A new Brookings report on Amtrak makes an important distinction on passenger rail service: distance matters. From the report:
The 26 routes traveling less than 400 miles make up the operationally efficient portion of the network. It includes the two most popular Northeast Corridor routes, the Acela and Northeast Regional, which operate between Boston and Washington D.C., including spurs into Virginia and western Massachusetts. The positive operating balance from these two routes--which currently do not receive direct state operating subsidies--were enough to offset the net operating costs of the other 24 short- distance routes. Those other sub-400 mile routes typically enjoy direct state support (even before the federal PRIIA legislation) and always serve at least one large metropolitan area. In total, these 26 corridors carried 83 percent of all system riders in 2012.
In fact, when taken all together Amtrak routes of 400 miles or less actually had a positive operating balance in 2011. The over-400 mile routes were in the red.
That said, some of the short distance routes don't do too well financially. And the Empire Service -- which runs between Albany and NYC -- is one of them. That line -- which doesn't get state support (it will starting later this year) -- had a negative operating balance of $31 million in 2011, almost half the cost of the service. But the Empire Service was the 7th most popular line in terms of ridership in fiscal year 2012, at 1.06 million riders. [TU] [AOA]
The Brookings report also includes ridership numbers by metro area, not just by station. And it reports riders in Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area to 862,737 in 2012 -- up 39 percent from 1997.
Amtrak had 31.2 million passengers in fiscal year 2012. The Brookings report notes the rail service is the fastest-growing domestic transportation mode over the last 15 years.
Earlier on AOA: An updated vision for high-speed rail
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