For the ninth time in ten years, Amtrak has broken a ridership record. The national rail network carried 31.2 million passengers in the twelve months before September 30, 2012. This news comes smack in the heat of an election season where nationally subsidized services like passenger rail and public television have become campaign issues.
The news: ridership grew by 3.5 percent in 2012, giving Amtrak its highest number of passenger trips since the company began operations in 1971. As the chart above shows, Amtrak ridership has grown steadily--a total of 49 percent since 2000.
Ticket revenue increased 6 percent, accounting for $2 billion of a roughly $4 billion budget. That revenue comes in about $100 million above projections in the 2012 budget (PDF). The government chipped in a $466 million operating subsidy, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The federal government also allocated an additional $952 million for capital expenses.
Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement, "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."
In the speed department: Last month, Amtrak began testing Acela trains to run at a new top speed of 160 miles per hour along several stretches of the Northeast Corridor. And 82 percent of trains were on time in 2012, up a bit from last year, which is about on par with airline industry performance compiled by FlightStat. (PDF) Amtrak has been growing in part by stealing business travelers from airlines on shorter flights.
The newly released numbers show the Northeast Corridor is still the anchor route for Amtrak with more than a third of all riders (11.4 million) traveling between Boston and Washington, D.C. Amtrak won't release new state-by-state and line-by-line numbers until next week, but the 361 miles of track along the Northeast Corridor are likely to continue to bring in more than half of all ticket revenue for Amtrak, as it did last year according to the 2011 annual report. According to projections (see PDF, last page of Appendix), only the NEC and Kansas City - St. Louis lines earn a profit on a per passenger basis. When final numbers are in, we'll find out if this new ridership and ticket revenue peak brings any other lines into break even territory.
Amtrak was established to provide passenger service that private train companies would not, or could not offer profitably.