Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak long distance ridership up, despite corridor losses

Bloomberg reports on possible fare cuts because of declining Acela passenger loads.

By Chris Dolmetsch

March 3 (Bloomberg) — Amtrak, the national passenger railroad company that cut fares on its high-speed Acela last month, may lower ticket prices on other trains as ridership drops, Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said.

Passengers are switching to slower, cheaper regional trains from the Acela, and the railroad is examining whether to reduce fares on all of its routes, said Boardman, 60, a former New York state transportation commissioner who replaced Alex Kummant in November.

And now, as the late Mr. Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

The railroad isn’t seeing a similar drop on its long- distance trains, Boardman said. Projections show passenger loads on those routes are up 6.1 percent for the fiscal year to date, with a 3.5 percent increase in February, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

It is important for Congress and journalists to know that there is an Amtrak out beyond the northeast corridor.

Now before somebody accuses me of the typical “us versus them” circular firing squad attitude common among rail advocates, let me assure you that it is not so. The Washington-Boston service is an essential part of the national transportation system.

Nonetheless, Amtrak’s long distance trains are subject to constant nit-picking despite excellent performance in the face of a harsh economic downtown. These trains suffer many difficulties.

  • Typically dilapidated stations with inadequate staff and platforms.
  • Gross shortages of equipment cause very inventory necessary to build revenue.
  • Host railroad dispatching often causes unnecessary delays.. Passengers hold Amtrak accountable for something over which it has absolutely no control.
  • Most intermediate cities have only one train a day in each direction. This means that some significant towns, like Little Rock where I live, have trains that come and go in the middle of the might. That means they are essentially unserved.
  • Dining car operation is under direct congressional supervision. (only a slight exaggeration.)

Long distance passengers may not be high end business travelers, but they bring a notable share to the bottom line. They are students, families, working folks and retired people on personal business. They count too.

If passengers are paying for trips on long distance trains, why would you cut the fares that seem to meet market needs? That is the bad news.

The good news is much better. Amtrak long distance service is proving its worth in tough economic times. It deserves more financial support to increase ridership and revenue.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy

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March 2009


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