Born May 1st, 1971, Amtrak, also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, was formed to operate America's passenger train system. Most U.S. railroads had lost money on passenger service leading up to 1971. For many railroads, these losses threatened their financial viability, so Amtrak was formed to to ensure the continuation of passenger trains.
In October 1970, Congress passed, and President Richard Nixon signed into law, the Rail Passenger Service Act. Of the 26 railroads that still provided intercity passenger service in 1970, only six declined to join Amtrak. Nearly everyone involved expected that Amtrak would not survive. The Nixon administration and many others in Washington viewed Amtrak as a politically expedient way for the President and Congress to give passenger trains a "last hurrah" to placate the public and expected Amtrak to quietly disappear as public interest decreased. Proponents also hoped that government intervention would be brief and that Amtrak would be able to be profitable. However, neither had proved to be correct, as popular support allowed Amtrak to continue to operate longer than critics imagined, while financial results made passenger train service returning to private railroad operations not feasible. Today, Amtrak is funded annually by Congress and is dependent on this funding as well as state aid and passenger fares.
While Amtrak's route system is a mere shadow of former passenger train routes, it still operates nationwide and is heavily used on many larger city to city corridors. Check out Amtrak's routes and connections. While we've lost many famous train names and routes, you can always remember your favorite streamliners and trains by visiting our Digital Collections and checking out our many railroad and passenger train photographs, including those of one of America's premier railroad photographers, Otto Perry. See thousands of railroad photos by Mr. Perry in our Digital Collections.