Empire Builder at Mukilteo – Photo by the Author

[CORRECTION: THE CHART IN THIS POST ORIGINALLY REPORTED INCORRECT RIDERSHIP AND REVENUE FOR KEYSTONE SERVICE AND SPRINGFIELD-NEW HAVEN SHUTTLES.  THE CHART HAS BEEN UPDATED.]

Amtrak carried a record 28.7m passengers and took in $1.7B in revenue in FY 2010.  [For a North American market-share comparison, Amtrak’s passenger volume falls between Alaska Airlines (15m) and Air Canada (30m)].  Though most media outlets have reported this as significant year-on-year growth for Amtrak (up 5.7% from FY 2009), it is more accurate to view these statistics as a successful recovery to pre-recession levels.  After all, 2010 ridership is only.015% higher than 2008, or 450 additional annual passengers.

Furthermore, system-wide statistics obscure both important regional trends and homogenize an Amtrak system that offers widely varying levels of service quality.   Far more interesting are the train-by-train breakdowns listed in the report.

Mirroring some trends in the broader economy but bucking others, ridership fell in Western Michigan (Pere Marquette), Indiana (Cardinal), and California (Capitol Corridor), but grew substantially in Eastern Michigan (which introduced longer trains), the Pacific Northwest (Cascades), the Northeast Corridor, and North Carolina (Piedmont, which added a second daily train). Below is a chart that maps annual passengers, annual growth, and revenue per passenger.

Chart by the Author

The report affirms that our trains perform very well relative to the Amtrak system as a whole.  Cascades service benefited greatly from the additional Vancouver BC service, with ridership up 13% from 2009 and 10% from 2008.  The Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight, meanwhile, have the highest ridership among long-distance trains.

55 Replies to “Winners and Losers in Amtrak’s New Ridership Report”

  1. Good to see that trains emanating from or traveling between Northwest cities are amongst the high performers.

    Do we know anything more about the Pioneer Service between Seattle and Denver via Portland and Salt Lake City?

    Other than this, we still need to improve track in many places in Washington, build the Point Defiance Bypass and improve train and track speeds through our Vancouver and into Vancouver, BC. I look forward to King Street Station’s complete renovation. I am still stuck in Los Angeles but am looking forward to seeing the progress with the new ceiling etc.

    Tim

    1. Last I heard about the Pioneer was that it was going to take a lot of money from somewhere, certainly not the state of Idaho, or Amtrak, to get the service going. It demonstrates how important our state’s financial support is important for the Cascades service. We got far more ARRA money awarded than Oregon because we have more projects ready to go, which is due to prior state funding.

      1. Don’t forget, the cost figures Amtrak presented for the reinstatment of the 3 routes they were asked for, (North Coast Hiawatha, Pioneer, & the Sunset Limited’s Florida-New Orleans segment) included the cost of all the new rolling stock that would be needed. Along with that, these were all preliminary figures supplied by the host railroads, as a first look at what would be needed by them to insure no effect on freight capacity.

      2. New cars for sure would be needed in any event as amtrak is out of superliners. Of course they could combine orders with purchases for other trains extra equipment for existing trains and get some economies of scale

  2. Some of the points on the chart appear to be incorrect; Springfield-New Haven had only 363K passengers in FY10, while the Keystones had 1.3M passengers. The ridership changes in Michigan didn’t really have anything to do with the economy, but rather capacity. Amtrak started to run longer trains on the Wolverine (+8%) and Blue Water (+18.7%) routes, but did not add cars to the Pere Marquette; the two Michigan trains with ridership growth serve the areas hardest hit by the recession.

      1. Yeah, sorry those are mistakes. I got one cell off in the database near the end. Working on fixing it…

  3. I have to think that not getting a full-body radiation scan on Amtrak will help Acela Express ridership and some of the other short-medium distance corridors. Just one more reason to take the train (or the Chinatown buses, which seem to have a distinct price advantage).

    1. At least until the TSA decides to take the “T” in their name more literally. It would be well within their power to screen passengers at train stations exactly as they do at airports. Trains run in tunnels right beneath huge metro areas. The first large bomb to go off on an Amtrak train running under Manhattan and things will be very different.

      1. Well, if this country continues to be run by morons. Spain survived major train bombings without going moron and installing invasive security theater.

  4. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/travel/2013213954_trbustravel24.html

    BoltBus, owned by Greyhound, is one of the major players in the battle for bus riders, whose numbers nationwide have increased as travelers avoid airport-security hassles, recoil at Amtrak fares and gas prices and embrace greener modes of transportation.

    Unlike the overbooked crates that ply the roads from New York’s Chinatown to neighboring cities, these buses cater to a clientele that includes students, professionals, well-heeled retirees and out-of-towners on vacation.

    “People just like me,” said Ainsley Perrien, a public-relations executive in Washington, D.C., who travels regularly to New York on the Vamoose bus service, paying about $30 each way. Cost and convenience are big selling points, but being able to change plans without steep penalties — and the sense of community — is appealing.

    “We’re all in this together,” she said of fellow bus loyalists. “And it’s just more fun.”

    Bus ridership in North America grew from 631 million passengers in 2005 to more than 762 million in 2008, the last year for which figures are available, and an increase in numbers is expected for 2009, too, said Eron Shosteck of the American Bus Association, which represents more than 1,000 privately owned bus and tour companies.

    Nowhere is the surge clearer than in the Northeast, where ridership on the Washington-New York-Boston corridor has soared with the emergence of BoltBus, Vamoose, Megabus, DC2NY and others that leave from corners convenient to New York’s Pennsylvania Station. (There’s also express service on Greyhound and Peter Pan buses.) The region’s routes hit the “sweet spot” of bus travel, Shosteck said: 200- to 400-mile trips.

    There are no baggage fees, no pat-down before boarding and no middle seats. Fares for the deluxe buses range from $1 to $50, depending on when and how you buy your ticket — online or at curbside.

    “It’s a feeling of empowerment and being able to take control of the travel experience,” Shosteck said.

    Profits are high because of low overhead. Bolt sells 97 percent of its tickets online, meaning few employees other than drivers.

    “We’re quite profitable now,” said general manager David Hall.

    28.7 million passengers on Amtrak in 2010, compared to 762 million passengers on intercity buses in N. America in 2008. That is 26 times as many people taking a bus as taking Amtrak trains.

    And the bus lines are profitable. How much money did Amtrak lose last year?

    Sounds to me like traveling by bus is better in virtually every way than taking Amtrak.

    1. “Profits are high because of low overhead. Bolt sells 97 percent of its tickets online, meaning few employees other than drivers.”

      Low overhead, meaning no passenger terminal expenses, and not paying their full share of using the road. Unlike Amtrak which owns and services many of its stations, pays access fees to the railroads, or in cases where it owns the ROW, like in the NEC, paying for maintenance on the railway.

      “Sounds to me like traveling by bus is better in virtually every way than taking Amtrak.”

      The train ride can be faster, has even more spacious seating than the luxury buses, and you can get up and walk to the diner for a sit down dinner. Or to the lounge for a brewski. Or, on long distance travel, you can have a room to yourself with a full bed to stretch out on.

      Actual high speed trains should be able to make an operating profit. Amtrak exists in an environment in which it is destined to lose money, but it’s a worthwhile thing for the government to be investing in. Increasing ridership on the trains, filling the seats that are available, and making smart investments in increased capacity can get Amtrak closer to a break-even point (which is all it really needs to do; any excess should go to debt service and upgrading the fleet and network).

      I’ve got nothing against intercity buses, but if there’s an option of taking a train, I’d rather do that. Unfortunately, in this country, the train service is spotty, unreliable and in many cases, incoveniently scheduled. Even so, I’d rather take the train.

      1. “and not paying their full share of using the road. ”

        How do you know that? There is tax on diesel fuel. And bus companies pay a lot of other taxes, also, like tire taxes, license fees, etc. I would expect they also pay business taxes, sales taxes, and so forth.

        What taxes does Amtrak pay? Or does Amtrak just TAKE tax revenue from the government?

      2. If there’s any question about whether or not buses are paying their cost of using the roadways, I suggest reading the National Surface
        Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission’s report “Paying Our Way”: http://financecommission.dot.gov/Documents/NSTIF_Commission_Final_Report_Advance%20Copy_Feb09.pdf

        The report isn’t a Sierra Club/Mike McGinn fantasy spiel about using bikes to solve our transportation problems. Check out the commission members listed on page 3 and you’ll see that it’s a pretty conservative group. Their conclusion–users pay less than 60% of the cost of using roads.

      3. I haven’t read all 250 some pages (I will) but I presume you’re basing the 60% claim on this snippet:

        To equal the amount raised by the Commission’s short-term HTF augmentation recommendations, the fee level for cars would be about 1.4¢ per mile; to match current HTF revenues, about 0.9¢ per mile.

        I’d point out that the long term outcome is better if the fuel tax indexed Inflation adjusted Gasoline Prices. In short, there is no reason to attempt to implement a VMT collection system with all it’s complexity, fraud and cost of collection. In fact, it ignores one of the strongest features of the gas tax which is an incentive to move to more fuel efficient vehicles. It also fails to address the core of the problem which is peak hour congestion. At least with a fuel tax you’re being charged more for using more fuel while being stuck in traffic which might have an incentive to take a longer more free flowing route. But, time lost is the only real congestion charge we currently implement.

    2. The bus is not better in virtually every way; only on cost.

      Having taken both the Bolt Bus and Amtrak out of NYC in the last six months with my 18 month old son, I can tell you without a doubt that the train is far, far better. The amount of room on the train, the steady ride, and the ability to talk around makes all the difference when traveling with a child.

      No, the train is unquestionably a better experience; I don’t even think there’s a debate there. The problem is just that BoltBus blows Amtrak out of the water when it comes to cost. It’s not like 50% more expensive, it’s factors of three, four or five times more expensive to take the train. With that kind of cost difference most of the time, I certainly can’t justify taking the train.

      1. Cost and convenience are big selling points, but being able to change plans without steep penalties — and the sense of community — is appealing.

        “We’re all in this together,” she said of fellow bus loyalists. “And it’s just more fun.”

        “It’s a feeling of empowerment and being able to take control of the travel experience,” Shosteck said.

        Sounds like people prefer buses for other reasons than just low cost. Although low cost is a great reason to prefer the bus.

        If private bus companies can provide good service at low cost, while making a profit, why should taxpayers subsidize trains so a small fraction of the traveling public can “get up and walk around” or eat in a dining car? If you want that luxury, then you should pay the full cost of providing that service. Taxpayers should not be subsidizing your little luxuries.

      2. I think I read an article where someone high up from amtrak was interviewed and they were saying most of their subsidy goes to the long haul lines like the empire builder, and that the meduim-to-short lines mostly do pretty well on their own.

      3. In the NEC where these cheap “luxury” buses have a lot of business, train fares do cover the operating costs.

      4. No they don’t. They very thing people on this blog “rail” against, cost of maintaining ROW isn’t included in the Amtrak budget; it’s a separate appropriations bill never factored in when claims are made that the NEC is “profitable”.

      5. “Taxpayers should not be subsidizing your little luxuries.”

        Nor should taxpayers be subsidizing a private bus company’s profits – But that’s exactly what’s happening today.

        Don’t get me wrong, Norman, I’d privatize the *entire* “free”way system and then let the market loose. In that world, I suspect BNSF, UP, and other rail companies would get really interested in passenger rail again.

      6. Bernie, the government pays for the maintenance of I-95, why shouldn’t it pay for the maintenance of the NEC? I don’t particularly care that gas and vehicle licensing taxes and weight fees partly mitigate the costs of highway maintenance. There are also externalities of highway use that can be addressed somewhat by a shift to rail transport.

      7. I’m not saying they shouldn’t maintain the NEC. Just don’t try and make it seem that highway users aren’t paying a much greater percentage in the form of use fees. I also think that if it’s a public facility it should be open to public bid to provide the service like the British model. We don’t nationalize the trucking business because it runs on public roads. Also, the HTF was never intended to fully fund the maintenance of interstates. It’s primary purpose was to fund the construction and it’s State funds that cover the cost of maintenance. Of course there are areas like Montana where there isn’t sufficent population and the primary wear and tear is through traffic so the Feds act as the bank to maintain the system. There’s no doubt we’ve fallen behind on Capitl spending but that’s primarily because the gas tax isn’t indexed to inflation. I really liked the idea that was floated in the report “Paying Our Way” of a container fee. With the exception of the end leg the economics should never favor highway use.

      8. The LA ports used a container fee to fund the Alameda Corridor. Unfortunately, they only charged it to the railroads. As a result, rail drayage has gone down, truck drayage went up.

      9. Norman,

        That infrastructure that can provide the “little luxuries” also allows rail to move goods and commodities more efficiently. And the incremental cost of offering food is not much, and gets offset by the increase in ridership it has proven to stimulate.

      10. “I’m not saying they shouldn’t maintain the NEC. Just don’t try and make it seem that highway users aren’t paying a much greater percentage in the form of use fees.”

        Highway users are paying a smaller percentage in the form of use fees than *NEC* rail users.

        *Sigh*. If you figure in maintenance as well as operating costs, we concluded user fees cover less than 60% of the cost of roads — less than 40% in Texas, IIRC? We agree on this, right?

        Now, if you figure in maintenance on the NEC — and no cheating by adding all the backlogged pre-Amtrak maintenance to the modern maintenance costs — then, when you add in the “above the rail” profit from the NEC, it becomes clear that user fees cover greater than 60% of the cost of NEC running-and-maintenance on an ongoing basis. The numbers are hard to run due to the difficulty of working out what the ongoing maintenance actually is, given historical deferred maintenance practices, but the worst reasonable analysis I could come up with was 65% or so (the best was much better, like 80%).

        It’s different for routes with low ridership. Rail needs volume.

        To be fair, highway users in particular places are probably paying a much larger percentage in use fees than the national numbers (maybe on the toll road systems?).

      11. Highway users are paying a smaller percentage in the form of use fees than *NEC* rail users.

        You’re lumping all “highway users” together and comparing it to a single passenger rail route? I’ll go along with your numbers of 60-80% user paid cost for the NEC. But, there are lots of stretches of Interstate that are fully funded if you add together the fuel taxes, excise taxes and sales taxes just the drivers contribute. I don’t know how they do it in TX but in WA all Interstate routes and almost all State routes are completely funded by the State and federal gas and excise taxes (as well as the hemorrhaging WSF system). Local roads on the other hand are financed largely by property taxes (new roads with TIP dollars). As it turns out, most people actually drive to their homes and even if they take transit they still use roads (which doesn’t pay the taxes used to build those roads). But even if you walk or bike everywhere you still need that road near your property for emergency services, garbage collection, school buses etc. The differential is “user” vs. “beneficiary”. I’d say roads are +100% paid for by the beneficiaries. Try putting together a Local “Improvement” District that eliminates road access to a neighborhood in exchange for reduced property taxes. My bet is that even in these “no tax is a good tax” climate it would go down in flames.

        It’s different for routes with low ridership. Rail needs volume.

        Amen to that. I’ve tried to explain many times on this blog that rail doesn’t scale down and that’s why it’s almost always the most expensive option in any area around the Puget Sound. Exceptions would be DT Seattle to UW, UW to Northgate maybe, Seattle to Portland maybe and possibly South Sounder (a kinder gentler sprawl).

        I’m quite in favor of tolls on high cost roads. 100% in favor of tolling 520. I think I-90 should be tolled as well but I wouldn’t not toll 520 just because we can’t get I-90 tolls passed. I really think there should not only be tolls required as part of the AK Way DBT project funding but early tolling on the Viaduct (just like 520) should be instituted. Look, if nobody wants to pay for it, why build the damn thing?

    3. Amtrak’s northeast fares are too high, and that’s diverting a lot of would-be riders to buses. NYC to DC is $74 on the regular train and $158-180 on the Acela (which is only 35 minutes faster, 2:46 compared to 3:19). The Cascades to Portland is $29-60. I’d like to ride Acela but I can’t justify over $100 for a short trip, especially amongst a lot of other travel expenses. If Amtrak cut its fares in half it would probably capture a lot of the Bolt market, although it will never compete with the walmart-priced Chinatown market.

      As for the discount bus phenomenon as a whole, there are lots to choose from if you’re going to/from NYC. But between other city pairs there’s not much.

      Why hasn’t the northwest or west coast been able to generate a discount bus system? There are certainly people who would like to travel to Portland, SF, and Spokane outside Greyhound’s schedule and fares.

      1. Maybe the cost of the fare from Boston to D.C. is too low. I suspect Acela is able in part to justify the large differential because there are a limited number of seats due to thru riders from the north. It’s also not unusual for short trips to cost more per mile. It might be twice the cost to fly SEA to SFO than SEA to PDX but it’s 5-6 times longer. The other factor is that the regular train service would suffer proportionately but then maybe it should just go away entirely if it’s uncompetitive with HSR for the high end and buses for economy.

      2. If I understand correctly, part of the reason why Acela can support the high ticket prices is that it’s capacity constrained and they can fill a lot of the seats at those prices. If they can get the price, there’s no reason to drop it.

        They can’t really add trains, because there are a limited number of train slots in various parts of the corridor. They probably don’t have enough trainsets to convert the regionals to Acela. Adding trainsets would be expensive because they’re custom-built FRA compliant (i.e. overweight) trains.

      3. “Maybe the cost of the fare from Boston to D.C. is too low.”

        The larger market is from Boston to NYC and from NYC to DC, not to mention NYC to Philadelphia. These are all Cascades-like in length but cost twice as much (regular) or four times as much (Acela). Amtrak should be absorbing the bulk of commuter trips in this area, but instead all these extra buses have to run, burning fuel and wearing down the roads and generating traffic and having to cross local streets around their stops.

      4. The fares in the NEC are insanely high because the market will bear it. And Amtrak can use the money.

        If they cut fares to BoltBus levels (and they otherwise could), the trains would burst and people would fall off the platforms at Penn Station onto the tracks. In particular NYC-Philadelphia is genuinely at capacity a lot of the time. One could reinstate a second NYC-Philadelphia train line quite efficiently (there are two candidates, actually).

  5. The distance between Washington DC and Boston is 449 miles (all stats Google).

    The Acela Express on a Monday morning, does the journey in 6 hours 37 mins (12 stops).

    The distance between Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC is 313 miles.

    The Cascades service takes 8 hours 0 mins (13 stops)

    1. Quoting the distance between Portland and Vancouver is a bit odd, as there is only one train that makes that run, and the WSDOT has spent most of its money to improve times between Seattle and Portland, which is 187 miles and takes about 3 1/2 hours (6 stops). That’s where most of the passenger traffic is on the Cascades.

      1. But I mean, he’s right, it takes way too long, we have a lot of work to do on the entire corridor.

      2. Isn’t most of the delay north of the board which we as in US can’t do much about? Seattle to Portland is rightfully the emphasis with a secondary goal of Eugene and Everett/Bellingham.

      3. From Vancouver BC to Seattle, the important delays to be fixed are: (1. The first mile of switches and jointed rail in Vancouver BC, (2. Fraser River Swing Bridge, (3. the Mud Bay Bridges, (4. downtown White Rock (must be bypassed), (5. Chuckanut Bay just south of Bellingham, (6. the Mount Vernon siding (where Cascades trains wait to pass each other), (7. the Snohomish River-area bridges in North Everett, and the (8. Ballard-Interbay bridge. And then, of course, most of the 79mph sections are single-tracked. Lots of work to be done.

      4. Geez. So that means that North Everett and Ballard-Interbay, plus some double tracking, are all that’s left in *Washington* on the Vancouver corridor…. but in BC, there’s massive massive work amounting to half a billion dollars or more, and until that’s done the route can’t get much faster? And BC hasn’t put in a *dime*?

        Lovely. No wonder Washington state is focusing on Portland-Seattle.

  6. To other countries, what we call ‘high-speed’ rail is more like half-speed

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/10/21/frost/

    Amtrak operates a near-nationwide passenger rail service, running trains in 46 states across 21,000 miles of track. However, Amtrak owns only 29 percent of the rail miles it uses. Freight rail companies own the majority of the track, which they rent to Amtrak. Citing safety concerns, freight companies hesitate to allow trains traveling any faster than 79 mph on or near their lines.

    1. The 79mph part is federal regulations based no the track and signal systems on those rails – it has nothing to do with what the freight companies want or don’t want (other than the fact that they could chose to spend the money on the track and signal upgrades that they don’t feel they need…)

  7. I can’t see how anyone can advocate expanding the curbside express bus business model. It’s a fact that autos/trucks/buses pay about 50-60% of the cost of building and maintaining the roads they use, so unless there is a major increase in road use fees/taxes, the roads that the buses use will become more worn out and slower. Just like the railroads, where years of deferred maintainance and postponed capital investment lead to a system that was full of slow orders and bottlenecks, the interstates are going to become slower and more dangerous unless users pay more. The investment that Amtrak is making in NEC infrastructure is building capacity to move thousands of people per hour while removing congestion from the interstates. So, if highway users are required to pay the full cost of using the roadways, people will be looking for alternatives to driving–like taking a train. The reality is that these curbside express bus operators are enjoying a free lunch and asking “what’s for dinner?”, too.

    Also notice that these bus companies have few employees, other than drivers. How much are they spending on training, maintenance and repair? The recent headline story about the doubledecker bus that crashed into a low overhead bridge, killing several passengers, involved one of these low-cost, curbside bus companies.

    1. “the roads that the buses use will become more worn out and slower”

      Good point.

      “Just like the railroads, where years of deferred maintainance and postponed capital investment lead to a system that was full of slow orders and bottlenecks,”

      The specific problem is a lack of dedicated passenger tracks, which could run faster than the freight rail. America’s freight network is a demonstration of how rail can be high-volume and high-efficiency, and we’re actually a world leader in goods distribution because of the freight rail, so the RR companies have a point that we don’t want to damage that.

      We probably could have built HSR for less than the interstates and airports cost. And I imagine the maintenance cost of two metal rails must be less than asphalt roads. Plus the roadbed is much smaller than a highway, and trains don’t need large runways.

  8. So the Times took what reads suspiciously like a corporate press release and repackaged it as “news”. Big surprise there.

    And “conservatives” (meaning, in this use, anti-everything cheapskate, as opposed to principled people who want limited government interference in ALL aspects of life), a group who are not know for critical thinking or reasoning skills, jump on this glammed up press release as an example of why Amtrak (or any sort of rail, short of some sort of revived Super Chief at 1940 prices) is just BAD BAD BAD!!!

    You’ll notice that the press release glosses over the horrible traffic snarls of the NE corridor, because that wouldn’t fit in with the happy clappy tone of the article. At least if a train gets stuck, you can walk around a bit and visit the bar car. An inter-city bus in a traffic jam – particularly an inter-city bus with a faulty toilet – is not anyplace I want to be. To avoid that, I’ll fire up the old sedan. If I’m in my own car, at least I can do my own thing while stuck in traffic.

    I’m all for intercity buses – and will gladly pay their hidden subsidies in my taxes – as long as I don’t have to ride one.

    1. Also, did anyone else drop their jaw at this line in the Times article:

      “Unlike the overbooked crates that ply the roads from New York’s Chinatown to neighboring cities…”

      Bigoted, much?

      I’ve been on Chinatown buses that were smelly, poorly maintained, and late. I’ve been on Greyhound buses that were smellier, more poorly maintained, and later.

      I’ve also been on Chinatown buses that were clean, played American movies with Chinese subtitles, zipped me from Boston to NY in an unprecedented 2:45, and were staffed by people who couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful.

      But for the Seattle Times, foreign=scary. All Greyhound — with it’s history of horrible labor problems, on-board violence, and discrimination against the disabled — has to do is come up with a cheesy re-branding scheme, and it’s a-ok with the white folks back in South Lake Union!

      1. Earlier Chandlers were virulent racists.

        Otis Chandler is generally credited with raising the journalistic standards of the paper into the upper echelons of American journalism, with widening its coverage (and staff) to make the paper relevant for the first time to less-privileged Angelenos, and with causing an irreparable political schism in his own family.

        Just saw a documentary on all of this a couple weeks ago: http://www.pbs.org/kcet/inventing-la/index.html

  9. “The Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight, meanwhile, have the highest ridership among long-distance trains.”

    Wow, that’s impressive considering it takes 24-48 hours to get to the nearest major city outside the Seattle-Portland-Vancouver triad, and many people fly because of this.

    That suggests that if there were intermediate cities like in the northeast, ridership would be that much higher.

    1. The Builder serves a lot of small “frozen north” cities where air service is distant and expensive, road travel is incredibly obnoxious, and a culture of rail service has developed. That helps.

      I don’t know why the Starlight has such high ridership, but I’d love to see it separated by segment (LA-SJ, SJ-Oakland, Oakland-Sacramento, Sacramento-Portland, Portland-Seattle) to see if that sheds any light on it.

  10. As a general conclusion from these numbers, though I think this is all quite obvious:
    (1) Frequency matters first and foremost. All the routes in the top part of the graph have 4 or more runs per day. Very few of the routes in the lower cluster have more than 2 runs per day. The 3/week services are sunk at the bottom of the chart.
    (2) Speed matters too. The routes in the lower cluster with more than two frequencies per day are (NY-)Albany-Niagara Falls-Toronto, Downeaster, Springfield Shuttle, Wolverine, Lincoln Service (sort of), and Piedmont (just barely). Most of these are notoriously slow due to track problems, particularly Springfield and the Wolverine, but even the Downeaster and the Piedmont. The worst performers are the super-slow Vermont trains and the absurd Hoosier State.
    (3) Service improvements will get you growth, but among the lines which had notable growth without appreciable service improvements: Albany-Niagara Falls-Toronto, Vermonter, Adirondack, and Springfield Shuttle. I think perhaps there is a cultural shift to rail in the northern hinterlands of NYC….
    (4) Network effects appear to matter in North Carolina; the Carolinian is much more popular than the Piedmont.
    (5) The VA Regionals (Richmond, Newport News, Lynchburg) aren’t broken out!

    I will note that Amtrak has serious and solid plans to make the three-a-week services daily. Apparently they are now negotiating with UP to figure out what UP will demand for daily service from San Antonio to LA (and separately from San Antonio to New Orleans). They’ve negotiated yet *another* route for the Cardinal to enter Chicago on, and I’m sure the Buckingham Branch won’t complain about more traffic, and NS has appeared amenable, but I haven’t heard about negotiations with CSX on the ‘main part’ of the route yet.

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