Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
Home > Amtrak's History > Today & Tomorrow

Today & Tomorrow

Amtrak has nearly 50 years of rich American history, and we’re proud of the efforts we’ve put into intercity passenger rail service. Since beginning operations in 1971, we’ve worked ceaselessly to transform a classic form of transportation, preserving those aspects of train travel that are timeless, while modernizing those that are ripe for it. In fiscal year 2019, Amtrak carried more than 32 million customers — proving that America’s longstanding love of travel still embraces our classic and storied mode of transportation in its modern form.

Preserving the Train — and Improving It!

When Amtrak took over intercity passenger service in 1971, the infant company faced a formidable set of challenges: equipment was aging and hard-run, ridership had declined for years, and nobody knew how a tiny band of dedicated men and women could ever reinvent a nationwide network knitted together from 20 disparate services and railroads.

It wasn’t easy — but we did it. Amtrak started by sorting out its fleet, and making the bold decision to renew salvageable equipment with new electric heat and lighting systems, while ordering a whole new fleet of single-level cars capable of high-speed service, and daring bi-level cars that would provide roomy and comfortable accommodation on western routes.

In 1976, Amtrak took over most of the badly deteriorated lines between Washington, New York and Boston from the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad. To many, this was a liability, but we saw the potential inherent in a direct route that linked the population centers of the East Coast, and with a lot of hard work, we built it into a 125 m.p.h. railroad. In the 1990s, Amtrak began its program to bring high-speed rail to America with Acela Express. We rebuilt parts of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and improved the electric overhead power system so that all of our trains would be faster; and we partnered with Bombardier Transportation and Alstom to bring fast, comfortable high-speed service to the Northeast.

Today, we’re operating a national system that comprises long-distance, state-supported and Northeast Corridor services that connect communities, regions and modes of transportation across the country. We’ve partnered with 17 states through 20 agencies to provide train service around America, bringing faster and more frequent train service to destinations as varied as Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Not Just a Storied Past — A Bright Future!

We have made great strides in our nearly five decades in the railroad business. And as Amtrak grows, so does our capacity to meet national needs such as stimulating and supporting local and regional economies; contributing to national emergency response, congestion mitigation and emissions reduction; and reducing our nation’s reliance on foreign oil.

We’re not just a mode with a past — we have a bright future and an important present. Even in regions where we’re not able to provide the twice-hourly service that’s the hallmark of our NEC, we provide many Americans with an affordable and accessible intercity transportation option. Amtrak serves more than 500 communities nationwide, more than 150 of them rural; more than half of our destinations are served exclusively by our 15 national network routes.

We are determined to continue to build the equipment, infrastructure and organization needed to sustain our growing ridership and will do so by investing in critical projects that will enhance the passenger experience for years to come. We look forward to ensuring Amtrak continues to play an important role in the national transportation network for the next 50 years and beyond by providing travelers with a safe, efficient and reliable experience. To commemorate our past, celebrate our present and portray our future, our employees have put together this website that includes stories, anecdotes and memorabilia. We hope you’ll take a look. And we hope to see you on one of our trains sometime in the near future.