State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Maine

Amtrak ridership in Maine is up 85% from 2003 to 2013, the sixth fastest growth rate in the nation over that time frame. In this post, we’ll examine the trends underlying that impressive growth rate. But first, let’s look at the train stations and routes in the state.

Maine is served by Amtrak’s Downeaster, a 145-mile route that began service in December 2001 connecting Maine to Boston via intermediate stations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The route began with year-round service to three stations in Maine: Portland, Saco-Biddeford and Wells, and seasonal service to Old Orchard Beach. In November 2012, the year-round service was extended to Brunswick and Freeport. The Downeaster has been a huge success, proving to be one of Amtrak’s fastest growing routes in the country in recent years, if not the fastest. This graph shows the Downeaster’s average monthly ridership:

The route grew rapidly from 2005 to 2008, before peaking in December 2012. Even with a slight slackening of ridership since then, average monthly ridership over the time frame shown has risen 90%. Now let’s break down the passengers using the route by station. Portland, as the biggest city in the state, is not surprisingly the busiest station.

This pie chart shows how Portland relates to the rest of the state. While once the far-and-away most dominant station, it now accounts for roughly half of the state’s passengers as two new stations have entered the mix and ridership at the less busy stations has increased. While Portland ridership has grown 30% from 2003 to 2014, it’s surged 182% at Old Orchard Beach, 163% at Saco-Biddeford, and 112% at Wells. This mirrors trends we’ve seen in other states where ridership growth at smaller stations is outpacing those at busier hubs.

Actually, there’s more to the story here. It may not be merely that the smaller stations are outpacing Portland in terms of growth, but that they may actually be drawing riders from it. There’s an argument to be made that the opening of the stations at Brunswick and Freeport has actually caused some of the ridership declines in Portland, as people who would have had to drive all the way to Portland can now pick up the train more conveniently at either Brunswick or Freeport. This line graph shows that Portland ridership decreases coincide with the opening of the two new stations.

Posted in Amtrak, Downeaster, Maine, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Leave a comment

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Louisiana

From 2003 to 2014, train ridership in Louisiana grew 30.5%, despite taking a huge hit during/after Hurricane Katrina. Let’s take a look at some of the underlying trends driving that growth. But first, a let’s look at the routes and stations serving the state.

Louisiana is served by three long-distance Amtrak routes that all terminate at New Orleans. They are the Sunset Limited, which travels the 1,995 miles to Los Angeles, the Crescent, running 1,337 miles to New York, and the City of New Orleans, running 934 miles to Chicago. Each of these routes also serves other stations in Louisiana. The City of New Orleans stops at Hammond. The Crescent stops at Slidell; and the Sunset Limited stops at four stations: Lafayette, Lake Charles, New Iberia, and Schriever.

With New Orleans being a major tourism and leisure destination, and a transfer point for travel between the three long distance trains, New Orleans is the by far the busiest station in Louisiana. How dominant is it? Let’s take a quick look with this chart.

But, even though its ridership has increased by 23% from 2003 to 2014, New Orleans’ share of the state’s total ridership has been declining because the state’s rural stations has been increasing at an even greater rate. From 2003 to 2014, ridership at Slidell grew 67%; Hammond grew by 73%; and the four stations in Louisiana served by the Sunset Limited grew by 175%. As a result, New Orleans’ share of the state’s ridership fell to 85% in 2014 from the 90% it had been in 2003. Let’s look more closely at the fast-growing rural stations.

Schriever grew the fastest, increasing 471% over the 12 years to 1,923 passengers in 2014, up from 337 in 2003. Lafayette was next, growing 207% over the same time frame, to 6,549 passengers in 2014, up from 2,136 in 2003. Next is New Iberia, which grew by 193%, rising to 1,769 passenger in 2014 from 603 in 2003. You get the point. All the rural stations in Louisiana have seen a growth explosion. This next chart puts them in perspective to the Big Easy. These stacked column charts show the entire state’s ridership in total.

Finally, let’s look at ridership on the City of New Orleans. Average monthly ridership on the route has grown 34% from December 2003 to its high in the most recent month, February 2015.

Posted in Amtrak, City of New Orleans, Crescent, Louisiana, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Sunset Limited, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Leave a comment

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Kentucky

From 2003 to 2014, Amtrak ridership in Kentucky actually declined. It is one of only five states for which that is true. But, the reason is entirely attributable to the elimination of the Kentucky Cardinal, which had run daily between Chicago and Louisville but was eliminated in 2003 and replaced in part by the Hoosier State, which does not serve the Commonwealth of Kentucky. If you set aside the ridership in 2003 at Louisville and look just at the state’s other stations, ridership has increased 29% across the state. This graph shows the dynamic.

Let’s find out a little more about those stations. Kentucky’s busiest station is Fulton, in the western end of the state, which has daily service to Chicago and New Orleans on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans. The other three stations are in the northeastern part of the state, and are served by the Cardinal, which runs three days a week by trains toward Chicago and New York City; in order of ridership, they are Ashland, Maysville, and South Portsmouth/South Shore. This pie chart shows how much each station account for in terms of the Commonwealth’s overall total.

Two stations, Fulton and Maysville, have seen ridership grow by about 50% over the last dozen years. These are the two stations that account for the state’s growth. The other two stations, Ashland and South Portsmouth/South Shore, have grown by only single digits. This line chart shows the growth dynamic that is in place.

Finally, let’s wrap up with a look at the Cardinal, which takes its name in part from the official bird of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The most recent month of data, February 2015, had the lowest monthly ridership in 12 years, probably a result of the brutally cold and snowy winter of 2015 dampening interest in all forms of travel. Nevertheless, average monthly ridership on the Cardinal has grown by a very impressive 35% since December 2003. This chart shows the details.

Speaking of the Cardinal, on a personal note, the best way to get to the Kentucky Derby from New York City is to take the Cardinal to Cincinnati and then rent a car or catch the bus to Louisville. I’ve done it. It is good.

Posted in Amtrak, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Kentucky, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Kansas

Train ridership in Kansas is up 86.2% from 2003 to 2014, making it the fifth fastest growing state in the nation over that time period and a case study in how ridership at rural stations is helping to fuel Amtrak’s overall ridership growth. Let’s take a look at the trends driving the state’s growing ridership. But first, here’s a quick recap of the stations in the state.

Kansas has six train stations, all served by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, a long-distance train with sleeper service that makes the 2,265-mile journey between Chicago and Los Angeles each day. In Kansas, going from east to west, the train stops at Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Hutchinson, Dodge City, and Garden City. As of 2014, the busiest station is Newton, which had 12,871 arrivals and departures in 2014, or 26% of the state’s ridership. Hutchinson and Dodge City were virtually tied for the position of least busy station, with each having about 5,300 arrivals and departures in 2014, or 10.7% of the state’s total. This pie chart shows the breakdown graphically, with Hutchinson and Dodge City merged into one slice because Datawrapper only allows five slices per pie chart.

Of all six stations, the fastest growing is Lawrence, which had 2,253 arrivals and departures in 2003 and 8,017 in 2014, a growth rate of 256%. Next was Dodge City, which grew from 2,576 arrivals and departures in 2003 to 5,300 in 2014, a growth rate of 106%. The growth rates for the remainder of the stations are as follows: Topeka, +99%; Hutchinson, +95%; Garden City, +64%, and Newton, +41%. This line graph shows the increases visually.

All the individual growth at each station leads to an extremely robust statewide growth rate of 86.2%, as noted above. This stacked column graph shows how each station has contributed to the state’s phenomenal overall growth rate.

Overall, I think Kansas is a great example of the latest trend driving Amtrak ridership nationwide, which is ridership at rural stations outpacing the growth rate of large urban stations over the past dozen years.

Now lets turn to the Southwest Chief itself. Average monthly ridership on the route has risen 23% from December 2003 to January 2015. As we’ve seen in this post, a huge amount of this route’s growth is coming not from its big-city endpoints, but from rural stations in states like Kansas.

Posted in Amtrak, Kansas, Southwest Chief, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Iowa

Train ridership in Iowa has risen 21% from 2003 to 2014. Let’s take a look at the individual station-by-station ridership trends to gain a more full understanding of the growth. But first, let’s review the configuration of railroad stations and lines in the state.

Iowa has six passenger stations, all served by two Amtrak long-distance routes. Running east to west across the southern part of the state, Amtrak’s California Zephyr makes five stops in Iowa en route between Chicago and Emeryville, Calif. The stations in Iowa are Burlington, Creston, Mount Pleasant, Osceola and Ottumwa. In addition, in the southeast corner of the state, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stops in Fort Madison en route between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Iowa is a state where all of the stations have relatively similar ridership levels. This graph shows the state’s ridership by year, broken out by station. Ridership clearly built up to a peak in 2010 before dipping in 2011 and holding steady since then. I am not sure of the cause of that, but it affected all of the stations in Iowa.

The busiest station is Osceola, which is a short drive on I-35 to Des Moines and had a ridership of nearly 14,000 people in 2014. I got off at this station in 2002 to do RAGBRAI XXX, and I was the only member of my party to make it on time, thanks to weather-related flight cancellations in the New York area airports. Fortunately I met another RAGBRAI participant on the train, and she let me join her group for the van ride up to Des Moines. The least busy station is Creston, in the rural southwest part of the state, which had a ridership of nearly 7,000 people in 2014, or half of Osceola.

Next, let’s look at some of the growth rates over the years.

The fastest-growing station over this time period is Burlington, on the banks of the Mississippi, which is the city that lends its name as the “B” in BNSF Railway (for Burlington Northern Santa Fe), one of our nation’s major freight railroads. Ridership was 5,576 in 2003, and that grew to 8,813 in 2014, an increase of 58%. Creston, Mount Pleasant, Osceola and Ottumwa all grew by about 20% over the same time frame, while Fort Madison, not far from Burlington, declined by 7%, posting a ridership of 6,986 in 2014, down from 7,530 in 2003. RAGBRAI XLI ended in Fort Madison in 2013, and my wife, father and I took the train from Fort Madison a day after dipping our bike wheels in the mighty Mississippi. It was the perfect way to unwind after the rigorous bike tour.

This pie chart shows the same information, highlighting the general equality of ridership between all of Iowa’s stations.

Posted in Amtrak, California Zephyr, Iowa, Southwest Chief, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Indiana

Indiana’s Amtrak ridership has grown 83% from 2003 to 2014, making it the 7th fastest-growing state in the nation in terms of rail ridership over that time period, which is the time period for all of these posts. The article below will look into some of the trends that are driving that growth. But first, here’s an overview of the train stations and routes serving Indiana.

The state is served by two passenger railroads, Amtrak and the South Shore Line. Amtrak has 11 stations served along three railroad lines that have service on a total of five train routes. Two long-distance trains make their way across the northern portion of the state each day, the Capitol Limited between Chicago and Washington, D.C., and the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York City and Boston. These two routes serve the same three stations in Indiana, Elkhart, South Bend, and Waterloo, which I had the pleasure of using twice in 2013 to arrive from New York City to attend a friend’s wedding nearby, then depart for Iowa’s cross-state bike ride, RAGBRAI. Then, running diagonally across the state from northwest to southeast is a third long-distance route, the Cardinal, which runs three days a week from Chicago to New York via Kentucky and West Virginia. On the days that it doesn’t run, the Hoosier State runs on its route, creating daily service between Indianapolis and Chicago. And Michigan’s Wolverine also makes two stops in Indiana along the Lake Michigan shore en route to Chicago, at Michigan City, and Hammond-Whiting.

The South Shore Line is a regional, electric-powered railroad in the northwest portion of the state, running from South Bend to a number of stations in Chicago with about 20 departures daily in each direction. It shares its Chicago stations with Metra‘s Electric District, and ultimately terminates at Millennium Station. The South Shore Line serves 12 stations in Indiana and seven in Illinois. It does not share any stations with Amtrak in either state. In Indiana, both railroads have separate stations in South Bend and Michigan City.

Let’s look at Amtrak’s ridership first then turn to the South Shore Line. Indiana’s own train route is the Hoosier State. Ridership on this line has grown dramatically, with a growth rate of 74% between December 2003 and January 2015. This chart shows the train’s ridership over that time frame.

As you can see, ridership surged along with the 2008 spike in gasoline prices. Then, bucking the conventional wisdom that people would leave the train once gas prices came back down again, it not only retained its ridership growth, but in fact grew more. The great success of the Hoosier State is one of the reasons why Indiana Amtrak ridership overall has been growing so much. But ridership at Indiana’s other stations has grown as well. Let’s take a look.

The stations in red are on the Cardinal/Hoosier State, while the stations in blue are on the Capitol Limited & Lake Shore Limited, and the Wolverine in green. Note that ridership at Hammond-Whiting fell from 2004 to 2006 because it lost half of its service when Amtrak discontinued the Three Rivers in March 2005. The fastest growth in the state took place at Dyer, in suburban Chicagoland, which grew 305%, from 838 passengers in 2003 to 3,392 in 2014. Next was Elkhart, which grew 257%, from 6,062 passengers in 2003 to 21,666 in 2014. Here’s the same information in stacked column form.

It’s interesting to note that in 2003, Amtrak had two additional routes that no longer exist, the Three Rivers as noted above, which appears in orange for Nappanee above, and the Kentucky Cardinal, in purple for Jeffersonville. Here’s the same information again, as a pie chart, which shows the relative sizes of ridership at each station in Indiana, grouped by route.

As of 2014, ridership on the Cardinal/Hoosier State is roughly equivalent to the ridership on the Capitol Limited & Lake Shore Limited.

Now, let’s return our attention to the South Shore Line. Here’s the railroad’s monthly ridership.

On the South Shore Line, ridership did surge along with the rise in gas prices circa 2007-2009, but since then it has returned to its prior levels.

Posted in Amtrak, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Hoosier State, Indiana, Lake Shore Limited, South Shore Line, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Illinois

It’s regional railroad is one of the nation’s busiest, serving a catchment area that is larger, and with more stations, than any other. It has three mid-distance routes with multiple departures daily that fan out across the state. It has long-distance trains to the West Coast, the East Coast, and the Gulf Coast. Illinois is the beating heart of the country’s passenger railroad system.

And it’s been beating faster. Amtrak ridership in the state grew 76% from 2003 to 2014, with the fastest growth coming from the state’s agricultural heartland stations. Let’s take a look at some of the trends shaping rail ridership across the state.

There are three state-sponsored routes originating in Chicago’s Union Station.

On October 30, 2006, all three of these routes effectively doubled in frequency. And the ridership benefits were felt immediately and have been long-lasting. Annual ridership has grown steadily as well, as seen in the chart below.

Chicago is far and away the state’s busiest station, in part because of it’s location as a hub for transfers. Following Chicago, there are Illinois has five stations that comprise a second tier in terms of ridership volume: Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, and Galesburg. Each of these stations is between 2½ and 3½ hours outside of Chicago on the regional routes except for Carbondale which is 5½. The state’s 24 remaining Amtrak stations round out the picture.

Let’s look now at the ridership growth of those “big five” regional stations.

Ridership at Bloomington-Normal has surged 252%. Champaign-Urbana is up 136%, Springfield is up 111%, Carbondale is up 105%, and Galesburg is up 74%. All together, the ridership growth at these big five stations is up 138%. But it’s actually been even higher at the smaller stations, shown in gray, where average ridership growth is up 153% over the same time frame. (For the record, ridership to or from Chicago has grown as well, by 55%.)

The highest growth rates were at rural stations. Rantoul was up 540% from 2003 to 2014, growing to 5,908 passengers a year from 923. Summit was up 360%, growing to 12,528 passengers a year, from 2,722, Gilman was up 346%, growing to 3,333 passengers per year, from 747, and so on.

This pie chart shows the relative dominance of Chicago in terms of the state’s Amtrak ridership. But it also shows that that dominance has decreased substantially over the past 12 years and ridership growth throughout the rest of the state has outpaced Chicago.

Despite growing in ridership by 55% over the timeframe, Chicago went from having 77% of Illinois’ Amtrak ridership in 2003 down to 68% in 2014. This next chart shows the same information, but breaks out the state’s stations based on route, as opposed to size.

That is an overview of statewide trends. But most of Illinois’ railroad stations are actually in the Chicagoland suburbs, where they are served by Metra, one of the nation’s busiest regional railroads. This chart shows that ridership on Metra fell like most railroads’ with the early 2000′s dot-com bust, but then rose again with the high gasoline prices of 2008-2009. Despite these fluctuations, the railroad’s ridership has essentially held steady over time, the hallmark of a mature, well-established system.

Posted in Amtrak, Carl Sandburg, Illini, Illinois, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service, Metra, Saluki, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Idaho

The boundary between Idaho and Wyoming is defined by the meridian 111° 3′ W longitude. If the 38th Congress, when it created the Montana Territory out of Idaho in 1864, had continued this boundary northward, Idaho today would have nine train stations. Instead, Congress placed the Idaho/Montana boundary sharply to the west, along the Continental Divide and the Bitterroot Mountain Range. As a result, Amtrak’s Empire Builder traverses Idaho at the state’s narrowest point, the northern tip of the panhandle, leaving Idaho with just a single station, Sandpoint, up in Bonner County. (Montana, as we’ll see, ended up with 12 stations out of the bargain.)

Sandpoint is a stop on the Empire Builder, an overnight long-distance train that travels 1,879 miles from Chicago to Spokane, Wash., where it splits into two smaller trains that continue to Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Idaho’s Amtrak ridership, which is to say passengers to or from Sandpoint, surged 92% from 2003 to 2014. Let’s take a look at the graph.

From 2003 to 2011, the station averaged 5,488 passengers per year. Then in 2012, the ridership surged 66.4%, to 8,815, from 5,296 the previous year. And since then, the station has been averaging 8,833 passengers pear year. What accounts for the big jump? It is a mystery to me. Sandpoint is a tourist destination, and it could be that a new resort opened in town. Or it could be that Amtrak adjusted the schedule of the Empire Builder to make arrivals or departures at Sandpoint more convenient. Or it could be something else.

Now let’s look at monthly ridership on the train that serves Sandpoint twice a day (once in each direction): the Empire Builder.

Average monthly ridership grew steadily from 2003 until November 2008, rising 27% over the time period to a peak of 46,718. Passenger volume then essentially held steady until August 2013, with a one-month exception that accounts for the dip in the average that began in June 2011 and stayed in the average through May 2012. That was a big service disruption in June 2011 when severe floods closed the tracks in North Dakota and forced Amtrak to replace trains along part of the route with bus service. That month’s ridership, 23,721, remains the lowest month between 2003 and 2014. It was down 53% compared to June 2010′s ridership of 50,795, or down 54% compared to June 2012′s ridership of 51,111.

Since August 2013, ridership has been on the decline, to the point that it is now exactly back where it was in 2003-2004 before the ridership increases began. The decline is being caused by the huge oil shale boom underway in North Dakota, which has resulted in a surge in the traffic of freight trains hauling oil tank cars. All of the freight train traffic has resulted in delays to the Empire Builder that has caused people to find alternate forms of travel. While I’m all for American energy independence, hopefully BNSF will be able to increase track capacity through North Dakota to accommodate all of the new freight trains and let the Empire Builder get back on schedule. My wife and I have ridden the Empire Builder twice, from Chicago to Seattle in July 2007, and from Chicago to Portland in August 2014. It is an amazingly great experience.

Posted in Amtrak, Empire Builder, Idaho, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off