These pages deal with the contiguous United States of America, namely 48 states and the District of Columbia. For the remaining states, and other areas of particular railway interest, see the Main Index.
From the early days, most railways in the USA carried both passenger and freight. However by the 1960s, with improving road transport and most importantly with the advent of readily available domestic air travel, rail passenger traffic was in a state of general decline throughout the country.
Recognising the economic and social importance of the continuance of a viable national passenger train network, in 1970 the US Government launched the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. This company, in which the Government was to be a majority shareholder, offered to take over the running of the loss making long distance passenger services of the few companies that were still operating such services at that time. Of 26 railroad companies that were eligible, 20 took up the offer, and the new company began operations in May, 1971, with the trading name of Amtrak.
Within a few years, the remaining railroads had transferred their operations to Amtrak, leaving the company with an effective monopoly of long distance rail travel in the contiguous United States. Since that time various services have been discontinued and others added (including several to destinations in Canada), but Amtrak has retained its unique position in the North American travel market. At the outset, unprofitable services were supported by federal subsidy. In recent years, subsidies have been reduced or withdrawn. This has led to the closure of some services, while others continue with state funded support. In one instance, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) contracted operation of the Hoosier State service between Chicago and Indianapolis to an independent operator, while the service was still marketed as part of the Amtrak network. This arrangement lasted for less than two years from 2015 to 2017, when the operation was returned to Amtrak.
Regional and commuter passenger services generally followed a different historical path from that taken by the long distance services. Commuter and long distance services alike were for the most part unprofitable by the 1960s. But in the case of the commuter lines, support came mainly from State and municipal authorities. These services are now operated by various companies under contract to those authorities; in some cases Amtrak is the contracted operator, although the individual services generally operate under their own trading names. See Regional and Commuter Passenger Carriers.
Various proposals for High Speed rail passenger links are being examined. These are generally State sponsored under Federal initiatives. Trains operated on these lines in future could be operated by Amtrak or by other companies set up for the purpose. See High Speed Rail.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook