State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Nevada

Here we have the curious case of Nevada, where statistics show that train ridership has effectively held steady from 2003 to 2014, registering a nominal 3.4% decline. What is curious is that the statistics are unlike any other state, as we will see.

Nevada has three passenger stations, all on the California Zephyr, Amtrak‘s long-distance overnight train between Chicago and Emeryville, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Going from east to west, Nevada’s stations are Elko, which in 2014 accounted for 11% of the state’s passengers, Winnemucca, which accounted for 6%, and Reno, which accounted for 83%. A fourth station, Sparks, previously served passengers in the Reno area. This pie chart shows the breakdown of passengers among these stations, year-by-year.

What is curious about Nevada is centered around the station of Sparks. In 2006, the Amtrak state-by-state ridership statistics carried this footnote: “In previous years, Reno usage was underreported and Sparks usage was overreported.” It doesn’t say more about why that was the case or by how much, but from 2005 to 2006, Reno ridership jumped by 19,012, or 34%, while Sparks fell by 18,883, or 88%. In the years since, Reno ridership has hovered between 62,509 (2007) and 78,827 (2013). Meanwhile, Sparks closed a few years later, on May 10, 2009. This line chart shows the results.

It is interesting to note that ridership at Elko and Winnemucca follows patterns we’ve seen at the quieter rural stations all around the country. Elko has grown 227% to 9,436 in 2014 from 2,890 in 2003, and Winnemucca grew by 194% over that timeframe, to 5,060 in 2014 from 1,722 in 2003.

This stacked column chart shows the same information in a different view.

So all told, what can one say about the mystery of Sparks? Perhaps the railroad found out that many passengers were purchasing tickets to/from Sparks but actually boarding at Reno, which is just a few miles to the west and part of the same metropolitan area.

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

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Nebraska

Amtrak ridership in Nebraska has increased 32% from 2003 to 2014, which puts it at the 28th fastest-growing state in the country – right in the middle of the pack. Its fastest growing stations are the quietest ones, a trend we’ve seen in many other states. Let’s take a closer look at the individual station trends after a word about the state’s train service.

Nebraska is served by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, a long-distance train with sleeper service that offers daily service between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. The state has five stations, listed as follows based on their 2014 percentage of the state’s total ridership: Omaha (50%), Lincoln (27%), Hastings (11%), McCook (7%) and Holdrege (5%). This pie chart shows the breakdown visually. Make sure to click on 2014 to see the latest breakdown (the one recapped above).

Now let’s see how the number of passengers using each of the stations has risen and fallen over the years. This line chart shows it all.

Here’s how the ridership growth at each station from 2003 to 2014: Hastings, +89%; Lincoln, +64%; Holdrege, +54%; McCook, +40%; Omaha, +10%. This next graph shows how the state as a whole has grown over this time frame.

My only experience with Amtrak stations in Nebraska is at Omaha, where my wife and I alighted in 2013 to get to the start of RAGBRAI. No complaints on this end! It seemed like a very good station.

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

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Montana

Montana’s rail ridership has fallen 3.1% from 2003 to 2014, one of only five states to have Amtrak ridership declines over that timeframe. The trend is no doubt a result of ridership declines on the state’s only route, the Empire Builder, which as we’ve seen before is a result of delays to the route being caused by a surge in freight traffic from shipments of crude oil from the Bakken oil area in North Dakota. Let’s look at the state’s Amtrak ridership more closely.

The state has 12 stations in total, although the Empire Builder stops at only eleven of them at any given time because Browning is a winter-only station and East Glacier is summer-only. The state’s busiest station is Whitefish, which reached a high of 72,207 passengers in 2008, and served 52,012 passengers in 2014. Whitefish accounted for 44% of the state’s ridership in 2014. The next three busiest stations form a second tier in terms of ridership: Havre, East Glacier, and Shelby together accounted for 30% of Montana’s ridership (10% each). Finally, the state’s eight remaining stations served 26% of the state’s ridership in 2014. This pie chart shows the relationship.

This next graph shows the same information as a line graph.

Looking at the above, it may not be apparent that the station with the best ridership growth from 2003 to 2014 is East Glacier, which grew 20% to 11,952 in 2014, and the one to decline the most was Glasgow, which fell 21% to 3,967 in 2014. Finally, this next graph shows the same info as a stacked column chart. This view better shows the state’s overall ridership trend over the past 12 years.

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

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Missouri

Missouri Amtrak ridership is up 75% from 2003 to 2014, making it the 11th fastest growing state for Amtrak ridership over that time frame. Let’s look at some of the underlying trends the state is experiencing.

Missouri has 12 Amtrak stations, most served by the Missouri River Runner, which offers twice-daily service in each direction along the the east-west spine of the state between St. Louis and Kansas City. A few stations in Missouri also have service on three other routes: Lincoln Service, Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle. The busiest station in the state is St. Louis, which has service on the Missouri River Runner, Lincoln Service, and Texas Eagle. Next is Kansas City, with service on the Missouri River Runner and Southwest Chief. This line chart shows all the stations in the state by ridership.

Thanks in part to service increases in Illinois, St. Louis ridership has surged 138% since 2003, to 350,866 passenger in 2014. But little Poplar Bluff, the southernmost and quietest station in the state, is actually Missouri’s fastest growing station. Ridership there grew 168%, from 2,246 passengers in 2003 to 6,017 in 2014. Rounding out the next few, Hermann grew 97%, Warrensburg grew 90%, La Plata, the station in the northern corner of the state with service on the Southwest Chief, grew 71%, Independence grew 60%, and Kansas City grew 41%. Every station in the state recorded ridership growth, with Kirkwood being the slowest growing at 23%. This stacked column chart shows another view of this picture.

Now let’s take a look at the pie chart below, which shows the relative importance of St. Louis and Kansas City to the state’s ridership picture. As of 2014, the two stations account for 69% of the state’s ridership.

Finally, let’s take a look at passenger volumes on the Missouri River Runner, formerly known as the Ann Rutledge, Kansas City Mule and St. Louis Mule. Average monthly ridership on this route is up 33% from December 2003 to April 2015.

Posted in Amtrak, Missouri, Missouri River Runner, Southwest Chief, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Texas Eagle, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Mississippi

Amtrak ridership in Mississippi has grown 41% from 2003 to 2014, making it the 22nd fastest growing state in the country over that time frame. This healthy uptick took place despite Amtrak losing four stations and one of what had been three routes across the state when the Sunset Limited ceased serving areas east of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Today, Mississippi is home to 10 Amtrak stations served by two routes, the City of New Orleans and the Crescent. Let’s take a look at ridership trends across the state.

Below is a stacked column graph that shows the state’s annual ridership, broken down by station. The busiest station in the state is Jackson, the state capital. This station accounts for 43% of the state’s ridership as of 2014. Next come Greenwood, Hattiesburg and Meridian, which each account for between 10% and 15% of the state’s riders. In the third tier, we have the state’s remaining six stations, which each serve between 2% and 6% of the state’s riders.

In the chart above, note the pink sections of the first three bars. These are the Sunset Limited stations that lost service after 2005.

Now let’s look at the same information as a line chart.

This view highlights the dominance of Jackson. Ridership at Jackson has grown 69% over the timeframe, from 27,927 in 2003 to 47,295 in 2014, after reaching a high of 52,307 in 2010. Ridership growth has been stronger at Picayune, where it grew 80% over the timeframe, rising from 1,395 in 2003 to 2,517 in 2014. Rounding out the rest of the state’s stations, we have: Hattiesburg (+61%), Greenwood (+60%), Hazlehurst (+47%), Brookhaven (+46%), McComb (+42%), Yazoo City (+31%), Laurel (unchanged), and Meridian (-8%).

Now let’s look at a pie chart showing the same information, with the stations grouped by route.

In these charts, Jackson, served by the City of New Orleans, is broken out separately, and the five other stations on the City of New Orleans are grouped together in the light blue slice. These are Brookhaven, Greenwood, Hazelhurst, McComb, and Yazoo City. The four stations on the Crescent, namely Hattiesburg, Laurel, Meridian and Picayune, are grouped together as well. And finally, the stations that had been served by the Sunset Limited are grouped together in pink slice: Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula.

Posted in Amtrak, City of New Orleans, Crescent, Mississippi, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Sunset Limited, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Minnesota

Thanks to the launch of a new regional passenger railroad serving Minneapolis and its suburbs, Minnesota railroad ridership is up markedly over the past 12 years. However, the state’s Amtrak ridership is down 10.6%, one of only five states to lose ridership over that time period. Amtrak has one route through Minnesota, the Empire Builder, and the decline in ridership is attributable almost entirely to declines at the St. Paul’s Midway station, which contrary to national trends lost 20% of its ridership from 2003 to 2014, sinking to 94,077 passenger arrivals and departures in 2014, down from 116,967 in 2003, and a high of 147,791 as recently as 2008. Perhaps there is hope that St. Paul area will see an uptick because train service was shifted back to the more grand downtown hub in St. Paul, Union Depot.

Despite the declinining ridership at St. Paul, it’s still by far Amtrak’s busiest station in the state. Let’s take a look at the numbers. This first chart shows the ridership at all of the state’s station.

Now let’s eliminate St. Paul from the chart and look at the quieter stations to see some of the more localized trends along the Empire Builder in Minnesota.

As you can see, ridership at all of the stations has declined in the last few years, mirroring declines on the Empire Builder overall as its route has become congested with a huge volume of oil trains from North Dakota’s oil shale operations. Nevertheless, ridership at five of these stations is up since 2003. Detroit Lakes is up 51%, Winona is up 30% and Staples is up 20%. St. Cloud is down 2%, and Red Wing is down 11%. This next chart shows the same information as the first chart, but in stacked column form.

Finally, here’s a look at the same information in a pie chart showing the relative volumes of passengers at Minnesota’s stations.

I started this post by noting that despite Minnesota’s Amtrak ridership decline, the state’s overall passenger railroad ridership is undoubtedly up over the timeframe. That’s because while Amtrak is America’s railroad, it isn’t America’s only railroad, and neither is it the State of Minnesota’s only railroad carrying passengers. The other is the Northstar Line, which opened for business on November 16, 2009, with service between Minneapolis and six suburban stations. Here we see that it’s ridership has held remarkably steady since its inauguration.

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

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