Another year, another
record-breaking year for Amtrak ridership.
At least that’s what trends in the first six months of fiscal year 2012
indicate, with passenger counts up 3.7 percent in the over the same period last
year. FY 2011 holds the current record,
with 30.2 million passengers.
Amtrak is reporting that all its business lines are seeing
an increase in the numbers of passengers, with Northeast Corridor up 5.2
percent, long-distance trains up 3.0 percent and state-supported and other
short-distance routes up 2.7 percent. While
these trends indicate that Amtrak will set its ninth ridership record in ten
years, President & CEO Joe Boardman isn’t satisfied just yet, using the
numbers as an opportunity to speak about the vital necessity of working now to increase capacity in America’s
passenger rail network.
“Amtrak achieving ridership records is important, but it is
more critical that the right infrastructure be in place to continue this trend
in the years to come and to provide safe, efficient and reliable rail
transportation for all current and future passengers,” said Boardman. “To do
this in the Northeast, we must advance our proposed Gateway Program, as it is
essential for the future growth and economic development of the entire region.”
The Gateway Project is the plan to construct new tunnels
under the Hudson River into New York City
new bridges over the Hackensack
a short distance to
the west. The existing, 100-year old
tunnels currently constitute the biggest bottleneck on the entire Northeast
Corridor, particularly as one of the two tunnels is out of service on
weekends. New tunnels are desperately
The Gateway Project was developed after New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie (R) to kill plans to build a second pair of Hudson River
tunnels, which would have served only New Jersey Transit trains and would not
have served New York
Penn Station. Christie was concerned
about the costs to New Jersey
and cited lack of connection to Amtrak’s network (a Government Accountability
Office report released this week has called
the cost assumption into question
"If we don't get our infrastructure improved, we're
going to have problems growing anything in the Northeast," Boardman told
reporters this week
. "We're out
of space—in the tunnels, on the tracks, in Penn Station… There has to be a
change in the attitude and discussion about transportation in this country [and
the role trains play in moving people].”
The funding outlined is a
minimum. It does not address the system
expansion that we envision. It does not
address the desperate need for new rolling stock – both to expand capacity and to deal with the aging of Amtrak’s fleet. It is good that Amtrak already has ordered
cars from CAF-USA which will replace the 1950s baggage and dining cars as well
as increase capacity on Eastern long-distance trains. However, we must begin to address the aging
of equipment that Amtrak purchased in its early years – including the
Superliners that have been the workhorse of the long-distance fleet for over
three decades – as well as provide for expansion of capacity on Superliner
Specific ridership highlights include (all increases in
reference to FY 2011 compared with FY 2010, unless otherwise indicated):
- Northeast and Southeast: there was an 8.2 percent increase on the Northeast Corridor (Washington, D.C. to Boston), Amtrak’s most heavily traveled line. The Keystone Service (New York – Philadelphia – Harrisburg) also saw significant growth, with a 4.0 percent uptick in passengers. The Ethan Allen (New York – Rutland, Vt.) is up 9.0 percent, due in large part to improved quality of service flowing out from High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program upgrades made to the corridor. In New York, the Adirondack (New York – Montreal) is up 5.5 percent, and the Empire Service (New York – Albany) is up 3.6 percent. The Downeaster (Boston – Portland) is up 3.3 percent. Amtrak’s Virginia services continue to post massive gains, with Washington – Lynchburg up 27.4 percent and Washington – Newport News up 16.0 percent. The Piedmont (Raleigh – Charlotte) is up 15.1 percent.
- Long-distance routes: A number of Amtrak’s long-distance routes saw ridership growth. There was a 6.6 percent increase on the Empire Builder (Chicago – Seattle/Portland), a 5.7 percent increase on the Coast Starlight (Los Angeles – Seattle), a 5.5 percent increase on the City of New Orleans (Chicago – New Orleans), a 3.5 percent increase on the Silver Star (New York – Raleigh – Tampa – Miami), a 3.3 percent increase on the Crescent (New York – New Orleans), and a 3.2 percent increase on the Southwest Chief (Chicago – Los Angeles).
- Midwest: the Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City – Fort Worth) led the way, with a 10.6 percent increase in ridership. It was followed closely by the Lincoln Service (Chicago-St. Louis), which saw a 10 percent increase in the number of passengers carried.
- West and Pacific Northwest: California had a strong first six months, with the San Joaquin (Sacramento-Oakland-Bakersfield) seeing 11.5 percent more riders, and the Capitol Corridor (San Jose – Oakland – Sacramento – Auburn) up 6.7 percent. After a number of years of significant growth, the Amtrak Cascades (Vancouver, B.C. – Seattle – Portland – Eugene) finally came back to earth with only a half a percentage point increase; this could be due in large part to mudslides, caused by unusually heavy rains, forcing many of the trains to be delayed or canceled entirely.
If you've ever been
to the NARP website before, you’ll notice it has a much different look. Last year, NARP obtained a grant from the
Sally Mead Hands Foundation to upgrade our site; what you're looking at is the
product of a year's worth of hard work.
We’ve kept all the popular features, such as the Hotline and
Blog—and made them more prominent, so it'll be easier to tell when they've been
updated. But we’ve also added some new
features we think will prove popular—and they're accessible at any time in the
new navigation menu located across the top of the site.
Amtrak yesterday announced that it met with BNSF Railway
officials and with representatives from communities along the Southwest Chief’s
route to discuss the issue of preserving passenger train service in Kansas, Colorado and New
Amtrak’s statement provides insight into the content of the
In the meeting, Amtrak explained
how changing freight traffic patterns mean BNSF's remaining needs can be met
with lower track speeds, making the line unsuitable for through passenger
service. Funding to maintain and improve
track will be needed in coming years in order for the Southwest Chief to
continue to serve the current route.
Several ideas for funding and
public action were discussed by Amtrak and BNSF. Both railroads are committed
to work with the affected communities to find a solution to the issue, with
Amtrak and BNSF both saying the current route is the best for the Southwest
Chief. Many communities and others have
made investments in their stations and in otherwise supporting the service –
and those efforts are recognized and appreciated.
Amtrak did not hide the urgency of the situation,
however—political and financial commitments will need to be made no later than
2014. Failing that, Amtrak will have until 2016 to preserve the service
in any form, rerouting the train south between Newton
, and Albuquerque, New Mexico
. As with the effort to save the present route,
funding also is not guaranteed to accomplish the reroute.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood congratulated
the Northern Flyer Alliance today on the
successful symposium they held in Kansas
City on Friday, April 6. He wrote in the U.S. DOT Fastlane blog
The Northern Flyer Alliance
is a group
of 49 cities, 6 counties, and 19 Chambers of Commerce from Kansas City to Fort
Worth that have joined together to promote passenger rail in their communities
and in the tri-state region that includes Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
, and Oklahoma
understand the threefold
value of rail: as a job creator, as an engine of growth, and as a means of
sustaining economic competitiveness. They've seen communities like Brunswick
] and Normal
leverage the opportunity passenger rail offers, and they are ready to bring
those benefits home to their own residents and businesses.
Featured speaker Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo
said, “I am pleased to see the planning work currently taking place in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, proving that
strong, long-term planning leads to the creation of a market-driven rail plan
that benefits communities throughout the corridor.”
NARP President Ross Capon also spoke. He highlighted the efforts of North Carolina, the importance of the Empire Builder to Montana as reflected in US DOT and Montana
DOT reports, and the importance of the Texas Transportation Institute’s new
focus on passenger trains—including reports on the Heartland Flyer and Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawathas states. Other
speakers included state and local officials and Midwest High Speed Rail
Executive Director and NARP Board Member Rick Harnish. Also, Prof. Wally Meyer of the University of
Kansas School of Business reported on the economic benefits of reconnecting Kansas City and Fort Worth
via Oklahoma City
as discovered in a report by students and consultants.
The revised plan cuts the total price to connect Los Angeles
by about a third, from $98.5 billion down to
$68.4 billion. The authority was able to
achieve this reduction through a blended approach in the metropolitan endpoints
of the line, which will now rely on existing, conventional speed
infrastructure. Touting a “building
block” implementation in the new plan, CAHSRA is emphasizing that each of the
construction phases will have independent utility. California
will be able to reassess the project’s progress at multiple points over the
next two decades, while still reaping the benefits of each block.
“We now stand poised to have an operational high-speed
passenger rail system within ten years,” said CAHSRA Board Member Mike Rossi.
“By working with community leaders throughout the state we will begin
construction soon on a smarter, more cost-effective transportation option for
all Californians that reflects the direction mandated by voters in 2008 with
the passage of Proposition 1A.”
Local leaders from communities along the route showed up to
advocate for the adoption of the plan.
“I hope to see, in the near future, trains pulling through
all the way from Los Angeles
to the Central
Valley, through Silicon Valley to San
’s Transbay Terminal, which we believe to be
the Grand Central Station of the West,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee,
speaking before the Board yesterday in favor of the new business plan.
The new plan was adopted, with one amendment: CAHSRA has
agreed to work with transportation agencies in Orange
to identify cost-effective ways
to enable a one-seat ride to and from Anaheim
focusing on solutions that will cost less and be less intrusive than a
Authority Board Chair Dan Richard compared the controversy over
the high-speed train to the fight that broke out over the construction of the
(now popular) Bay Area Rapid Transit system in the Bay Area. “This project will have a similar impact and
people will look back and say, 'Thank God they did it,'" said Richard.
transportation leaders joined Michigan
Congressmen on April 10 to break ground on a new $28.2 million intermodal train
and bus station. Served by Amtrak’s Wolverine train, the project will reenergize
by increasing transportation connectivity throughout the region, and
encouraging rail oriented development.
The new intermodal station will replace two existing passenger
rail facilities with a modern, pedestrian-friendly station in West Downtown Dearborn. In addition to local residents and business
travelers, the station will serve students at the University
and Henry Ford
. The intermodal facility will also be
connected, via a new pedestrian overpass, to the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield
Village—an attraction which draws 1.7 million visitors each year.
Joined by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Congressman John
Dingell (D-MI), U.S. Department of transportation officials were there to talk
about the benefits the new, federally-funded intermodal station will bring to
“This new Intermodal Station will serve as Dearborn
’s gateway to a modern 110 mile per
hour regional passenger rail system,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph
Szabo. “By 2015, nearly 80 percent of
the Chicago-Detroit corridor will see sustained speeds of 110 MPH – with all
new high-performance equipment – allowing travelers to check email, read or
relax while speeding past cars on the interstate. This new facility will provide seamless
connections from rail to other transportation options, providing a boon to
tourists, students and business travelers alike.”
The city of Tuscon took the first steps in the construction of a new
3.9-mile streetcar project on April 12, beginning work on a modern streetcar
line that will efficiently connect commuters to Tucson’s downtown employers.
The line will connect a population of the more than 85,000
people that live, work, and play within walking distance of the 17 planned streetcar
stops. The streetcar will have stations
at important health care facilities, the University of Arizona
and restaurants and nightlife.
is joining a growing
list of American cities—from Portland
, to Charlotte,
—where the modern
streetcar is spurring economic development, revitalizing downtown
neighborhoods, and attracting a new generation of riders,” said Secretary
LaHood. “The Obama Administration is committed to investing in strong
transportation choices like these as part of an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy
strategy to reduce our dependence on oil, relieve congestion and improve air
The project is projected to create 1,200
construction-related jobs locally. The
streetcars will be provided by United Streetcar of Portland, a manufacturer
based in Oregon
The U.S. Department
of Transportation announced last week that demand for Transportation Investment
Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants exceeded the funds available by a
twenty-to-one ratio—a stark indication of the need for increased investment in
The TIGER program The $10.2 billion in
applications—distributed across 703 applications from all 50 states, U.S.
territories and the District of Columbia
—far exceeds the $500
million set aside for the program in the current fiscal year.
“President Obama has challenged us to invest in an America
that is built to last, and it’s clear
that communities across America
can’t afford to wait any longer to get started,” said Transportation Secretary
LaHood. “At a time when gas prices are
high, it’s more important than ever that we invest in projects that will
relieve congestion, improve the safety of our transportation systems, and
provide Americans with affordable, efficient options for reaching their
This is the fourth round of TIGER funding. The previous three rounds have provided $2.6
billion to 172 projects in all 50 states, the District of
and Puerto Rico
. But applications over those previous three
rounds have added up to more than $95 billion.
Earlier, Secretary LaHood noted that $100 million of the TIGER
funds are available for intercity passenger trains but DOT had received $1
billion in such requests.
If you're thinking of riding the rails north of the border
this summer, VIA Rail
is offering 50% off tickets on all routes, including sleepers,
for travel starting June 13 -- but only if you book before midnight this
Tuesday, April 17.