Intercity Passenger Rail: Highlights of GAO Report on Need for National Policy and Strategies to Maximize Public Benefits from Federal Expenditures

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Correspondence issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "The future of intercity passenger rail service in the United States has come to a critical juncture. The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) continues to rely heavily on federal subsidies--over $1 billion annually in recent years--and operating losses have remained high. In addition, Amtrak will require billions of dollars to address deferred maintenance and achieve a "state of good repair." These needs for Amtrak come at a time when the nation faces long-term fiscal challenges. As we reported in February 2005, the federal government's financial condition and long-term ... continued below

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United States. Government Accountability Office. January 18, 2007.

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Correspondence issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "The future of intercity passenger rail service in the United States has come to a critical juncture. The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) continues to rely heavily on federal subsidies--over $1 billion annually in recent years--and operating losses have remained high. In addition, Amtrak will require billions of dollars to address deferred maintenance and achieve a "state of good repair." These needs for Amtrak come at a time when the nation faces long-term fiscal challenges. As we reported in February 2005, the federal government's financial condition and long-term fiscal outlook present enormous challenges to the nation's ability to respond to emerging forces reshaping American society, the United States' place in the world, and the future role of the federal government. Addressing the projected fiscal gaps will require policy makers to examine the affordability and sustainability of all existing programs, policies, functions, and activities throughout the federal budget. Reexamining the federal role and expenditures on intercity passenger rail service will be particularly difficult because opinions differ about what this service should be. Some advocate a greatly expanded federal role and the expansion of intercity passenger rail to relieve growing congestion on highways and airways and (as energy prices increase) to provide more fuel-efficient transport; others believe the federal role should be scaled back, and that at least some federal operating subsidies should be eliminated. Specific proposals vary--while one proposal would keep Amtrak largely intact and provide more funding for capital and other improvements, another proposal would significantly restructure the management and accountability for intercity passenger rail with regional, state, and local entities making fundamental decisions about what intercity passenger rail services are justified and will receive public financial support. Amtrak itself has proposed a new vision for intercity passenger rail service that would include a greater role for states in planning and developing passenger rail corridors. The former acting president of Amtrak told us that, in his view, Amtrak itself is not a substitute for a national intercity passenger rail policy and that Congress needs to develop such a policy. One of the primary difficulties in reexamining the federal role and expenditures on intercity passenger rail service and developing a clear national intercity passenger rail policy will be reconciling the wide diversity of views about what this service should be and what it should achieve. On November 13, 2006, we issued our most recent report on intercity passenger rail. The objectives of this report were to determine: (1) the characteristics of the current U.S. intercity passenger rail system and the potential benefits obtained from this system, (2) foreign experiences with passenger rail reform and observations for the United States, (3) how well the United States is positioned for reforming its intercity passenger rail system, (4) challenges the United States faces in overcoming obstacles to reform, and (5) potential options for the future of intercity passenger rail service."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • January 18, 2007

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  • June 12, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

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United States. Government Accountability Office. Intercity Passenger Rail: Highlights of GAO Report on Need for National Policy and Strategies to Maximize Public Benefits from Federal Expenditures, text, January 18, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc301236/: accessed October 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.