Subscribe to Fourth Estate Watch our YouTube Channel Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook

Demand for Amtrak spikes

Andrew Campnell, News Writer
October 30, 2012
Filed under News

Amtrak announced a new ridership record for the past year, with a total of 31.2 million passengers during its 2012 fiscal year.

Ridership grew 3.5 percent over the past 12 months compared with the previous fiscal year, while ticket revenue increased 6.8 percent to a record $2.02 billion.

“People are riding Amtrak trains in record numbers across the country because there is an undeniable demand to travel by rail,” said Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman in a press release. “Ridership will continue to grow because of key investments made by Amtrak and our federal and state partners to improve on-time performance, reliability, capacity and train speeds.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, an Amtrak train hit 111 mph October 19 — a record speed.

“This is a very important step forward today,” said Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve been saying for 15 years now that high-speed rail is not only good for jobs and transportation, but also great for the environment.”

However, this record-setting speed did not deter criticism of Amtrak. According to the Washington Post, the governors of Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus for creating additional rail services, citing financial burden and possible lack of ridership as reasons.

Aside from criticism, doubts also arose as to whether or not rail travel will become profitable. Kristina Rasmussen, the vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, told the Washington Post she doubts the route will make a substantial amount of money.

“We’re yoking ourselves to trains that will obligate taxpayers to provide billions of dollars in future subsidies,” Rasmussen said to the Post.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the total federal investment to date in high-speed rail-lines across the United States will be $8 billion in economic stimulus funding.

“Eight billion dollars is eight billion more than this country has ever invested in high-speed rail,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to the Chicago Tribune.

LaHood added Illinois received the third-largest share behind California.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has no plans to expand passenger rail service in the state, said WisDOT Communications Specialist Brock Bergey.

However, Bergey said WisDOT is working with the Illinois Department of Transportation. Both departments are studying the impact of additional stops in their Hiawatha Service, which runs from Chicago to Milwaukee.

Bergey said there are two rail services in Wisconsin, the Hiawatha Service and the Empire Builder Service. The Empire Builder is a long-service passenger rail that runs through Wisconsin.

According to an Amtrak press release, the five places in Wisconsin with the most stops are downtown Milwaukee, Milwaukee County’s General Mitchell International Airport, Sturtevant, La Crosse and Columbus.

La Crosse and Columbus use the Empire Builder Service, with the rest using the Hiawatha Service, Bergey said.

While many Wisconsin cities like Green Bay will not see passenger rail expansions for now, there are still benefits to using these rail services.

Bergey said these benefits include carbon footprint reductions, reduced traffic congestion and saving commuters time.

“If you were to ride it from Milwaukee to Chicago, it’d be a 90-minute, one-way trip,” Bergey said. “That gives people the opportunity to get caught up. If you’re a business person, you have the opportunity to take out your laptop and get some work done.”