Amtrak Ridership Up 4 Percent Overall

June 24, 2002
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CHICAGO — Many travelers naturally turned to ground transportation in the wake of Sept. 11, either by choice or because their traveling options were temporarily limited.

Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Amtrak took in twice the amount in fares it typically does on an average day, which is considerable given that it operates more than 22,000 route miles, serves more than 500 stations in 45 states, and transports an average of 61,000 passengers daily, or about 22.5 million yearly.

On Oct. 1, Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington estimated ridership had increased by 10 percent to 15 percent nationwide and that long distance trains were experiencing a 12 percent jump in ridership.

The actual increase was less than what the railroad company originally thought, said Kevin Johnson, manager of media relations for Amtrak Intercity Communications, the regional office covering Michigan.

The numbers revealed that Amtrak ridership was actually down a little for September.

Five days after the attacks, ridership was up about 17 percent nationwide and then fell off for a couple weeks. The last week of September, ridership rose by 4 percent compared to the same week of the previous year.

In the first two weeks of October, Amtrak was up 4 percent versus the same period in 2000, but for the entire month of September it was down due to the downturn in the economy before Sept. 11, Johnson said.

“The surge afterwards couldn’t make up for the deficiency in the first few days of September. So we were down 6 percent overall this September compared to last year,” he noted.

“It looks like what happened was we had the tragedy, there was the surge because people were stranded due to the airlines being shut down and then there was a couple of weeks there where people just didn’t travel. So it looks like people held off a little bit and then came back.”

Johnson did not have a breakdown of September and October ridership figures for either Michigan or the Midwest.

Nationwide, the increase was strongest in long distance trains — the sleeper trains that travel through several states overnight — which were sold out in the days immediately following the attacks and are still running very strong, he added.

Naturally, the Northeast corridor between Washington, New York and Boston saw a big influx of business travelers, especially toward the end of September, he said.

Amtrak put a couple of new security measures in place after Sept. 11, including a requirement that all passengers show a photo ID when purchasing tickets and checking baggage.

Photo IDs had never been mandated before Sept. 11, and Johnson said the measure is permanent. A computer program crosschecks ticket purchases and reservations against the FBI watch list on a real-time basis.

However, Amtrak doesn’t have the systems in place to check carry-on bags or to search luggage, he said.

Also, passengers boarding at any station in the Northeast corridor must buy tickets before boarding, as on-board ticket sales have been suspended due to the volume of passengers traveling the corridor.

In areas outside the Northeast corridor, train conductors continue to sell tickets on board.

The New York City and Washington, D.C., stations rank as the No. 1 and No. 3 busiest Amtrak stations nationwide, with more than 8.3 million and more than 3.3 million boardings recorded, respectively, last year.

In January, the Michigan Transportation Commission doubled the amount of subsidies provided Amtrak to $5.7 million in order to help Amtrak maintain passenger rail services along two of the state’s most popular mid-Michigan routes: The Pere Marquette, which serves Grand Rapids and Holland among others, and The International.

Daily rail service was in jeopardy of being discontinued when Congress eliminated the federal operating grant to Amtrak in 1999, as a result leading Amtrak to request that the states cover a larger share of the cost.

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