2012 a record year for Amtrak

Ashley Halsey III / The Washington Post /

Published Mar 2, 2013 at 04:00AM

WASHINGTON — Perhaps sparked by highway congestion or the hassle of air travel, Amtrak’s passenger rail service has been the nation’s fastest growing mode of transportation, according to a new report that urges Congress to push forward with a coordinated national rail plan.

The government-subsidized railway carried a record 31.2 million people last year, a 55 percent increase since 1997, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.

The study, released on Friday, came a day after congressional leaders said they planned to craft a major funding reauthorization for railroads later this year.

Amtrak turns a profit on only four of its more than 40 routes, the study showed, all of them in the Northeast corridor, a shortcoming that raised the hackles of some Republicans in the last Congress.

For more than a year, Rep. John Mica, R.-Fla., then chairman of the House Transportation Committee, repeatedly called Amtrak a “Soviet-style railroad” before relenting to concede that it might be acceptable if only it could turn a profit. He suggested selling off the Northeast corridor service to private firms.

Mica’s successor as chair of the influential committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R.-Pa., struck a more conciliatory tone in a speech to state transportation officials on Thursday.

“I think there’s a need for passenger rail in this country,” Shuster told The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, suggesting that Amtrak needed to “get closer to break even.”