Amtrak Ridership Continues to Rise
At some point it should become screamingly clear to the American news media that people love passenger trains and will ride them regularly if only given a chance. The latest record-setting Amtrak ridership stats tell the story:
Amtrak ridership increased in the first half of FY 2013 (Oct. 2012 – March 2013) and March set a record as the single best month ever in the history of America’s Railroad. In addition, October, December, and January each set individual monthly records.
Rebounding strongly from service disruptions caused by Superstorm Sandy and other severe weather, Amtrak ridership grew 0.9 percent in the first six months of FY 2013 as compared to the same period the prior year. In all, 26 of 45 routes posted ridership increases and Amtrak expects to end the fiscal year at or above last year’s record of 31.2 million passengers.
Among the routes with the biggest ridership gains were the Coast Starlight (up 10%) and the San Joaquin (8.9%), indicating high demand for trains on key north-south routes in California.
One of the drivers of this increase is a long-term shift in rider preferences. For shorter trips, rail is becoming the mode of choice, according to Brookings:
A recent Brookings Institution report found that on shorter trips, passengers are shifting to rail. That’s partly because airlines are scaling back on short haul flights, which aren’t as profitable for carriers.
All of that means Amtrak has been slowly but steadily gaining travelers who used to fly, especially on the Northeast corridor.
All of this is solid evidence that people will ride passenger trains if you give them the chance to do so, especially on the short-haul routes of the very kind that California high speed rail will serve. We can now say, with certainty, that any claim that HSR will struggle to get riders is complete nonsense that flies in the face of the evidence.