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Railroads also faced antiquated work rules and inflexible relationships with trade unions.

Of the 364 trains operated previously, Amtrak only continued 182.On trains that continued, to the extent possible, schedules were retained with only minor changes from the Official Guide of the Railways, and under the same names.A Burlington Northern EMD F3 leads the North Coast Hiawatha into Yakima, Washington in July 1971, an example of early Amtrak "rainbow" consists, made up of equipment still painted in the colors of various freight cars Amtrak received no rail tracks or rights-of-way at its inception.All Amtrak's routes were continuations of prior service, although Amtrak pruned about half the passenger rail network.The federal government passed the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 to fund pilot programs in the Northeast Corridor, but this did nothing to address passenger deficits.

In late 1969 multiple proposals emerged in Congress, including equipment subsidies, route subsidies, and, lastly, a "quasi-public corporation" to take over the operation of intercity passenger trains.

This rolling stock, which for the most part still bore the pre-Amtrak colors and logos, formed the multi-colored consists of early Amtrak trains.

By mid-1971, Amtrak began purchasing some of the equipment it had leased, including 286 second-hand locomotives (of the EMD E and F types), 30 GG1 electric locomotives and 1,290 passenger cars, and continued leasing even more motive power.

Matters were brought to a head on March 5, 1970, when the Penn Central, the largest railroad in the Northeast United States and teetering on bankruptcy, filed to discontinue 34 of its passenger trains.

In October 1970, Congress passed, and President Richard Nixon signed into law, the Rail Passenger Service Act.

They expected Amtrak to quietly disappear as public interest waned.