Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
Amtrak carried 30 million passengers in the past 12 months, the most the railroad has carried since its creation in 1971. But despite its success in attracting riders this year, the railroad has come under political attack.
Amtrak has broken ridership records for eight of the last nine years (see chart above). Joseph Boardman, the CEO of the railroad, said in a statement that “Amtrak is fulfilling its national mission and is part of the solution to meet America’s growing transportation and energy needs.”
A decade ago, Amtrak carried 21 million passengers a year.
The railroad attributes the growth to increases in business travel, high gasoline prices, and expansion of Wi-Fi on more services. Total ticket revenue for Amtrak was just under $1.9 billion -- up 8 percent over the previous year, despite significant weather-related service disruptions.
The Northeast Corridor, which carries almost 11 million each year, had a five percent growth in riders and a seven percent revenue bump in revenue, even as discount buses expanded heavily along the same route.
The short routes in the Washington, D.C. area did particularly well in 2011. Washington-Lynchburg ridership jumped almost 30 percent, and Washington-Newport News climbed 16 percent. Long distance trains, used more for leisure travel, had their highest ridership in 16 years. Very few routes lost riders. You can see ridership information for all lines here (pdf).
Meanwhile, in the past twelve months governors in Florida and Wisconsin have killed high-speed rail projects in their states, and House Republicans have called for privatizing it and are proposing spending cuts. At a hearing in May, John Mica, the head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said that Amtrak has "one of the most dismal records on earth for any rail service" and called for privatizing the Northeast Corridor.
And in June, a Republican Congressman from New Jersey called for diverting federal money -- already allocated to Amtrak for electrical upgrades on the Northeast Corridor -- to flood victims in the Midwest. After months of political wrangling, Amtrak eventually got that money.