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The History and Politics
of a National Railroad
by David C. Nice

About the Book (from page 119): David Nice reviews the circumstances, expectations, and politics that led to the creation of a national passenger rail system out of what had been a myriad of struggling private services.

The book begins with a discussion of the various challenges that Amtrak faced when it was developed over twenty years ago. Nice covers the complex politics behind decisions about the reach and frequency of Amtrak service, as well as the fiscal issues involved in the railroad's continuing attempts to modernize its equipment. He examines the different roles of U.S. national and state governments in subsidizing Amtrak; the factors that have contributed to the wide, year-to-year variance in the system's ridership and financial performance; and the uneven results of Amtrak's experiments with international service. Noting that the system faces continued criticism and threat from a variety of sources, Nice concludes with an evaluation of how Amtrak fits with the nation's overall transportation needs.

David C. Nice is professor of political science at Washington State Univeristy. He is author of Policy Innovation in State Government and Federalism: The Politics of Intergovernmental Relations.

Steve Grande's note: This is a thin 119 page hardcover book, but it appears to be full of data and analysis about Amtrak. A brief look at the final conclusions seem to place this book in the "pro-Amtrak" camp in regards to Amtrak's continued existence. From the summary, I would assume it also contains a number of criticisms of Amtrak with data to back up those criticisms.

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This book is a handy resource of facts and figures regardless of your point of view about passenger rail travel. The book contains extensive references to back up its sources of information. I'd recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this book if you are interested in the historical and political forces that shaped Amtrak and how these forces may continue to influence the future of Amtrak.

"Perhaps the most striking example of differential subsidies occurred during the Great Depression, when the owners of nearly one-third of the nation's rail mileage were simultaneously filing for bankruptcy. ... At one point during the Depression, net subsidies covered nearly two-thirds of the entire cost of highway programs. If the railroads had received comparable help, they would have been in a much better position to attract and retain passenger traffic."

"A number of railroads did receive substantial subsidies, including land grants, cash gifts, and loan guarantees, when much of the nation's rail system was originally built. However, these subsidies were largely repaid through discounts that the recipient firms provided for shipment of government goods and for troop movements. In contrast, there is no serious movement among public policymakers to require comparable repayment of the subsidies given to road or air transportation." (page 4)

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