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1970s--The Journey Forward

Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 creates Amtrak

As the result of the nation’s reliance on automobiles and increasing popularity of airplane travel that led to the declining use of passenger trains, Congress passed the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970. This legislation established the National Railroad Passenger Corporation to take over the intercity passenger rail service that had been operated by private railroads. Amtrak began service on May 1, 1971 serving 43 states with a total of 21 routes.

The challenges Amtrak faced in its first decade were diverse and complex. The new company had to create and operate a refined route system; establish an organizational framework; hire and train employees; upgrade and standardize rolling stock and station facilities acquired from predecessor railroads; develop designs for, and order, modern rail cars and locomotives; institute a comprehensive national reservations system; and craft an advertising campaign to inform the public about its services.

Amtrak placed orders for new locomotives and passenger cars that replaced much of its inherited Heritage equipment. It also began overhauling and converting the remaining Heritage cars from conventional steam heat to Head End Power, the system used on Amtrak’s new equipment to provide heating, cooling and electricity.

In 1976, Amtrak acquired the majority of the multi-track Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston and began the $2.5 billion Northeast Corridor Improvement Project to renew and upgrade the corridor with the goal of reducing trip time.

As the decade closed, Amtrak discontinued service on several significant routes throughout the country as part of a restructuring plan required by Congress.

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