long-neglected passenger infrastructure, by the 1980s the service quality of Amtrak increased dramatically (and so did ridership), and in 2000, the Acela Express, the US’s first High-Speed train, began operating on the North-East Corridor.
As of today, Amtrak operates coast-to-coast on 44 routes covering 21400 miles (34400 Km), connecting almost any major city in the US, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami and New Orleans.
However, Amtrak is still far from profitable, as outside the NEC, ridership remains fairly low. Furthemore, Amtrak still only owns the trackage of the NEC, while for all the other routes, the company has to pay an hefty usage fee to the “host” freight railroads, wich prioritize their own freight trains over Amtrak ones, something wich often leads to long delays and an unreliable service. Furthemore, there are still states, such as Wyoming and South Dakota (plus Alaska and Hawaii, for obvious reasons), without any Amtrak services.
Depsite that, in more recent times, Amtrak situation has been gradually improving, and with great plans being made, the future looks rosy for the “National Passenger Railroad Corporation”.
Electric Multiple Units