Amtrak's Side Projects

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Amtrak has branched out into other businesses to try to improve its bottom line:

--Mail & Express: In freight cars attached to passenger trains, Amtrak carries periodicals, first-class mail and dry freight. It also accepts small packages for express delivery. In a partnership with ExpressTrak Inc. of Michigan, Amtrak has ordered 110 refrigerated train cars to carry perishable goods.

--Commuter services: Under contracts with state and regional authorities, Amtrak performs operations and/or maintenance for eight commuter railroads in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington. Amtrak earns $275 million each year from the commuter arrangements.

--Real estate development: Amtrak plans to build an office tower or hotel near 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and will make an announcement in August concerning a project near Penn Station in Baltimore, said Sally Bellet, vice president for real estate development. Amtrak also is weighing development around its station in Chicago.

--Station services: Under agreements with various companies, Amtrak has put more advertising, shops, pay telephones and cash-dispensing machines in stations.

-- Telecommunications: Ever since AT&T installed a duct in the 1930s, the Washington-to-Boston train route has doubled as a conduit for communications cable. Extra fiber was added in the mid-1990s and Amtrak sells it to telecommunications companies. The railway also sells rights to install antennas on its property. Revenue from telecommunications is expected to top $33 million this year.

-- Credit cards: In 1999 Amtrak paired with Capital One to offer a Visa card that allows users to earn points toward reduced fares. Amtrak gets a commission for each referral and a percentage of revenues earned through purchases. Amtrak is phasing out that partnership and is creating a similar arrangement with MBNA America Bank.

-- Merchandise: Amtrak T-shirts, picture frames, cookie jars and volleyballs are sold through brochures, on Amtrak's corporate Web site and at a handful of stores, including Barbara's Best Sellers at Boston's South Street Station. Last year Amtrak hired Deborah Varnado, then the director of marketing at Coca-Cola, to be its first director of merchandising.