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.

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