I am lucky to live in the Northeast, at least when it comes to trains. We’ve got the only “high speed” rail service in the country, and I can hop a train to just about anywhere in between Boston and Washington D.C. It is cheaper and less aggravating than driving during rush hour, though it isn’t what I’d call a smooth ride.
But that hasn’t stopped riders from taking to the rails in increasing numbers. Amtrak posted an overall 4.3% increase in ridership for the first half of their fiscal year in 2010, and they say they are on the path to beating their annual ridership record. One of the biggest jumps was seen on the Acela “high speed” rail service, which posted a 14% jump in ridership. Are Americans ready to take back to the rails en masse?
13.6 million people took to the rails on an Amtrak train during the first half of their fiscal year. That is around 100,000 more than in the first half of 2008, and 2008 ended up being the biggest year in Amtrak’s history with 28.7 million total riders during the year. Certainly some of that has to do with the recession receding somewhat. But to already be keeping up with pre-meltdown levels is rather impressive. Many of the train routes that weren’t high speed also experienced big growth. The Northeast Corridor as a whole as up 12.9%, and ridership between Chicago and St. Louis was up a whooping 18%. Maybe the government-owned Amtrak will even post a profit some day, though I won’t hold my breath.
America used to lead the world in high speed trains. Then they all disappeared as automobiles took over. President Obama has directed $8 billion of federal stimulus money into starting high-speed rail projects across the country, so maybe we will see a real revitalization of trains in this country. The more options and alternatives we have to cars, the better. But the Northeast corridor still needs a lot of work to bring it up to world-class standards. The Acela Express is fast only compared to other American trains; meanwhile France and Japan have trains capable of going over 300 mph! The Acela usually goes under 100 mph. Not fast enough for me. Hopefully they will put the $446 million they are lobbying Congress for to good use making their trains faster and cleaner. Faster is key to increasing ridership. If you can truly outpace the car (which wouldn’t be difficult in the Northeast) then the train will become more and more appealing to aggravated drivers.
Still, lets see how the rest of the year goes. Check out the full press release on the next page.