Amtrak, the UsefulNotes/{{trademark}} name of The National Passenger Railway Corporation, is the national railway of the United States. Privately-owned passenger trains in the US had always operated at a loss or barely covering costs[[note]]They were mostly intended as a loss leader to get [=CEOs=] to sign on to lucrative freight contracts and/or to make land of places served more lucrative[[/note]]. As car ownership and passenger flights exploded following UsefulNotes/WorldWarII,[[note]]In part due to massive government spending on the development of many advances in aviation for military purposes, the Interstate Highway System and other measures that benefited road and air travel while railroads still paid taxes, sometimes even taxes specifically earmarked for road or air travel[[/note]] many railroad companies were going out of business, in part because the government required them to provide passenger service. In 1969, the largest bankruptcy in history at that point was the Penn Central Railroad[[note]]A merger of two major East Coast railways, which arguably massively botched the merging process at a time when they could not afford to make any mistakes[[/note]], essentially bankrupted by money-losing passenger service, and it proceeded to get worse (more big railroads would go under) if something wasn't done.

So Congress passed a law ending this requirement and replacing it with a skeletal network that became Amtrak. It began service in May of 1971. Though ridership has rebounded enormously since then, the network is run on a [[NoBudget very small budget]], so certain priorities have to be set. It doesn't help that it is continually subject to ExecutiveMeddling from Congress, making silly mandates such as requiring Amtrak to carry guns in checked baggage (without providing any funds for lockable cabinets for said guns), as well as threats to [[WhatAnIdiot cut off funding for onboard food service]]. Then, of course, are the continual [[ArtisticLicenseEconomics demands that Amtrak somehow pay for itself]], despite no other non high speed passenger rail system in the world making a profit, and despite [[{{Hypocrite}} massive federal funding for competing highways and airports]]. Things got a bit better during the Vice-Presidency of RailEnthusiast [[UsefulNotes/JoeBiden Joe Biden]], while the increasing costs and [[OverreactingAirportSecurity general unpleasantness]] of air travel, plus highways becoming increasingly congested and in some cases, rather boring to drive (especially through flat, practically featureless farmland), resulted in Amtrak ridership numbers topping 30 million for five straight years (FY 2011-2015), breaking ridership records several times along the way. Amtrak is also famous for making GOP senators who cry for the abandonment of all rail travel shriek in horror if a closure of a line through ''their'' state is proposed. Amtrak does bring vital tourist dollars to rural areas of FlyOverCountry (for the precise reason that a train does not fly over said country) and pretty much every politician knows and acknowledges this, the only question is whether the funding for Amtrak is worth that. The answer depends highly on whose district the line runs through. The current Amtrak system map has about as much to do with politics as it does with transportation or the behavior of host railroads.

In the most heavily populated region, the Northeast, the rail system is extensive enough to rival those of Europe and includes a high-speed line. Everywhere else, it's generally slower than rail travel seventy years ago; this isn't for any technological reason, but rather largely one of power and scheduling (i.e.: the freight companies own most of the track, and often give their trains priority over Amtrak in scheduling; this results in a lot of delays outside major rail hubs like Chicago, as an Amtrak train may have to wait as much as an hour to let one or two or more freight trains pass before pulling into the station) and to some degree infrastructure (a lot of track could use some upgrades and much of it is single-track, which slows down times, and the bulk of Amtrak's equipment dates back to the 1970s-1990s, an issue that is only now being rectified with new locomotives and cars thanks to a stimulus package during the Great Recession). However, UsefulNotes/HighSpeedRail - or at least the cheap American knock off version of it - is set to be extended to other regions in the next decade (the "[[UsefulNotes/{{Chicago}} Chicago Hub]]" region--which extends from Cleveland and Detroit to Kansas City east-west and Minneapolis to Louisville north-south--has seen particularly extensive improvements to Amtrak in preparation for it). But if media depict a passenger train in the contemporary US, it will most likely be an Amtrak train. In particular, it will likely be either a ''Pacific Surfliner''[[note]]Going from San Diego to San Luis Obispo via LA[[/note]] or a ''Northeast Corridor'' train[[note]]Particularly the Acela Express, which only has first and business class (no coach) and is one of the most expensive trains in the world - but it actually makes an "above the rails" profit[[/note]], even if the setting is [[JustTrainWrong somewhere completely]] [[FlyoverCountry different.]]

Another issue Amtrak has to contend with is the fact that American rail regulations are ''very'' different from those in Europe or East Asia. While Siemens could sell its [[UsefulNotes/HighSpeedRail high speed]] "Velaro" in five moderately modified versions in Spain, Germany, China, Russia and to Eurostar with only details like the electric system or the type of legacy train control[[note]] all newly built lines use [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Train_Control_System ETCS]], but older lines aren't yet equipped with it[[/note]] changed, that train would violate several regulations in the US and would have to be adapted in such a way that it would be heavier, less fuel efficient and less likely to be allowed on European rails. This means that a) Amtrak cannot easily procure used rolling stock from Europe, even when much relatively young rolling stock of a suitable type were otherwise available[[note]]Sleeper services in Europe have been cut back a lot since the 2000s and many cars were withdrawn from service at an age below that of some parts of the Amtrak fleet - Canada for instance bought the cars intended for the [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightstar_(train) abandoned cross-Channel sleeper service]][[/note]] b) basically all trains have to be "custom built" for US needs. This means that Amtrak cannot place a common order together with another (European) railroad to lower costs and fewer manufacturers are likely to bid for a rolling stock order of Amtrak. Additionally, Amtrak never has enough cash on hand to make one big purchase (instead of several small ones), so Amtrak ends up making small orders for trains that nearly nobody manufactures and nearly nobody else can use.

'''Important Stations'''

* Penn Station, UsefulNotes/NewYorkCity is the busiest station in the United States. The original station was a beaux-arts masterpiece that was controversially demolished in 1964 to build the new Madison Square Garden, and the entire station complex is now underground. Amtrak is currently planning to move the station to the James Farley Post Office and will rename it Moynihan Station in honor of the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who created the idea of rebuilding the historic Penn Station. However, due to lack of funds and various political infighting this plan is currently stuck in DevelopmentHell, meaning the current overcrowded Penn Station will likely remain in use for quite some time to come.

* Union Station, UsefulNotes/WashingtonDC is Amtrak's headquarters, the second busiest station, and just a few blocks from the Capitol. Well known for being a tourist attraction in its own right, with beautiful architecture and many shops, not unlike New York's Grand Central Terminal. It is not uncommon for VIP's to be seem riding the train from Washington, the most notable being Delaware Senator (and former [[UsefulNotes/AmericanPoliticalSystem Vice President]]) Joe Biden, who ''never had a residence in Washington'' until he became VP, and commuted to his home in Wilmington by Amtrak for 20+ years. How did "Amtrak Joe" return home after his term was over? Why, on Amtrak of course. It has a connection to the UsefulNotes/WashingtonMetro on the latter's Red Line, as well as commuter rail service into Maryland and Virginia by way of MARC and Virginia Railway Express, respectively.

* 30th Street Station, UsefulNotes/{{Philadelphia}} is the third busiest station in the Amtrak system, as it is on the Northeast Corridor and the connection point for every train into the interior of Pennsylvania. This station, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1900s, also has connections to UsefulNotes/NewJerseyTransit to Atlantic City, as well as SEPTA's vast subway, streetcar and commuter rail network. Despite all of that, no Amtrak trains terminate here (sans two early-morning Keystone Service trains that only run from Philadelphia to Harrisburg); all Amtrak trains are through services.

* Union Station, UsefulNotes/{{Chicago}} is the fourth busiest station and the hub of the Amtrak network both in the Midwest and long distance travel in general; of the thirteen long distance routes, only five[[note]]the west coast's ''Coast Starlight'', the east coast's ''Silver Star'' and ''Silver Meteor'', and the south's ''Crescent'' and ''Sunset Limited''[[/note]] don't have Chicago as a stop, and the remaining eight all have Chicago as a terminus. Traveling across the USA by train requires a transfer here[[note]]Unless the ''Crescent'' and ''Sunset Limited'' are taken, in which case the transfer is in New Orleans[[/note]]. In more trivial information, the waiting room in this station has a working fireplace. Architecturally, Chicago Union Station is probably one of the most impressive in the US if not the world and reminds the visitor of the bygone era when most major cities had a train station almost as impressive.

* Union Station, UsefulNotes/LosAngeles is the fifth busiest station and something of an oddball. It's designed to look like a [[UsefulNotes/{{Spain}} giant mission-style church]] complete with gardens, the tracks and platforms are elevated, and it's been in a state of constant expansion since 1989. It was a major hub for [[UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfHollywood Golden Age movie stars]] and [[UsefulNotes/WorldWarII troops bound for the Pacific]], and you've seen it many times if you watched ''[[Series/TwentyFour 24]].'' It was one of the last grand "Union Statons" to be built in the US towards the tail end of the "golden age" of rail travel in the country and is one planned terminus for the new California High Speed Rail system to enter service some time in the late 2020s (the other is a yet to be constructed station in UsefulNotes/SanFrancisco).

'''Major Routes'''

* The Northeast Corridor extends from UsefulNotes/{{Boston}} to UsefulNotes/WashingtonDC, serving several major cities in the northeastern region. Itís the only fully electrified Amtrak line, and thus one can instantly tell if a picture is from the Northeast Corridor by the presence of the overhead wires. The primary service on the corridor is the ''Northeast Regional'', running from either Boston, Springfield or New York to either Washington, DC, Richmond, Newport News or Lynchburg (with an extension to Roanoke set to open in 2016). Due to the region's high population density, it is one of the few Amtrak lines that turns a profit; it and the Acela Express together generate more than half of the entire system's revenue. The route uses mostly electric equipment[[note]] except for the Virginia section of the route from Washington DC to Newport News or Lynchburg, and on the branch line from New Haven to Springfield, which are diesel-powered[[/note]]. Note that some trains that begin in Springfield require one to transfer to a train coming from Boston at New Haven to head towards points further south.

* The ''Acela Express'' is currently the closest thing to UsefulNotes/HighSpeedRail the US has, running from Boston to Washington D.C. along the Northeast Corridor. It manages to run on normal tracks by tilting the cars with hydraulics. The ride itself is very smooth and eerily quiet, though a lot slower than comparable systems in other countries -- the average speed (including stops) is only 80 miles per hour (130 km/h), only reaching its top speed of 150 miles per hour on a few stretches (240 km/h). Expect to see members of Congress from the northeast riding it to/from DC at the beginning and end of each week, or people traveling between UsefulNotes/NewYorkCity and Boston (more than half of all train and air traffic between the two cities is on Acela). On that note, its success has essentially killed commuter air shuttles on the East Coast, thanks to its speed, convenience, and lack of OverreactingAirportSecurity; Amtrak carries more people between Boston, New York, and Washington than all airlines ''combined''. On the flip side prices on the Acela are high even when compared to other high speed rail systems making a profit. A kilometer on Acela costs (on average) 53 cents, whereas the Shinkansen costs a bit over 20 cents and no European high speed train costs more than 15 (Euro)cents per kilometer. But then again, the Acela is only business and first class, with the Coach class in the Regional a lot more affordable. The fact that Amtrak can charge these kinds of prices tells you all you need to know about the airlines operating along that route.

* The ''Keystone Service'' from New York to Harrisburg via Philadelphia. There's also one train per day that goes beyond Harrisburg to UsefulNotes/{{Pittsburgh}}, which is labeled the ''Pennsylvanian''. The section between Philadelphia and Harrisburg (known as the Keystone Corridor) is Amtrak's only electrified corridor outside of the Northeast Corridor, though as with most service, electrification ends at Harrisburg.

* The Empire Corridor in New York State; the ''Empire Service'' travels between New York and Albany-Rensselaer or Niagara Falls. One train a day, labeled the ''Maple Leaf'', extends across the border to UsefulNotes/{{Toronto}}, UsefulNotes/{{Canada}}, with two hours built into the schedule for customs and immigration inspections. The scenic ''Adirondack'' travels from New York to UsefulNotes/{{Montreal}}, also crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, while the ''Ethan Allen Express'' travels from New York to Rutland, Vermont. The ''Lake Shore Limited'', one of two long distance trains that goes from New York to Chicago, has the New York branch start on the Empire Corridor until it joins the Boston branch at Albany-Rensselaer, at which point it follows the ''Empire Service'' and ''Maple Leaf'' route until the Buffalo suburb of Depew, at which point it splits to go towards Chicago.

* The ''Pacific Surfliner'' is the busiest line in the West, from San Diego to [[Film/{{Sideways}} San Luis Obispo]] by way of Los Angeles, and [[ShamelessSelfPromotion yes, tourists]], quite a lot of it runs right along the beach. Especially popular with military personnel, college students, and weekend vacationers. This is also one of the few Amtrak trains where it is not required to reserve seats in advance.

* The ''Coast Starlight'' goes from Los Angeles to Seattle. Well known for its beautiful scenery.

* The ''Capitol Corridor'' is Northern California's answer to the Pacific Surfliner, running from San Jose to Auburn (and soon to Reno) by way of Oakland and Sacramento. Amtrak notably does not reach San Francisco.[[note]]The previous train station in San Francisco was damaged by an earthquake in the eighties (which happened right during a world series game involving two Bay Area teams) and has been out of use ever since. However, the California High Speed Rail project includes a new station for San Francisco and construction is already underway[[/note]] Popular with state officials.

* The ''Auto Train'' from Lorton, Virginia (just outside Washington, DC) to Sanford, Florida (outside Orlando). It is unique in North America in that the passengers' automobiles are loaded onto special freight cars and are unloaded at their destination. It's so incredibly popular among senior citizens living in Florida for the winter that the Amtrak senior discount, despite being honored even on the premium ''Acela Express'', is invalid on the ''Auto Train''. It holds a few OverlyNarrowSuperlative type records, among them being the longest "passenger" train (if you count the parts that carry only cars) and the longest train route between two stops [[note]] While the train does make a refueling stop, you cannot board or alight there, except to have a smoke[[/note]] in the world. Also very close to making a profit, but not quite there yet. The Auto Train is the SpiritualSuccessor to a train of the same name run by a private company until 1981 when that company went bankrupt due to their other route (Louisville-Sanford) being a failure. Plans by Amtrak to offer a similar service on other routes are currently stuck in DevelopmentHell, partly because of the budget woes mentioned above.

* The ''Texas Eagle'' is one of Amtrak's thirteen long-distance routes. Of the seven trains that run from Chicago a week, four terminate in San Antonio, while the remaining three go all the way to Los Angeles. This Chicago-Los Angeles route is notable for being the longest Amtrak route in the system - the current timetable has it as 2728 miles, and the route's page on Amtrak's website tallies the recommended time for the train at over 65 hours. For contrast, the other Chicago-Los Angeles route, the ''Southwest Chief'', takes over 40 hours to cover 2265 miles.

* The Chicago Hub services include long-distance trains (''California Zephyr'' to Oakland, ''Capitol Limited'' to Washington DC, ''Southwest Chief'' to Los Angeles, ''Texas Eagle'' to San Antonio or Los Angeles depending on the day of the week, ''Lake Shore Limited'' to New York or Boston, ''Cardinal'' to New York, ''Empire Builder'' to Seattle-Portland, and ''City of New Orleans'' to guess where) as well as shorter corridor services to Milwaukee, Detroit-Pontiac-Flint, Grand Rapids, and St. Louis that are all being upgraded to higher speeds; for instance, the Chicago-Milwaukee ''Hiawatha'' covers the 86 miles in 89 minutes, including three intermediate stops and slow running in city centers.

* Finally, there are five other long-distance trains that do not stop in Chicago. In addition to the aforementioned ''Coast Starlight'' on the west coast, there is the ''Crescent'', which starts in New York and takes a southern route through Atlanta to reach New Orleans; the ''Sunset Limited'', which runs on the same days as the ''Texas Eagle'' from New Orleans to Los Angeles;[[note]]Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the Sunset Limited ran all the way to the Atlantic Coast of Florida and there are plans as of 2017 to reactivate this route for passenger service, but despite a bipartisan consensus across several affected states, the behavior of CSX (who owns the tracks) and budget woes mean it's stuck in DevelopmentHell for the time being[[/note]] and the ''Silver Star'' and ''Silver Meteor'', both of which run from New York to Miami via slightly different routes after Washington.