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Amtrak ridership breaks 10th record in 11 years

Amtrak ridership breaks 10th record in 11 years

You might have noticed that a number of my recent blog posts have reached a similar conclusion:  that rail deserves a predictable and reliable federal funding stream.  The most recent news supporting this comes from Amtrak, which recently announced their 10th annual ridership record in 11 years.  Amtrak carried 31.6 million passengers in Fiscal Year 2013.  And as you can see from this chart below, the railroad’s ridership has grown more than 50 percent since 2000.

Amtrak Ridership Growth chart

Today, Amtrak’s ridership is growing faster than any major travel mode.  A recent Brookings Institution report noted that the growth in Amtrak ridership is growing significantly faster than ridership growth in domestic aviation.

And, Amtrak’s ridership growth is not centered in one part of the country, but in more than 500 communities across America.  Furthermore, ridership is growing across all regions. While ridership for state-supported services grew to a record 15.4 million passengers, long distance routes experienced their best ridership in 20 years.  And in spite of service disruptions caused by Superstorm Sandy, Northeast Corridor services had their second-best year ever. 

Other highlights from Fiscal Year 2013? How about eight individual monthly ridership records, the single best ridership month in Amtrak history, new ridership records on 20 routes, and record ticket revenue of $2.1 billion.

The key now is to continue investing in passenger rail service that is safer, faster, more reliable, and more frequent.

We’re already seeing how travelers are responding well to service improvements. In Illinois and Michigan, for example, we have invested in service that is faster --reaching speeds of 110 MPH-- and more reliable, and in new trains and stations that are more modern and comfortable.  And riders are already responding well to the initial improvements:  with 2013 ridership up 4 percent in Michigan and up close to 10 percent between Chicago and St. Louis.

Our investments are also making a big impact in New England.  Ridership on Amtrak’s Downeaster connecting Boston to Brunswick, Maine is up 123 percent since 2005.  But since we invested in extending service north of Portland to Brunswick, the number of people using the train for tourism increased 30 percent, which has the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority considering adding more daily roundtrips.  

Rail’s renaissance shows us the time has come to put rail on par with other forms of transportation.  Dedicated and predictable rail funding will lead us to a more balanced transportation network capable of moving 100 million additional people by 2050 and sustaining long-term economic growth.  And with record numbers of Americans looking for alternatives to clogged highways and airports, making a long-term commitment to a high-performing rail network – similar to how we built the Interstate Highway System – is simply what the American people deserve.

Joe Szabo is Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

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The above comment by John Glennon contains nearly every misleading trope about train travel in this country. The optimum use of trains on American geography is regional, not transcontinental (although good regional systems will eventually link together to form a more viable national network). Train trips of under 3 hours will be competitive against any other mode of transportation along the same route. With enough choices in service, trains will in fact be the most popular mode of travel in that time frame. As the network improves and travel times decrease, train routes become even more competitive against car and air travel. The highway system is already overburdened and is an environmental disaster. That system cannot absorb increased capacity without major financial, land, and environmental sacrifices, and even if it could it would have nowhere near the capacity or efficiency that a good rail system could provide. Airlines, which are also not "door-to-door" (and in fact located much farther from anyone's "door"), are even more inefficient. Both of these modes of travel (road and air) are destined to become less and less efficient and more and more unpleasant as fuel prices continue to increase.

I live in the Memphis metro area and although we have very limited (City of New Orleans) Amtrak service we have no east west service. A route along the i-40 corridor would be greatly appreciated. Currently going west requires going to New Orleans- way south or St Louis- way north. Many of the Amtrak routes were defined by the needs of the steam era and were filtered by the economics of the early 1970s when Amtrak was birthed from the remains of the private passenger rail market. When was the last time a detailed study was made of the feasibility of Adding routes since the nation's population has shifted so greatly in the 40+ years Amtrak has been operating.

hello i think What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America. Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here. In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next: a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. So it's being done; it's just not being done here. There's no reason why we can't do this. This is America. There's no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system –- and everybody stands to benefit.

I find it unlikely that trains will be having a renaissance anytime soon. Trains are not effective in most areas of the country where there is not enough population density to support the high cost of putting in and maintaining a rail network. Trains are also not a door to door form of transportation, leaving people to rely on public transit once they get to their destination. Instead of insisting on more subsidies for passenger trains, DOT should be focusing on making sure critical infrastructure such as the interstate highway system and freight traffic is moving efficiently and promoting the use of user fees (such as tolls) to make sure that funding is sustainable.

My son and I take Amtrak from NY to DC every Thanksgiving and it is a wonderful experience. No traffic and no worries of flight delays. We enjoy the ride as we whiz by all of the red tail lights on the highways.

Then why don't YOU in the NORTHEAST pay for your own service instead of saddling the entire country's taxpayers with it...especially since YOU in the NORTHEAST no longer pay for California's trains, or Washington/Oregon's, or Illinois's, or Michigan's? PAY FOR YOUR OWN, you leeches!

More cars are needed for long distance trains, to improve their ability to carry more people so increase their revenue. At present a lot of people cannot ride because of lack of seats and beds. Also to convert the three weekly trains to daily operation, as that will reduce operating costs, as the stations cost will be shared among more trains, and passenger numbers will inrcrease a lot.

Absolutely! Although traveling by rail takes longer, Amtrak trains especially are much more comfortable and luxurious than commercial airlines. I can easily see how trains are becoming more popular for tourism in New England, and could see it increasing more during the fall foliage season. And if Amtrak ridership is really increasing more than any other transportation, federal funding could help it increase even further.
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