US railroad Amtrak on track to break passenger records in 2024

By Thomson Reuters Jun 12, 2024 | 1:26 PM

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak said on Wednesday it expects ridership to top pre-COVID 2019 levels this year for the first time and reach a record high even though it has less capacity.

Ridership was 20% higher in the first seven months of Amtrak’s budget year that began Oct. 1, and ticket revenue was up 10% versus the same period in 2023, according to written testimony by Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner to be presented at a hearing of a U.S. House of Representative subcommittee on Wednesday.

“We are on target to set a new all-time ridership record by exceeding the 32.3 million passengers” in 2019, Gardner said in the written testimony.

Amtrak passengers grew 45% from 2003 to 2019 to 32.3 million.

Gardner said Amtrak’s year-to-date revenue is also higher than in 2019, but “has been impacted by the reduced business travel since the pandemic as virtual meetings have replaced many short-duration business trips.”

Amtrak said it has fewer seats because of a number of factors including delays in starting service with new Siemens Venture cars that state partners have acquired for Midwestern and California route sand delays in beginning service of the new Acela trainsets by Alstom on the Northeast Corridor because of continued testing.

A busy California route has been severed on multiple occasions for extended periods due to worsening erosion at points where its right-of-way runs beneath bluffs along the Pacific Coast.

Amtrak in March said it was boosting passenger services on the East Coast as it aims to double ridership nationwide by 2040. It will boost service between Boston and Washington by as much as 20% on weekdays and will add 1 million additional seats over the next year.

Congress approved $66 billion in funding for rail projects as part of a massive infrastructure bill in 2021, with $22 billion dedicated to Amtrak and $36 billion made available for grants.

In November the White House announced $16.4 billion in new funding for 25 passenger rail projects on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which is the busiest U.S. rail corridor with 800,000 daily trips in a region that represents 20% of the U.S. economy.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft and Leslie Adler)