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.
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.