Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
Amtrak carried 31.6 million passengers in the 2013 fiscal year which ended September 30th, breaking another company record for 10th time in 11 years. July was the best month ever for Amtrak. But even where ridership was flat or down, like the all-important Northeast Corridor, Amtrak appears to have earned more money per passenger anyway.
Total company-wide ridership was up one percent, revenues were up 4.2 percent.
The Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington D.C. Ridership still pulls in the most of passengers by far at about 11.4 million annual riders. Factoring in special trains and Acela, Northeast corridor ridership was down .2 percent. Revenues though, were up. 5.3 percent. All of that is taking into account the aftermath of Sandy, which blocked sections of the corridor for over a week after the storm.
Factoring that in, regular regional service between Boston and D.C. was just about flat, up less than a half of a percent, yet revenues increased more than six percent. Acela Express ridership was down 1.5 percent, but revenue was still up 4.5 percent for Amtrak's luxury and speedier service.
In fact, looking at the line-by-line ridership and revenue numbers (embedded below), Amtrak seems to be operating leaner and more prosperously. On just about every route that saw an increase in ridership, the revenues were up more than the ridership, and where ridership fell, revenues fell less than the passenger counts did. That is to say, Amtrak is taking in more money off each passenger trip than in the past.
For example, Chicago to St. Louis service was up the most of any route, 9.7 percent with revenues jumping almost 23 percent. Washington-Newport News service saw a drop in ridership of 7.3 percent, but revenue only fell four percent.
Underscoring that the ridership increases happened mostly on the locally-subsidized smaller corridor services and Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman in the ridership announcement: “This year’s record ridership was achieved station by station in the more than 500 communities across America that Amtrak serves."
For a sense of why passengers are trending toward rail over the long term, see our previous post about Amtrak ridership.
Amtrak still operates at a loss, relying on government subsidies from states and Congress. Last year, facing mounting political criticism for revenue shortfalls, Amtrak declared it was 85 percent self-sufficient and getting better. This latest ridership figures appears to confirm the trend is continuing.