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Amtrak Ridership Increases, But Denver Sees A Drop

Nathan Heffel

With Amtrak ridership at record levels across the nation, why is Denver not part of the increase?

The cross country California Zephyr, which stops twice daily in Denver, has seen its ridership increase over the past 15 years. Denver hasn’t been part of that increase, seeing ridership decline by 20.8 percent from 1997 to 2012. All other major cities along the line have seen an increase.

The findings were published in a report [.pdf] released by the Brookings Institute Friday.

Six metro areas saw a decline in ridership between 1997 and 2012, Worcester Mass. and Denver were the only cities nationwide to lose more than 20 percent of their annual riders. The report states the decline in the Mile High City may partially be attributed to the loss of the Pioneer, a cross country train from Seattle to Chicago.

The Pioneer ended service in May 1997 [.pdf], leaving Denver a one train town.

Amtrak explored the possibility of restoring the Pioneer in 2008 with multiple route possibilities [.pdf]. One included linking the line east along the California Zephyr route from Denver to Chicago and breaking off the route westbound in Denver with stops in Greeley and Wyoming onto Seattle.

While there has been little movement on this and other route discussions, a group is still pushing for reinstatement of the line.

The report says another reason could be the fact that Denver does not have an extensive short-distance corridor service as seen across much of the northeastern United States.

The news overall for Amtrak, the nation’s passenger train service, is generally good. Most major metropolitan cities served by the agency saw an increase in ridership. Over 31 million riders take Amtrak annually, an all-time high with ridership growing across the country by 55 percent since 1997.

Denver’s Union Station is under renovation to become a multi-modal transportation hub. Amtrak will also use the improved station and is part of the development plan. Passengers visiting Denver via the California Zephyr will filter through the station’s great hall which will serve as a hotel lobby, waiting room, and community gathering place. While it remains to be seen if the renovated station will improve Denver’s ridership numbers, officials says the new station will be completed on time and budget by spring of 2014.

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