Amtrak has now broken its ridership record for the ninth time in the last ten years, transporting an enormous quantity of 31.2 million passengers during the twelve months before September 30, 2012.
News of this record-breaking growth is coming out right in the middle of an election year, of course, against a backdrop of debate about whether subsidized services like passenger rail should continue.
Here are the exact facts on Amtrak’s growth: “ridership grew by 3.5 percent in 2012, giving Amtrak its highest number of passenger trips since the company began operations in 1971. As the chart above shows, Amtrak ridership has grown steadily–a total of 49 percent since 2000.”
Revenue from ticket sales has also increased by about 6 percent, contributing $2 billion of a nearly $4 billion dollar budget. That brings the total revenue to almost $100 million more than was projected in the 2012 budget. The government subsidies that have been so much a part of policy debates totaled around $466 million, considerably less than the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. They were also provided with an additional $952 million for capital expenses.
Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement: “ridership will continue to grow because of key investments made by Amtrak and our federal and state partners to improve on-time performance, reliability, capacity and train speeds.”
One of those investments is purchasing new trains. The new Acela trains will travel nearly 160 miles per hour at top speed. Improvements have already begun to show from the investments: “82 percent of trains were on time in 2012, up a bit from last year, which is about on par with airline industry performance compiled by FlightStat.”
A lot of the growth that Amtrak has been seeing has been due to attracting customers who would have previously taken an airplane.
After the genesis of the TSA, air travel has become a hassle that many people would rather avoid if possible. Train travel has a significant time advantage over short haul flights, primarily because of the comparatively streamlined security.
“The newly released numbers show the Northeast Corridor is still the anchor route for Amtrak with more than a third of all riders (11.4 million) traveling between Boston and Washington, D.C. Amtrak won’t release new state-by-state and line-by-line numbers until next week, but the 361 miles of track along the Northeast Corridor are likely to continue to bring in more than half of all ticket revenue for Amtrak, as it did last year according to the 2011 annual report. According to projections (see PDF, last page of Appendix), only the NEC and Kansas City – St. Louis lines earn a profit on a per passenger basis. When final numbers are in, we’ll find out if this new ridership and ticket revenue peak brings any other lines into break even territory.”
Amtrak was originally created specifically to provide passenger rail service that private train companies were unwilling to provide, because of a lack of profitability.