As Amtrak pushes forward on its absurdly expensive high-speed rail plan, the rail carrier is enjoying some record high ridership. Amtrak announced yesterday 11 consecutive months of record ridership, and they anticipate that, when September ends, the national rail carrier will top its previous fiscal year record of 30.2 million passengers, set in 2011. “All across America the demand to travel by Amtrak is strong, growing and undeniable,” President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement. “Amtrak continues to deliver on its mission to fulfill a vital national transportation need and does so with improved management and financial health.”
Since the early part of the 2000s, Amtrak has seen its usage soar. Ridership has increased by 44 percent over 2002 with a lot of growth centering around the Northeast Corridor. Still, the agency is in a political fight for funding and an economic fight for high-speed rail dollars. On the one hand, I don’t blame politicians for eying Amtrak’s finances as they’ve never been too robust or cost-effective. On the other, Amtrak has suffered from years of underinvestment, and the nation’s rail network lags far behind those of our economic competitors.
A serious discussion on rail investment has so far eluded federal politicians. Some states have given up high-speed rail dollars and plans while others are clamoring for them. Without a comprehensive plan with costs that make sense, we’ll be left spinning our proverbial wheels. Meanwhile, the demand for Amtrak is there and growing. It’s time to capitalize.