REVERSING a 25-year policy of cutting costs, US national passenger operator Amtrak announced an aggressive expansion plan on February 29. President & CEO George Warrington admitted that the previous policy had backfired: ’the amount of revenue we lost exceeded the amount we saved.’

Intended to boost profits by $65m a year, the Network Growth Strategy is largely driven by the mail and parcels business. An airline-style hub-and-spoke network will give twice as many routes for time-sensitive cargo, and Amtrak plans to buy or lease up to 4000 boxcars and RoadRailers.

Over the next three years, starting with the May timetable change, Amtrak plans to develop 14 routes, increasing ridership by 7% and passenger-km by 26%. Fort Worth will become a major southern hub, with trains to Chicago, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and possibly to Monterrey in Mexico. New services will link Chicago with Toronto, Des Moines, Fond du Lac, Janesville and Louisville. Overnight trains between New York and Chicago will be doubled, with a new service via Pittsburgh and another via Buffalo and Detroit. The Chicago - Dallas - Los Angeles service will become daily, connecting at Fort Worth with the Sunset Limited, re-routed between Houston and El Paso.

The New York - Florida corridor will be expanded, with some trains returning to the Florida East Coast route south of Jacksonville. A portion of the New York - New Orleans Crescent will run from Meridian, Mississippi, to Fort Worth, conveying premium freight between Atlanta and Dallas.

A luxury land cruise train linking New York to Los Angeles in just 58h will start in 2002. Running via Pittsburgh and Albuquerque with eight intermediate stops, this will also convey premium-rate parcels.

H Following appeals from the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, the Amtrak Reform Council has agreed to exclude depreciation charges worth around $567m a year from operating costs when determining whether the railway can end its reliance on government subsidies. The senators felt that a report by the council in January (RG 3.00 p133) set ’an unfair standard’ that would make it nearly impossible for Amtrak to meet its goal.