Wed October 10, 2012

More People Taking To The Rails As Amtrak Sets Ridership Record

Over  31 million people traveled on Amtrak during its latest fiscal year, the highest seen by the country's federally subsidized railroad since it entered service in 1971.

All routes saw an increase in ridership including the California Zephyr which stops twice daily in Denver.

While Amtrak’s Northeast commuter routes saw a great increase in passenger traffic, all 15 of the railroad’s long distance routes, Including the California Zephyr saw an increase in ridership during Amtrak's 2012 fiscal year which ended in September.

In a statement released by Amtrak, President and CEO Joe Boardman believes the increase in passengers will continue as more people are introduced to rail travel and the improvements made on commuter and long distance routes serving the country.

“"People are riding Amtrak trains in record numbers across the country because there is an undeniable demand to travel by rail. 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."

Amtrak’s California Zephyr connects the Mile High City with California to the west and Chicago to the east. An 18 hour trip from Denver to Chicago, the entire route saw nearly a 6 percent increase in ridership last year and a 6.4 percent increase in ticket sales.

Taking a long distance train trip is a unique experience, distinct from air and car travel. Most trains, including the California Zephyr have two classes, Sleeper and Coach, and provide full service dining, an onboard café, and a lounge with expansive windows for watching the scenery pass by.

Amtrak's California Zephyr during a stop in Galesburg, Illinois.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

The federally subsidized railroad has been plagued in the past by stories of bad customer service, aging rail stock [.pdf], and poor on-time performance.

Now, despite the increase in ridership and revenue, Republicans are increasing their campaigns to stop federal subsidies for the railroad, citing the company’s “Soviet-style inefficiency” including the cost of providing food service onboard Amtrak trains.

The Washington Post reports the Republican platform at this year’s GOP Convention included a plank calling for the privatization of the railroad’s northeast corridor, which the Post calls Amtrak’s most lucrative route.

For its part, Amtrak says it plans to continue seeing an increase in ridership across the country as gas prices rise, business travel expands along its commuter routes, and dissatisfaction grows with traffic jammed highways and long airport delays.

Editor's Note: Reporter Nathan Heffel chronicled his ride on the California Zephyr late last month. You can follow his series here

You can follow Nathan Heffel on Twitter: @Heffeln