State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Tennessee

Passenger railroading in Tennessee took a big leap forward on September 18, 2006, when Music City Star began service between Nashville and its eastern suburbs. Since that time, ridership on the line has grown 83%, and a handful of other small regional lines have sprung up around the country, but Music City Star remains the smallest passenger railroad in the country in terms of riders. There’s nothing wrong with that. Railroads can serve different regions and markets with different needs, and not every railroad had to be an enormous high-volume operation like you find in New York and Chicago. Meanwhile, Amtrak ridership in Tennessee is up 60% from 2003 to 2014, making it the 18th fastest growing state in the country over that time period.

First, here’s a look at Music City Star. As of today, the line has six trains toward Nashville in the morning and six returning in the evening, with a seventh late-night departure on Friday nights. This graph shows its ridership since it started.

I’m sure that the residents of Music City Star’s region were quite pleased they had access to railroad service when gas prices took a turn upward in 2008. That July, ridership hit nearly 20,000 per month, a figure that seems to have served as a kind of ceiling on ridership until 2011, when it shot upward again, hitting an all-time high of 28,000 that August. It’s since slackened somewhat, settling to an average of about 21,500 per month, which is higher than in 2008 and 83% higher than it’s first year of operations.

Turning our attention to Amtrak, we find long-term passenger growth as well. Amtrak has two stations in Tennessee, along the western edge of the state: Memphis and, in the northwest corner of the state, rural Newbern-Dyersberg. Both stations are on Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, offering daily service between Chicago and New Orleans and intermediate points. Of the two stations, Memphis is far busier, handling about 95% of Tennessee’s Amtrak passengers, while Newbern-Dyersberg has the remaining 5%.

As the next line graph shows, ridership at Memphis has risen 61% over the past dozen years, to 69,946 in 2014, up from 43,477 in 2003. At Newbern-Dyersberg, it has risen 50%, to 3,927 in 2014, up from 2,625 in 2003.

Finally, this next graph shows the same information but aggregated per year so you can see how the whole state has grown together.

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