October 16, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Amtrak broke yet another ridership record for the tenth time in the past 11 years. On Monday morning, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman announced that Amtrak trains carried 31.6 million passengers nationwide for the just-ended fiscal year, an increase from 31.2 million in FY 2012. While Congress remains mired in a shutdown, Amtrak hopes to capitalize on growing ridership and revenue to convince Congress to authorize multi-year funding.
Before speaking to reporters, Mr. Boardman appeared on C-Span and told host John McArdle that ridership and revenue have increased since he first arrived at Amtrak in 2009.
“My first full year here we had 27.2 million riders, so that means we’re up about 16 percent in ridership. We’re also up from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion in revenue and that’s a 31 percent increase. So there’s a major change going on with passenger rail in this country,” said Boardman.
Some of the biggest increases in ridership occurred on Amtrak’s state supported routes. For example, the Empire Service, connecting New York City to Albany, carried 1,081,329 passengers in FY 2013, an increase of 1.8 percent from FY 2012’s 1,062,715 passengers. Ticket revenue for the Empire Service in FY 2013 was $44,299,328 versus FY 2012’s $43,877,344, a 1 percent change.
Mr. McArdle asked Mr. Boardman how Amtrak’s record breaking ridership compares to countries, say, in Europe. Mr. Boardman noted that Europe has a rail culture that the United States lacks today with the exception of the Northeast Corridor, which is Amtrak’s most profitable route and carries North America’s fastest high speed trains with speeds of up to 150 mp.
Indeed, Russia’s national rail company, Russian Railways, announced in September that it carried a whopping 827.7 million passengers from January through September, an increase of 4.4 percent compared to the same period in 2012. According to the company, it carried 95.9 million passengers just in September, which is 3 percent more than in the same month last year.
Mr. McArdle mentioned Amtrak’s detractors who oppose federal subsidies to finance Amtrak’s operations (Amtrak says it relies less and less on federal subsidies to operate trains but needs capital funding to finance infrastructure upgrades).
Perhaps the biggest Amtrak detractor on Capitol Hill is John Mica (R-FL), the former chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee who regularly hammers and sickles Amtrak for being a Soviet- style train system whenever Amtrak appears to testify.
“I’m not a Soviet-style railroad,” Mr. Boardman told McArdle.
McArdle then asked how Amtrak can create a rail culture in the United States.
“It’s being created. You’re seeing this growth in rail ridership, especially in the Northeast Corridor, [because] younger people really want to have access to Wi-Fi and access in a way that doesn’t inhibit their ability to have mobility and so they ride the train,” Boardman said.
While Amtrak keeps breaking records, Mr. Boardman noted that Amtrak will need to increase capacity to meet growing ridership demand, but Congress has yet to reauthorize rail legislation that would commit additional federal dollars to expand and build new infrastructure.
He also said that Amtrak is an economic engine for many rural communities across the country who have no other service but Amtrak. The company claims that investments in Amtrak returns nearly three dollars to local communities for every one dollar of federal investment (for FY 2010 through FY 2012), allowing Amtrak to place more than $12.6 billion back into the economy.
“The Congress wants us to connect this country together, just like they want an interstate highway system and a next-generation air traffic control system. We have an ability to connect more and more communities. Everywhere we go there's an ability to increase and improve the economy in those communities,” said Boardman.