Happening Now

FY14 Train Ridership Records Highlight Infrastructure, Funding Gaps

October 29, 2014

Release #14-16

October 29, 2014

Sean Jeans-Gail, NARP – 202-408-8362

FY14 Train Ridership Records Highlight Infrastructure, Funding Gaps

Amtrak’s record-breaking Fiscal Year 2014 ridership and revenue figures made public yesterday should be a wake-up call for federal and local policymakers to provide predictable, dedicated public investment in passenger rail and to address Midwestern train delays that are hurting passengers and Amtrak’s financial footing.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers sees many reasons to be pleased with the Fiscal 2014 results. Despite acute ridership declines on individual routes stemming from freight interference, overall Amtrak carried a best-ever 30.9 million riders (up 0.2 percent over the previous year), and earned a record $2.2 billion in ticket revenue (up 4.0 percent from last year). Ridership on the Northeast Corridor rose to 11.6 million (up 3.3 percent), and eight other routes also experienced record-setting years for ridership—the Adirondack, Auto Train, Albany-Niagara Falls-Toronto, Blue Water, Capitol Limited, Empire Service, Piedmont, and Washington-Lynchburg.

Delays Plaguing National Network

However, the broader takeaway was one of insufficient infrastructure investment. Poor National Network On-Time Performance (OTP), caused by too many freight trains on too few railroad lines, has led to severe congestion on the national train system. As result, we’ve seen a 0.6 percent ridership decline on state-supported routes, and a precipitous 4.5 percent drop on the long-distance lines.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has taken notice, and Chairman Dan Elliott wrote a public letter to host railroad Norfolk Southern (NS) asking for an explanation of severe delays and requesting the company to detail planned solutions. NS Chairman Charles “Wick” Moorman responded by outlining a series of changes to crew recruitment, locomotive acquisitions, efforts to shift traffic off of the Dearborn Division or out of Elkhart Yard, capacity additions, capital projects and other steps.

Despite the cautionary statements that improvements will take time, the fact that the travelling public saw improvements in OTP within days of the STB’s letter indicates that there are immediate operational steps that can be taken by host railroads to bring some measure of relief. NARP President Jim Mathews wrote a letter thanking Chairman Elliott for these efforts.

“Many irreplaceable personal moments have been disrupted by these delays, with weddings and funerals missed and rare home visits by deployed service members cut short or even cancelled altogether,” wrote Mathews. “Each of these hundreds of stories add up to more than mere temporary inconvenience. And coming at a time of record ridership, these chronic delays on freight railroads nationwide may well permanently discourage new and first-time riders from exercising their choice to travel by rail, a choice more Americans each year say that they want.”

NARP also transmitted a letter containing scores of delay stories from across the U.S. passenger rail to the STB to emphasize the national scope of this project.

Time Right for Dedicated Funding, Public-Private Partnerships

While NARP believes that there are steps that host railroads can take immediately to ease the pain of America’s passengers, we agree there are significant capital investments needed before fluidity can be restored to the national train network. The recently-completed Englewood Flyover in Chicago is a model for how these upgrades could occur.

The Englewood Flyover project constructed a flyover bridge that separated 78 daily Metra trains from 60 daily freight and Amtrak trains, easing congestion throughout the Midwest. The project is part of the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE), a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the U.S. DOT, the State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak, and the nation's freight railroads. While the $141 million Englewood Flyover allowed for disparate entities to collaborate on a mutually beneficial project, it was made possible primarily through a $126 million federal High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program grant. For revolutionary projects like CREATE to advance, Congress must step up by providing a predictable, dedicated source of funding for passenger trains.

Even the success of the NEC begs for an infrastructure response. The NEC, carrying more than 2,000 trains each weekday, has dozens of critical-yet-obsolete infrastructure elements, most notably the 104-year old Hudson River Tunnels connecting New York City and New Jersey, which carry 400,000 passengers each weekday. The tunnels will have to be closed to allow repairs to damage by Superstorm Sandy, but unless Amtrak secures funding for a new pair of tunnels to provide alternate routing (the Gateway Project), this repair process could turn commuting into a twice-daily nightmare for hundreds of thousands of bankers, brokers and bricklayers alike.

The current passenger rail reauthorization proposal being pushed by the House transportation leaders (HR 5449) fails to provide the predictable and dedicated funding needed to address these issues. Instead, the bill freezes Amtrak investment at an insufficient $1.4 billion during the coming four years. This won’t allow us to address any of the critical infrastructure problems facing the U.S., inhibiting U.S. economic growth.

NARP is working with legislators to improve the funding structure of the rail reauthorization for when it is reintroduced in the next congress, and is asking for $8 billion in dedicated annual funding.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more 28,000 individual members nationwide.