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

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Georgia

Train ridership to and from Georgia grew 22% from 2003 to 2014, with a surge of growth coming between 2005 and 2011 that was followed by a slight slackening. We’ll see the trends below, but first let’s take a look at the state’s five train stations.

The northern part of the state has three stations on Amtrak’s Crescent: Atlanta, Gainesville, and Toccoa. In the southeast coastal part of the state, Savannah is served by six trains a day, one each direction on the Palmetto, Silver Meteor and Silver Star. And further south, Jesup is a stop on the Silver Meteor.

Atlanta is the state’s largest city, while Savannah has the most frequent train service; as a result, these two stations dominate the ridership picture. As of 2014, they account for 91% of the state’s ridership. This pie chart shows the breakdown.

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

The biggest success story in the state in terms of an increasing volume of passengers is definitely Savannah. Ridership there has grown 53% from 2003 to 2014, to more than 63,000 annually. This may partly result from Amtrak transforming the former Silver Palm train into the Palmetto in 2004, which is a daytime train from New York City that terminates at Savannah. But the biggest success story in terms of a percentage growth rate is little Jesup, where ridership grew 73% over the same time frame, to 10,636 passengers in 2014 from 6,160 in 2003. Georgia’s two rural communities served by the Crescent both logged impressive growth rates as well, with Gainesville growing 37%, and Toccoa 24% from 2003 to 2014. Atlanta’s passenger volume has essentially held steady, with a modest 4% over the time frame.

When you look at the stacked column graph, you can see how the whole state has fared together.

As noted above, ridership for the state as a whole has grown 22% from 2003 to 2014. Nearly all of that growth has come from the four stations other than Atlanta. With so much of the growth happening at Savannah, terminal of the Palmetto, let’s take a look at ridership on that train.

It would seem that ridership at Savannah mirrors the growing trend for ridership on the Palmetto as a whole. Average monthly ridership on the Palmetto has increased 59% from October 2005, the first month for which an average datum is available, and December 2014.

Posted in Amtrak, Crescent, Georgia, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Florida

Passenger railroading in Florida took a hit after Hurricane Katrina, as we’ll see below, but it’s on the upswing in a big way with the newly launched SunRail regional railroad in Orlando, and this year’s planned opening of Miami Central Station to intercity and regional trains.

As shown in the map, Florida today has 40 train stations served by three railroads. For intercity service, Florida is the southernmost destination for two long-distance Amtrak trains from New York City, the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star, and for the unique Auto Train, which originates in Virginia’s suburbs of Washington, D.C. Twenty-nine of the state’s train stations have Amtrak service on at least one of these routes.

There are also two regional railroads, the brand new SunRail, which began serving 12 of Florida’s stations in and around Orlando on May 2, 2014, and Tri-Rail, which began service in 1989 and currently (prior to the opening of Miami Central Station) serves 17 of Florida’s stations in and around Miami. Let’s look at the ridership of these two regional railroads going back to October 1994.

As you can see from the chart, average monthly ridership on Tri-Rail has grown to 367,633 rides a month as of September 2014, up 61% from September 1995. (There was no data available for January-March 2006.) It has now surpassed the spike of 2008-2009 that resulted in part from high gas prices. If you look closely at the chart, you can also see that little SunRail has just announced its existence. Over the railroad’s first five months of service, it averaged 67,300 rides a month. Now let’s look to Amtrak’s annual ridership on a station-by-station basis.

The busiest station in the state is Sanford, the terminal of the Auto Train. This might seem surprising, until one realizes that the Auto Train makes just two stops on its entire route. So this one station accounts for essentially the train’s entire ridership since every passenger either gets on or gets off here. The next busiest station is Orlando, a major destination for families going to Disney World and other area resorts. Ridership there has held steady from 2003 to 2014, even though the station no longer receives passengers from Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, which was shortened after Hurricane Katrina and no longer serves Florida. Tampa, meanwhile, has grown into a major destination, with ridership doubling then doubling again between 2003 and 2014. Now let’s look at the same information in stacked column form, color-coded in the same way.

When the Sunset Limited stopped traveling as far as Orlando, it also reduced the number of trains serving Deland, Jacksonville, Palatka and Winter Park, which all retain service on the Silver Meteor and Silver Star. It also meant the end of train service altogether for seven stations in Florida’s Panhandle, Chipley, Crestview, Lake City, Madison, Pensacola, Sanford and Tallahassee. Also during the same general timeframe, Amtrak truncated its Silver Palm train, which had run from New York to Miami, to Savannah, Ga., got rid of sleeper cars, made it a daytime-only train and renamed it the Palmetto. This resulted in the end of train service to four Florida stations: Dade City, Ocala, Waldo and Wildwood. Service ended at these stations on October 31, 2004. All together, these 11 stations were not huge ridership stations, and they appear in the chart above as the pink stations at the top of the columns for 2003-2005 and then disappear. Now we can look to the same information in pie chart form. Despite the state’s loss of the Sunset Limited and the Silver Palm, Amtrak ridership in Florida grew 23% from 2003 to 2014.

While ridership has slackened in recent years at some stations in Florida, it’s continued in the upward direction for the Auto Train. Let’s close out this post with a look at the Auto Train’s ridership. As we noted, the train is unique, in that it makes only two stops, and lets you take your car aboard with you. This is evidently a feature people are increasingly growing to appreciate. Mirroring the trend we saw for annual ridership at Sanford, average monthly Auto Train ridership has risen 36% during its steady climb over the past 11 years.

Posted in Amtrak, Auto Train, Florida, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, SunRail, Sunset Limited, Tri-Rail, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – District of Columbia

Whether you look at statistics from Amtrak or from the two regional railroads that serve Washington, D.C., and we’ll do both below, ridership on trains to and from our nation’s capital is booming. The District is home to two railroad stations.

One is a platform at L’Enfant Plaza just south of the National Mall, which serves commuters from the Virginia suburbs via the two lines of Virginia Railway Express: the Manassas Line and the Fredericksburg Line. As noted in VRE timetables, a few Amtrak trains that cater to VRE customers do stop at L’Enfant. The station is not listed on Amtrak timetables, nor does it appear in Amtrak’s stations listing.

The District’s main hub, however, is Union Station, which has service on 10 Amtrak routes to places as far away as Chicago (Capitol Limited and Cardinal), Miami (Silver Meteor and Silver Star), New Orleans (Crescent), North Carolina (Carolinian), Vermont (Vermonter), Savannah, Ga. (Palmetto). It’s also the second busiest station on the Northeast Corridor, with frequent Acela service to Boston and Northeast Regional trains between Boston or Springfield and endpoints in Virginia.

Washington’s Union Station is the second-busiest station in Amtrak’s system, surpassing five million riders annually for three years running. It has been Amtrak’s second busiest station every year since 2003 with the exception of 2005, when it was overtaken by Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Ridership to and from Washington has grown 41% since 2003, as shown in the graph below.

Union Station is also the terminal hub for Washington’s two regional railroads, Maryland’s MARC, which has three lines radiating out from Union Station (the Brunswick Line, Camden Line and Penn Line), and Virginia Railway Express. MARC was created in 1983 to take over train services that dated as far back as the 1830s. Virginia Railway Express began service in 1992.

From October 1995 to September 2015, average monthly MARC ridership grew 87.5%, to more than 750,000. Over the same time period, average monthly ridership on Virginia Railway Express grew 139%, to about 370,000. Despite Washington’s large size and commuter population, these railroads fall into the middle of the spectrum in terms of size for the United States. They carry far fewer passengers than the biggest six railroads serving New York City, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, but conversely, they are much busier than 15 other regional railroads around the country. One reason that they aren’t larger is that the majority of suburban rail commuters to Washington use its subway system, the Washington Metro, which extends deep into the suburbs, unlike New York’s subway, which goes no further than the city line.

Posted in District of Columbia, MARC, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Virginia Railway Express, commuter rail, passenger rail, railroads, regional rail, trains, transportation | Comments Off