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But in its effort to move goods, which can add time to trips, Amtrak risks alienating people. And all the cargo in the world won't make a national high-speed rail system a reality; money, and lots of it, might. So for the past few months, Amtrak has been lobbying Congress to pass a bill that would authorize it to issue $10 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help fund infrastructure in 10 federally designated corridors, from Texas to the Pacific Northwest. Critics view it as a risky scheme. "To think that we'll ever have a viable train system that will make money is crazy," says Arizona Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate transportation committee.
But is it so crazy? Like the popular Metroliner, which speeds from New York City to Washington in three hours, the Acela Express, Amtrak hopes, will grab more than 50% of the passenger traffic between New York and Boston. The initial signs are encouraging; on the Acela Regional, a slower version of the new train that started running earlier this year, ridership has increased more than 40%. Given that Acela is going up against the hated airlines and crowded roads, consumers may be willing to give it a fair shot. If Acela doesn't deliver, Amtrak won't get another.