State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Michigan

Amtrak ridership in Michigan is up 70% from 2003 to 2014, making the state the 12th fastest growing state in the country in terms of rail ridership. Let’s take a look at some of those underlying trends, but first, here’s a recap of the state’s routes and stations.

Amtrak has 22 stations in Michigan served by three routes. The state’s busiest route is the Wolverine, which offers three round trips per day between Pontiac and Chicago via Detroit. In Battle Creek, the Wolverine meets up with the Blue Water, which offers daily service between Port Huron, on the beautiful blue water coast of Lake Huron, and Chicago, via East Lansing and Flint. And in the western part of the Lower Peninsula, the Pere Marquette travels along the coast of Lake Michigan with daily service between Grand Rapids and Chicago. This graph shows the volumes of ridership on each of these services.

Average monthly ridership on the Wolverine has grown 42% over the time period shown, meanwhile, the Blue Water has surged 120%, and the Pere Marquette has also grown a healthy 35% even though one of its five stations, New Buffalo, shifting to service on the Wolverine & Blue Water.

Now lets take a closer look at the state’s 22 stations. In this pie chart, we have them grouped by route. There are five stations served by the Blue Water alone, four stations served by the Pere Marquette alone (down from five prior to 2010), nine stations served by the Wolverine alone, and five stations served by both the Wolverine and the Blue Water (up from four prior to 2010). Here we see the aggregated ridership at these groupings of stations, year-by-year.

This line chart highlights the busiest stations in the state, color-coded by route served.

Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Dearborn, while all increasing ridership, have held stead as the three busiest stations in the state, while Detroit, historically the fourth-busiest station in the state, recently dipped below East Lansing. When my wife and I visited Detroit a few years ago, we took the Lake Shore Limited to Toledo and caught a one-hour Amtrak bus ride to Detroit. The bus uses the same station as the Wolverine, but doesn’t add to the ridership statistics.

Finally, let’s conclude the post with an interesting case study touched on earlier. On October 26, 2009, Amtrak began service to a new station in New Buffalo, Mich., with service on the Wolverine and Blue Water routes. At the same time, it closed a station seven blocks that had had service on the Pere Marquette. Was it a good move? Let’s look at the ridership figures.

This clearly was a great move. Ridership on the new station jumped 152% in the first year, and has since surged 118%. (It also had been growing at the prior station as well, rising 150% over the seven years from 2003 to 2009.)

Posted in Amtrak, Blue Water, Michigan, Pere Marquette, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Wolverine, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Massachusetts

With one of the busiest regional rail operations in the country, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is one of the nation’s premier states for passenger railroading. MBTA Commuter Rail, serving the Boston area, has been expanding in recent years, with the restoration of service to the Greenbush Line in 2007, the restoration of seasonal service to Cape Cod 2013, and addition of three stations (and counting) on the Fairmount Line in 2012-2013. Amtrak ridership in the state is up as well climbing 67% since 2003 to what I assume is an all-time high in 2014.

First, let’s look to the Big Kahuna in the state, MBTA Commuter Rail. Average monthly ridership has grown 40% since 1994, the period for which data is available, surging to a high in 2003 that was matched in 2009, before slackening off. Here is the chart.

To put MBTA Commuter Rail’s massive size in perspective, as of December 2014, it carried 3,007,300 passengers per month, which is slightly ahead of Amtrak’s nationwide average monthly ridership, which as of that month was 2,588,300. And regarding Amtrak, its ridership has been climbing in Massachusetts over the past dozen years, reaching what I assume is an all-time high in 2014 of 3,156,142. This chart shows the breakdown by station.

Massachusetts is served by five Amtrak routes:

  • The Northeast Regional and Acela share the same tracks, but not the same speeds, between Boston and Washington, D.C., via New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In the Commonwealth, these trains serve Boston’s South Station and Back Bay Station. The Northeast Regional also serves Route 128 and, via a separate spur, Springfield.)
  • The Lake Shore Limited is an overnight long-distance train offering service to Chicago via Upstate New York, Ohio and Indiana. The train runs east/west across the length of Massachusetts, serving South Station, Back Bay Station, Framingham, Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield.
  • The Vermonter cuts across the western section of the state en route to the Green Mountain State, extending the Northeast Corridor’s spur beyond Springfield. It previously served Amherst, but as of December 2014 the route through Massachusetts was shifted to speed trains and serve more stations, adding Northampton, Greenfield, and soon, Holyoke.
  • The Downeaster serves the northeast corner of the state en route to Maine, with trains originating at Boston’s North Station, then stopping at the MBTA stations at Woburn and Haverhill.

This next pie chart shows the relative weights of ridership at all of the state’s stations.

And to round out the picture, this line chart shows the relative business of each of Amtrak’s stations across the state. South Station, the terminal station for the Northeast Corridor, is by far the busiest station in Massachusetts. Next come a trio that are basically equal to one another: Back Bay Station, Route 128 and North Station. Next is Springfield. Finally, the rest of the state’s stations follow.

It’s interesting to note, however, that even though trends at the state’s quieter stations are hard to discern at the scale called for by South Station, some of them are actually growing at quite busy rates. Woburn has grown 251% over the time period, rising to 22,754 in 2014 from 6,489 in 2003. There’s a similar trend at Haverhill, which surged 236%, rising to 38,481 in 2014, up from 11,437 in 2003. At the other end of the state in the Berkshire Mountains, Pittsfield has grown 143%, rising to 7,541 passengers in 2014, up from 3,108 in 2003. Meanwhile, ridership at Framingham and Worcester declined over the time, perhaps a reflection of Amtrak ending the previous “Inland Route” Northeast Regional service between Springfield and Boston, which took place basically in 1999 and was finalized in 2004.

If we zero-in on that section of the chart, we see these trends for the state’s quieter stations.

Posted in Acela, Amtrak, Downeaster, Lake Shore Limited, MBTA Commuter Rail, Massachusetts, Northeast Corridor, Northeast Regional, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Vermonter, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Maryland

Train ridership in Maryland has been increasing by leaps and bounds over the measurable past. First, let’s recap ridership patterns on the state’s regional rail system, MARC, which we last looked at as part of the post on Washington, D.C.

As this chart shows, MARC’s average monthly ridership has nearly doubled from September 1994 to December 2014. It is up 94% over that time frame.

There are 39 train stations in the state, and most of those are served by MARC’s three-line system. Six of the stations are also served by Amtrak. Four of those are on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, with Northeast Regional trains and seven long-distance routes: Aberdeen, Baltimore, BWI Airport and New Carrollton. There are also two stations that have trains on the Capitol Limited, with daily service between Washington and Chicago: Cumberland and Rockville. As the following graph shows, Amtrak ridership to and from these stations has grown 17% from 2003 to 2014.

Ridership is dominated by Baltimore and BWI Airport, which have grown by 21% and 28% respectively. It doesn’t show up because of the scale of the graph, but Maryland’s fastest growing stations are definitely the two served by the Capitol Limited: Rockville, which has surged by 172%, and Cumberland, which grew by 72%. Meanwhile, ridership to New Carrollton has declined by 26%, and Aberdeen has held steady with a 4% growth rate.

Finally, this pie chart shows the evolving dominance of the state’s busiest stations.

Posted in Amtrak, MARC, Maryland, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

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 | Comments Off

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 | Comments Off

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