This animated map shows what chronic underinvestment has done to America's passenger rail system over the last 40 years (via Fast Company):
Virtually every successful modern industrialized nation has a highly developed and speedy rail system - France, Japan, Spain, Germany, Italy and now China have incredibly efficient public railways, and it puts them at a huge economic and environmental advantage. They can transport people and goods extremely efficiently, saving money, fuel and in many cases, time (China's Shanghai Maglev train travels at an astonishing 268 mph - and taking into consideration the boarding and landing process of flying, this can often mean quicker journeys).
America's obsession with short term profit has led to a serious lack of investment in its infrastructure, and Amtrak is a shining example of what not to do. I took an Amtrak train from DC to New York last week, and it was like being transported back into the 1970's. The train was old and slow, and while it got me to my destination, a train in France would have travelled the same distance in half the time.
The economic advantages of having a highly developed rail system may not be apparent in the short term (people will inevitably be slow to change their habits, making profit a distant prospect) but as gas prices rise and congestion on American high ways increases, the impact of not having one become clearer and clearer.