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The number of miles that Americans are covering in airplanes has risen sharply since 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Bus travel has also picked up in recent years as more companies entered the U.S. market. Even though the total number of miles travelled by Americans has increased, miles travelled on the train have remained almost stagnant in the last decades, likely because of high prices and too few connections on the Amtrak network, which is celebrating 50 years of service today.
U.S. President Joe Biden – who as a senator used to frequent the Amtrak connection between his home state of Delaware and Washington D.C. – is in Philadephia today to mark the anniversary. Yet, Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan might be much more interesting to the company and its ridership than the symbolic act to remember the start of the Amtrak network in May 1971. Out of the $2.3 trillion bill that was unveiled at the end of March, $80 billion would be earmarked for Amtrak. Much of the spending would flow into repairing and improving existing parts of the network, however, instead of trying to introduce extensive high-speed train coverage.
According to Aljazeera, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg still called a U.S. high-speed rail network a “no-brainer”, but considering the limits of the existing U.S. rail system, it’s baby steps for now. Amtrak is planning to introduce the next generation of its high-speed train, the Acela, later this year, but the train type will remain limited to Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington D.C.
Meanwhile, individual road transport is still the major way for Americans to get around. In 2019, the latest year on record, cars, trucks and motorcycles clocked in around 5.2 trillion passenger miles (miles traveled per vehicle multiplied by number of passengers). The number has been consistently high since the 1990s, but no comparable long-term figures exist.
This chart shows passenger miles travelled in the U.S. on mass transit since 1960.
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