State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Arkansas

Amtrak ridership in Arkansas doubled over the decade from 2003 to 2013, before falling off a bit in 2014. But even with the one-year drop, Arkansas’ growth rate of 77% from 2003 to 2014 makes it one of the fastest growing states in the country for rail ridership. This post will look at where that growth is coming from.

But first, let’s take a quick look at the rail stations in the state. Running right through the middle of the state from its northeast corner to its southwest corner runs Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, an overnight route with sleepers and coach service that originates in Chicago and runs daily 1,305 miles to San Antonio, Tex., via St. Louis and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Three days a week, the train is extended another 1,423 miles to Los Angeles as a combined train with the Sunset Limited. As shown in the map, there are six train stations in Arkansas, all served by the Texas Eagle.

As shown in the pie chart below, the most popular station in the state is the state’s capital, Little Rock. As of 2014, Little Rock accounted for just over half of the state’s ridership, a pattern that has held fairly steady throughout the past eleven years.

As shown in the line graph below, ridership trends impacting Little Rock are the same as for the state’s next two busiest stations, Texarkana and Walnut Ridge. In all cases, ridership grew quickly over the late aughts and early 2010s. Using 2003 as a base year, ridership to Little Rock doubled by 2011, nearly doubled at Texarkana by 2013, and more than doubled at Walnut Ridge by 2010. Ridership at the state’s two least busy stations has growth substantially as well. It doubled at Arkadelphia from 2003 to 2013, and it’s risen 50% at Malvern from 2003 to 2014.

As shown in the column chart below, the growth at all of the stations has helped the state grow as a whole from 2003 to 2012. In 2013, ridership would have dipped slightly, but Amtrak opened a new station in Hope, which kept the state’s total ridership even from 2012 into 2013. Passenger volumes at hope grew quickly from 2013 into 2014, rising 46% in its first year of service. Nevertheless, this growth was not enough to outweigh ridership reductions at the state’s other stations in 2014.

The growth in ridership in Arkansas over the past decade has helped fuel ridership growth on the Texas Eagle over the time period. The chart below shows monthly ridership on the Texas Eagle. Average monthly ridership on the route grew by 47% from January 2004 until it peaked in December 2012; as of October 2014 it had fallen 9% from the peak, mirroring trends in Arkansas.

Coming next week, we’ll look at California, a busy state for rail ridership with four regional passenger railroads, three state-supported Amtrak routes and the terminals of four long-distance routes.

Posted in Amtrak, Arkansas, State of U.S. Passenger Rail Series, Texas Eagle, passenger rail, railroads, trains, transportation | Comments Off

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Arizona

Amtrak ridership in Arizona has grown significantly in recent years, and this post, part of a series looking at rail ridership in each state, will look at the factors driving the trend.

Arizona is served by two long-distance Amtrak routes running east-west across the state. Across the northern part of the state is the Southwest Chief, with daily service between Chicago and Los Angeles via Kansas City and Albuquerque. Across the southern part of the state, the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle run together as a combined train, making three runs a week in each direction.

Amtrak’s ridership growth in Arizona is mostly being driven by growing ridership at the stations served by the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle. This map shows the location of Arizona’s eight Amtrak stations, color-coded by route. The four Southwest Chief stations are red, and the four Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle stations are blue.

The Sunset Limited runs six trains per week across the state while the Southwest Chief runs more than twice that number, 14. So with the greater train frequencies on the Southwest Chief, one would expect its ridership in the state to be more than double the Sunset Limited’s. That was traditionally the case, but in recent years, ridership at Tucson and Maricopa has risen substantially while ridership at most of the other stations has been flat. So while Flagstaff has been and remains the most popular stop in the state, Tucson is catching up quickly, with a ridership boom that began in 2006 and has not let up. Ridership at Tucson more than doubled between 2006 and 2014, rising from 10,965 to 27,917.

The view in the following chart shows the evolving trend. Growing ridership at two Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle stations, Tucson and Maricopa, is the primary factor driving increasing train ridership in Arizona. And although the scale is lower, ridership to or from the lower-ridership stations on the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle has been surging as well. The number of passengers going to or from Yuma doubled between 2005 and 2012, rising from 1,993 to 4,011 over the period, and ridership at Benson more than doubled from 2006 to 2014, rising from 833 to 1,961.

You can click through the years in the pie chart below to see how the relative importance of different stations has changed over time. Flagstaff has gone from accounting for almost half of the state’s ridership in 2003 to about a third in 2014. And while the Southwest Chief previously account for a clear majority of the state’s ridership, the growth of ridership on the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle means that Arizona’s ridership on its two routes is now split roughly fifty-fifty.

The increasing ridership on the Sunset Limited in Arizona is contributing to the route’s overall growth. The route originates in Los Angeles and previously ran as far as Orlando. Since Hurricane Katrina, Sunset Limited service has been suspended at 17 stations east of New Orleans, reducing the length of the route from 39 stations to just 22. But Sunset Limited ridership has been building tremendously since the storm, to the point that it is now set to reach its pre-hurricane high, even as a shorter route. My wife and I rode the Sunset Limited all the way from L.A. to New Orleans as part of our honeymoon in July 2007. It’s a great route, and I highly recommend it.

We’ll look at the Texas Eagle’s ridership next week when we get to Arkansas, and at the Southwest Chief’s ridership in a few months when we get to Kansas.

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

State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Alabama

Train ridership in Alabama nearly doubled from 2006 to 2012. This post will look at the factors driving that trend. Alabama is served by three stations on Amtrak’s Crescent, an overnight train with sleeper service and coaches that travels 1,377 miles daily between New Orleans and New York via Atlanta and Washington. Previously, Alabama had two other stations, along the Gulf Coast, that were served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited; service to them was suspended after Hurricane Katrina. But despite the reduction in the number of stations serving the state, there have been a lot more passengers riding the rails to and from Alabama in recent years than there were a decade ago. Most of that growth has come from surging ridership to/from Birmingham. The map shows the locations of Alabama’s three active stations, in Anniston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

Of the three stations, Birmingham has the lion’s share of passenger volume, almost 75% as of 2014. The number of passengers using Birmingham rose dramatically between 2006 and 2011 and reaching a peak in 2012. It is harder to see because of the smaller scale, but passenger volume at Tuscaloosa has also nearly doubled from 2006 to 2012, rising from 7,222 to 12,290.

As seen below, the growth of passengers at Birmingham has been the main driver of Alabama’s overall growth rate over the past 12 years, more than making up for the termination of Sunset Limited service to Mobile and Atmore.

The chart below shows the comparative volume of passengers at Alabama’s Amtrak stations over the years. As of 2014, Birmingham accounts for 74% of the state’s ridership, Tuscaloosa 18% and Anniston 8%.

And we’ll close this post with a look at the Crescent. The chart below shows monthly ridership on the route from 2003 to the present, along with a 12-month rolling average. Ridership on the line has been trending upward over the long term. I’ve taken it five times to get between New York and New Orleans, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to do post-Katrina Habitat for Humanity, and Meridian, Mississippi, to get to my friend’s wedding in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s an enjoyable experience and well worth it!

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New Series: State of U.S. Passenger Rail

Train stations can form a hub of civic life and give a focal point to a downtown. Today I’m starting a new series that will indirectly aim to celebrate that quality.

Each Sunday starting today and lasting for the next 47 weeks, I’ll publish a post looking at the health of passenger rail in each of the 46 states in the continental U.S. that have passenger trains plus Washington, D.C. Specifically, this series will feature interactive charts showing passenger volumes at each Amtrak station for the past 12 years and rider volume over time for 25 regional railroads as relayed via the American Public Transportation Association. This project builds off of my U.S. rail stations map, and, thus the focus is on intercity and regional railroads; it excludes subways, light rail services, and excursion trains. (Sorry, I have to keep the focus narrow enough to be manageable.)

This should be pretty fun! I’ll have interactive maps and charts for each state. I’ll go through the states alphabetically.

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Fun Project – U.S. Rail Map

You can take the train to a lot of places in the United States. Specifically, 1,624 places in 46 states. The map you see above shows them: All of the stations on the 25 passenger railroads serving the Lower 48 States. Since most of them interconnect, I like to think of them as one system. There is also a full size version of the map.

These are the stations served by Amtrak and the 24 regional (a/k/a “commuter”) railroads that operate in the Lower 48. It is color-coded by state. Clicking on an icon will tell you which railroads and lines serve a given station, and the state and county in which the station is located.

This map is ever evolving, as shown in this log. In recent years, U.S. passenger rail has been in growth mode, with new systems being added and big existing systems adding new stations. The map does not include subways, light rail, or excursion trains.

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The Coolest Greenway in New York

Hell Gate Pathway

Hell Gate Pathway on Randall's Island

Check it out! This is definitely the coolest greenway in all of New York City. It is the Hell Gate Pathway (according to signs along the path) or Randall’s Island Connector (according to media references) underneath Amtrak’s monumental Hell Gate Bridge viaduct.  This greenway will eventually connect the Port Morris section of the Bronx with Randall’s Island. For now, only the Randall’s Island segment has been built. It has that brand-new quality with perfectly-striped and marked new pavement and great amenities like these:

Benches, Bike Racks and Ball Fields Next to the Hell Gate Pathway

Benches, Bike Racks and Ball Fields Next to the Hell Gate Pathway

This is being built by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is slated to have the path connected to the Bronx by 2015. The path will bridge the Bronx Kill waterway over the little red bridge nestled within the bigger Amtrak bridge seen here in this kayak’s-eye photo.

Hell Gate Bridge

Hell Gate Bridge over the Bronx Kill

And here’s one more shot of this beauty from a biker’s perspective.

Hell Gate Pathway

Hell Gate Pathway on Randall's Island

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Burned out car

Burned out car

OMG. This is horrible. Every time I see a burned out car parked on the street, I think, How can something like this happen? What bizarre series of events could have led to this?

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Plaza Finally Opens at the Bronx County Hall of Justice

Hall of Justice Plaza

Bronx County Hall of Justice Plaza, from 162nd Street

The Bronx County Hall of Justice opened in the spring of 2007, but the public plaza surrounding the building remained hidden behind decaying one-story-tall blue plywood fences for six years. The fencing came down within the last few weeks. Now that it’s open to the public, the plaza looks great! And it finally opens up this block to diagonal through-traffic. Walking through here is going to make my commute shorter and more pleasant. Here are some photos of the plaza from a few different angles.

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