Amtrak Success Stories

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Amtrak Success Stories

Postby jstolberg » Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:54 am

Amtrak saw record ridership during the last three months of 2009, fueled by a very successful Thanksgiving period and December ridership that set new records. Last week, Amtrak released details for the month of December with excellent results on many routes. In this current economy, growth is hard to come by, yet many Amtrak routes had passenger growth in double digits.

Washington-Lynchburg

The state of Virginia started new service between Lynchburg and Washington in October and already it has surpassed all expectations. December ridership was 168% higher than forecast, and the route, which the State of Virginia had agreed to subsidize, needed no subsidy because it made a profit. Each of the 62 trains during the month saw an average of 180 riders. Only 94 passengers are needed to break even.

Chicago-St. Louis

Service between Chicago and St. Louis also made a profit in the October to December quarter. December ridership was up 15.7% over December 2008. The State of Illinois and Amtrak have big plans for this corridor. In January the federal government announced a $1.1 billion grant to be spent on the line to increase speeds from 79 mph to 110 mph and cut the travel time between Chicago and St. Louis from 5 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours 10 minutes. This month an additional $22 million in TIGER grants was given for a new transportation center in Normal, Illinois, the busiest stop between Chicago and St. Louis.

St. Louis-Kansas City

West of St. Louis, the two trains per day to Kansas City also earned a profit with a 16% increase in ridership over December of last year. The increase was aided by an increase in 3-month average on-time performance from 32.6% in 2008 to 92.4% in 2009. Missouri and the Union Pacific Railroad built a new siding on the route in 2009 leading to fewer conflicts with slower-moving freight trains. Missouri received another $31 million in January for more work to expand existing bridges and continue to increase the capacity of the line.

Coast Starlight

The Coast Starlight, running between Los Angeles and Seattle carried an average of 655 passengers per train during the month of December, an increase of 5% over the previous year. The ridership gain was helped by an increase in on-time performance from 71% to 92%. This is the only train that currently runs between Los Angeles and San Francisco taking 11 hours and 47 minutes. The California High Speed Rail Authority wants to replace this train with new high-speed service at 220 mph that would take only 2 hours, 40 minutes. The federal government announced a $2.25 billion grant in January to jump-start the design and construction.

Cascades

Further up the west coast, the Cascades service between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia had a December growth in ridership of 19% over the previous year. The increase is enough that the state of Oregon is planning on ordering an additional train set to increase the frequency of trip between Portland and Seattle from four to six round trips. In August 2009, a second train per day started running between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. This train is getting heavy use now during the Olympic games. The federal government is rewarding the growth with a grant of $598 million. That money will go to build bypass tracks at two points of freight congestion and to shorten the route at Point Defiance. The stations at Seattle and Portland will also get structural upgrades. Travel time will be reduced by 10 minutes and on-time performance will increase to 88%.

Empire Builder

The Empire Builder, running between Seattle and Chicago, carries more passengers per train than any other. Yet, despite this accomplishment, ridership increased by another 18% this December over last year to 824 passengers per train. Of course, most passengers don’t ride the route from end to end. The same seat may be used by three different passengers over different segments of the route. Coaches were sold out between Spokane and Seattle for nearly 2 weeks during the Christmas season. Bedroom usage increased 30% to an average of 135 sleepers per train. This train could carry even more passengers if another coach and sleeping car were added to each set, but Amtrak doesn’t have them. Amtrak issued a fleet strategy plan February 1st that calls for 70 new bi-level cars to be ordered each year. This could alleviate Amtrak’s current shortage affecting the Empire Builder, but Amtrak does not have funding at this time to place the order.

Pennsylvanian

Between Pittsburgh and New York City, ridership on the once-per-day Pennsylvanian increased by 14% in December to 318 passengers per train. In October, Amtrak examined the possibility of increasing service to two trains per day between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. The cost of the additional train equipment for the service was estimated at $88 million. This is currently not funded, although Pennsylvania received $750,000 to study the possibility of 8 trains per day between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg at 110 mph.

Keystone

East of Harrisburg, ridership on the Keystone service increased by 5% and the state will receive $25.6 million to eliminate the remaining roadway grade crossings between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, preparing that stretch for a possible increase from 110 mph to 125 mph.

Downeaster

Ridership on the Downeaster between Maine and Boston increased 19% over December 2008. This was aided by an increase in the 3-month average on-time performance from 55% to 86%. The line will receive $35 million for a 30 mile extension from Portland to Brunswick, Maine.

New Haven-Springfield

The New Haven to Springfield Shuttles had 11% more riders in December compared with the previous year. Connecticut will get add $40 million in federal grants to $26 million in state funds to upgrade the line including adding a second track for 10 miles between New Britain and Newington. Massachusetts will get another $75.6 million while Vermont gets $52.7 million for track between Massachusetts and St. Albans.

Empire

Between New York and Albany, the number of Amtrak passengers grew by 14.5% despite competition with Bolt Bus. $91 million will be used to add 18 miles of second track through the city of Albany, reducing delays between Schenectady and Rensselaer by an average of 15 minutes.

Lake Shore Limited

The Lake Shore Limited will benefit from these investments as well. The number of riders on the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York increased by 13% in December compared to December 2008. The average train now has 499 passengers. Dining car service was restored mid-month. $1.5 million in stimulus money will be spent on the station in Rochester. Another $58 million will be spent to construct 11 miles of new track west of Rochester rated at 110 mph.

Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited had 17% more riders in December compared with a year ago. The increase brings the number of passengers per train to 299. The three-month average on-time performance improved from 71% to 92%. Sleeping cars handled 21% more passengers. The Amtrak Board of Directors has decided to reward the improved performance of this line by increasing the frequency of service between Los Angeles and San Antonio from three times per week to daily. However, the line remains the most subsidized route on Amtrak’s network.

Silver Star

Services south of Washington D.C. all saw increases in ridership. The number of passengers on the Silver Star between New York and Miami increased by 12% in December while its sister train, the Silver Meteor, had 8% more passengers. The typical Silver Star train now handles 592 passengers. Three-month average on-time performance for the Silver Star improved from 70% to 80% while on-time performance for the Meteor dropped from 83% to 75%. On January 28th, President Obama and Vice-President Biden announced $1.25 billion in stimulus funds for a 168 mph high-speed line between Tampa and Orlando. In addition, in December the Florida legislature approved a commuter rail system for Orlando known as SunRail.

Palmetto

The Palmetto train between New York and Savannah served 10% more riders in December 2009 than December 2008. The Palmetto, Carolinian and Silver Service trains will benefit from three crossovers to be built between Richmond, Virginia and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The crossovers will allow trains to change tracks and pass slower-moving freight trains.

Washington-Newport News

Only two trains per day travel between Washington and Newport News, but the number of passengers on those trains increased by 9% in December bringing the average number of passengers per train to 353. Following the success of the new train between Washington and Lynchburg, the state of Virginia is planning on adding a daily train between Richmond and Washington sometime later this year. Approximately $75 million will be spent to add 11 miles of third track near Quantico, reducing conflicts with slower-moving freight trains. The Virginia legislature has now approved a high-speed route between Richmond and Hampton Roads paralleling I-64. The decision ends a political battle between people on the peninsula along the existing line to Newport News and those to the south and in Norfolk.

Carolinian

The number of passengers on the Carolinian between Charlotte and New York increased by 14%. These trains now handle 467 passengers each. The state of North Carolina will spend $520 million of stimulus money to upgrade tracks between Charlotte and Raleigh to 90 mph and add two new trains per day to that stretch. One new train is expected to begin service this spring.

City of New Orleans

The number of passengers on the City of New Orleans between Chicago and the Big Easy increased by 16% in December compared with a year earlier. The number of passengers paying for sleeping quarters increased by 12%.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby matawanaberdeen » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:45 am

Interesting information. That was really enlightening. JC
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Mon Feb 22, 2010 11:30 am

Mr. Stolberg, I believe that the various rerferences to passengers carried should be clarified to note that these are passengers boarded per run, and not the average passengers on board at any given time. For example, it is noted that the Silver Star handles 592 passengers per run, yet its normal consist of four Coaches and two Sleepers would allow for only 300 to be on board.

You and I, as well as many another reader here who regularly follows Amtrak affairs, are aware of such point, but how about the layman?

Obviously the Recession has favorably affected off-Corridor ridership and no doubt propelled by the quite low Coach fares Amtrak offers. What remains to be seen is when the economy recovers, how many will become "never agains"?
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby pablo » Mon Feb 22, 2010 11:37 am

Before I lock and/or delete this post or topic, where do these figures come from. I don;t want to see anything plagiarized on a forum here, somethign that could have adverse circumstances for the rest of us.

It's 11:40am EST. I'll look for an answer by the author by 2:40 or she's locked up or more.

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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby Vincent » Mon Feb 22, 2010 12:06 pm

The statistical information appears to be derived from the Amtrak Monthly Performance Report, linked from this page.

A couple of comments on the Cascades growth... The 19% increase in December 2009 (FY 2010) travel is partly due to the snowstorm that buried the PNW at Christmas time in 2008 (FY09) and halted virtually all holiday travel. Also, it appears that 2 new trainsets will be ordered for the corridor using ARRA funds. The trainsets, however, will be purchased by Warshington, not Orygone.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby MudLake » Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:28 pm

Interesting to say the least. For example, Missouri's support went from $63.51 per passenger (see State Support thread) to an operating profit.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby mkellerm » Mon Feb 22, 2010 3:40 pm

Actually, the "profit" figures reported in the Monthly Performance Report include the state subsidies, so they should be interpreted as "net contributions to Amtrak's budget" rather than as operating profit in the traditional sense. That being said, the Lynchburg train did apparently cover its operating costs in December.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby FFolz » Mon Feb 22, 2010 4:28 pm

jstolberg wrote:Washington-Lynchburg

The state of Virginia started new service between Lynchburg and Washington in October and already it has surpassed all expectations. December ridership was 168% higher than forecast, and the route, which the State of Virginia had agreed to subsidize, needed no subsidy because it made a profit. Each of the 62 trains during the month saw an average of 180 riders. Only 94 passengers are needed to break even.


Wow. That's awesome. Virginia continues its stellar track record of "slow, but steady" rail successes. Of course, it helped that this was already an active Amtrak line, and they're well positioned vis a vis Washington, DC to keep Amtrak armtwisting at a minimum. (Some of the USDOT bigwigs live in Virginia.)

Did VA pay for station upgrades, or was it the typical 80/20 match? It's still great no matter how you slice it. With these ridership/revenue numbers, looks like they hit a fare schedule sweet spot. I hope they manage to encourage some tourism on those NEC trains. Of course, it will have to be from people who, unlike me, don't know or don't care about their abysmal gay rights record. Until then I will bypass VA and go to NC.

NY and NJ could learn from VA and NC's lean, mean ridership-building machine. Professional management done right. Tired of the billion dollar pork projects that don't deliver.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby Matt Johnson » Mon Feb 22, 2010 4:47 pm

Now, if they could just extend that Lynchburg train to Roanoke, I could actually use it to visit Virginia Tech! (Much easier to get to Blacksburg from Roanoke than from Lynchburg...)
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby FFolz » Mon Feb 22, 2010 5:05 pm

jstolberg wrote:The Empire Builder, running between Seattle and Chicago, carries more passengers per train than any other. Yet, despite this accomplishment, ridership increased by another 18% this December over last year to 824 passengers per train. Of course, most passengers don’t ride the route from end to end. The same seat may be used by three different passengers over different segments of the route. Coaches were sold out between Spokane and Seattle for nearly 2 weeks during the Christmas season. Bedroom usage increased 30% to an average of 135 sleepers per train. This train could carry even more passengers if another coach and sleeping car were added to each set, but Amtrak doesn’t have them.


With all the elderly people who either no longer feel safe on the interstate (with all the trucks) or no longer feel like making 12 hr drives, we might be seeing the same kind of growth in Florida... except that service was cut back to the point where it's not viable. And again that comes back to equipment shortages.

What a beautiful job, Congress, of broken promises and capital starvation leading to a situation with a public service that people want and are willing to pay top dollar for, but not enough rolling stock to meet demand.

Would it be wrong to posit that Amtrak's current fleet crunch is almost wholly due to the Acela debacle, with a congressionally mandated, hyper-expensive fleet purchase, followed by Congress being nowhere to be found when the bill came due? Wasn't NRPC paying half a billion a year in debt service, after being shorted some 1.5 to 2 billion that was promised when they demanded operating self-sufficiency?
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby FFolz » Mon Feb 22, 2010 5:16 pm

Also, major kudos to the Obama administration and the state governments in the northeast and midwest for developing these projects to increase track speeds with conventional equipment. I know it may not be as sexy as TGV, but 110 or 125mph makes a big difference to me.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby FFolz » Mon Feb 22, 2010 5:32 pm

Matt Johnson wrote:Now, if they could just extend that Lynchburg train to Roanoke, I could actually use it to visit Virginia Tech! (Much easier to get to Blacksburg from Roanoke than from Lynchburg...)


College students make a good proportion of ridership on other lines, so yeah, that might be a good boost for them.

Since this is a statewide project, if Lynchburg sees a boost from this service (and I'm sure it already has) you can be sure that Roanoke will start clamoring for their share. :-)

Is there any connecting bus service from VTech to Amtrak services?
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby jstolberg » Mon Feb 22, 2010 6:12 pm

Thank you all for your generally favorable comments while I was away from the computer today.

Vincent correctly surmised that the ridership and on-time performance numbers came from Amtrak's December Monthly Performance Report. The information on the ARRA High Speed Rail awards and TIGER grant came from a number of sources. I didn't want to clutter up an already long post with a bunch of links. I do believe that Oregon has some stimulus money left over that they are planning on using to buy a trainset, but I'll have to verify that memory.

M Kellerm, I'll concede that I don't know quite how Amtrak figures "profit" on state supported lines. If your statement is true, I find it surprising that Amtrak agrees to run so many trains at state request that consistently lose more money than the states make up.

Mr. Becker, I'm honored that you thought the article was professionally written.

One month's data can be affected by a variety of things. In the winter, weather is a sigificant factor. As a result, the gains on the Cascades may be oversized compared to 2008. On the east coast, the northeast got socked by a big snowstorm on the Saturday before Christmas. January's data, when released,will reflect shutdowns on the Empire Builder and California Zephyr. February's data will reflect cancellations both north and south of Washington DC. Nevertheless, success stories need to be celebrated. Too often they get buried in heaps of depressingly bad news.
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby mkellerm » Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:33 pm

Here is another way of looking at the data from the December MPR that makes the route profitability tables more transparent. The first column is the total revenue assigned to each route. This includes fare revenue, food service, baggage/express (if any), and most importantly, state subsidies received. The second column shows the fare revenue reported in the Ridership and Revenue section of the MPR. For non-state supported routes (Maple Leaf, New Haven-Springfield, Empire, Wolverines, Washington-NPN, Hoosier State, and Pennsylvanian), the first two columns are almost identical. For the state supported routes, there is a significant gap between fare revenue and total revenue, reflecting the subsidy received year to date. It appears from this that Michigan has not coughed up its subsidy for FY10 yet, since there is little difference between total revenues and fare revenues for the Blue Water and Pere Marquette.

The final column takes the fare revenue and costs and calculates an implied contribution (or non-contribution) for each route. Note that these costs lead to much lower estimates of the farebox ratios for most routes than those reported by Amtrak to Caltrans at the beginning of last year, since these use fully allocated costs excluding depreciation.

Code: Select all
Route                               RPS   Fare Revenue  Costs        Implied Contribution
                                                                     per Passenger Mile
Ethan Allen                       $0.90      $0.61      $1.20      -24.9
Vermonter                         $1.90      $1.20      $2.20      -12.6
Maple Leaf                        $5.50      $5.22      $7.10       -7.2
Downeaster                        $2.50      $1.55      $3.20      -15.8
New Haven - Springfield           $2.80      $2.69      $5.80      -38.7
Keystone                          $7.30      $7.23     $17.00      -32.9
Empire                           $10.20     $10.01     $15.00      -16.2
Chicago-St.Louis                  $9.80      $3.20      $9.30      -26.8
Hiawathas                         $5.60      $3.54      $8.60      -31.9
Wolverines                        $4.20      $3.93      $9.10      -23.1
Illini                            $5.00      $2.10      $4.50      -19.2
Illinois Zephyr                   $4.90      $1.33      $4.70      -35.4
Heartland Flyer                   $1.20      $0.38      $1.90      -48.9
Pacific Surfliner                $19.60     $11.47     $26.30      -29.0
Cascades                         $12.20      $6.09     $13.70      -25.9
Capitols                         $13.70      $5.75     $17.10      -45.7
San Joaquins                     $16.60      $7.79     $17.80      -28.4
Adirondack                        $1.80      $1.35      $3.00      -21.3
Blue Water                        $1.20      $1.16      $3.20      -29.3
Washington-Lynchburg              $2.40      $1.89      $1.50        5.7
Washington-Newport News           $6.90      $6.70      $6.90       -0.3
Hoosier State                     $0.20      $0.20      $1.50     -104.3
Kansas City - St Louis            $3.10      $0.96      $3.00      -12.2
Pennsylvanian                     $2.40      $2.25      $3.60     
Pere Marquette                    $0.70      $0.70      $1.70      -27.2
Carolinian                        $4.80      $4.02      $5.00       -5.4
Piedmont                          $0.90      $0.31      $0.90


Again, Washington-Lynchburg is the star of the show. On the other hand, Virginia trains have always done well on these metrics, one of the reasons that Amtrak has not pushed hard for funding from the state for current services. New Haven - Springfield, on the other hand, had better watch out....
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Re: Amtrak Success Stories

Postby TREnecNYP » Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:50 pm

FFolz wrote:With all the elderly people who either no longer feel safe on the interstate (with all the trucks) or no longer feel like making 12 hr drives, we might be seeing the same kind of growth in Florida...


This brings up a huge point. America is growing older, yes seniors can get discounts but honestly uh if it's legitimate butts in seats who cares this may be what we need to get the ball really rolling. Their families will likely want to visit too no matter what part of the country, so it's like a combination effect.

- A
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