Today, Amtrak turns 40. This slideshow shows how passenger rail service has evolved over the decades, using maps from Malcolm Kenton and the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak replaced a much more extensive private passenger rail network that was on the decline due to massive government investment in other modes of transportation.  It has struggled at times throughout its 40-year history, and some routes have come and gone, but it’s kept valuable rail service alive.




Slideshow image

What remains of the national passenger train network, albeit skeletal compared to what it was and what it should be, exists largely thanks to the efforts of grassroots advocates who understand trains’ superior energy efficiency and the importance of having balance and choice in the American transportation system.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers organized in 1967 and built a broad coalition that lobbied successfully for the passage of the 1970 law that created Amtrak. NARP and its allies have successfully fought further contraction of the system ever since, and are now building support for long-term, dedicated federal funding for intercity passenger rail—something highways and aviation enjoy, while Amtrak has had to fight for its small share of general funds in every year’s appropriations cycle.

We've just launched our brand new website and are working out some kinks. Find something that looks like a bug? Please help out by sending us an email with the details!

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC’s NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own.