Amtrak ticket sales, ridership on the rise

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Passengers board an Amtrak train headed for Chicago from the Niles station Tuesday afternoon. Leader Photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

Passengers board an Amtrak train headed for Chicago from the Niles station Tuesday afternoon. Leader Photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

Amtrak has reached record ridership for the tenth time in 11 years.

During the 2013 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Amtrak carried a record 316 million passengers and increased ticket revenue to a record $2.1 billion.

“Other ways of traveling are growing increasingly unattractive,” said Amtrak media relations specialist Mark Magliari. He noted that fees such as tolls and gas prices are consistently on the rise, so traveling from southwest Michigan to Chicago by train is more affordable than other methods.

According to Magliari, the trains traveling through western Michigan (including Niles and Dowagiac stations) have the longest section of fast tracks outside the northeast, with 80 miles of track exceeding the 94 mile-per-hour speed minimum.

“The state of Michigan, with their leadership, are improving from Kalamazoo east, and our great crews based in Niles are doing a lot of that hard work,” Magliari said.

In keeping with the nationwide trend, passengers boarding Amtrak trains in Niles and Dowagiac increased from the 2012 fiscal year. The Niles station serviced 21,306 passengers, up from 19,915 last year, and Dowagiac serviced 4,108, up from 3,740.

Ridership on the Wolverine railway line, one of the two main lines that travel through Niles and Dowagiac Amtrak stations, increased significantly. Ridership on the rail increased 5.2 percent from the 2012 fiscal year, and ticket revenue increased 9.6 percent. The Wolverine train travels from Chicago to Pontiac, Mich.

The Blue Water line, which runs from Chicago to Port Huron, Mich., also saw increased ridership, though not as sizable. Ridership increased one percent (just over 2,000 riders), and revenue increased 2.2 percent, just over $130,000.

The state-supported corridor services in general grew to a new record of 15.4 million passengers, and long distance routes had the best ridership in 20 years with 4.8 million passengers.

Revenue from the three Michigan railways (Wolverine, Blue Water and Pere Marquette, which does not run through Niles or Dowagiac) increased 6 percent to $28.8 million.

Magliari said Amtrak raised fares just under 3 percent nationally during the 2013 fiscal year.

“I think the fare increase didn’t account for most of the revenue increase,” Magliari said. “Trains are just very busy, and people buy their tickets late. If you’re among the last to buy a ticket, your fare is going to be higher than if you’d bought it soon, which is why we encourage buying tickets ahead of time.”

Just under 909,000 passengers got on and off trains in Michigan last year, an increase of almost 35,000 from the 2012 fiscal year, a 4 percent increase. The nationwide increase was 1 percent.

“Amtrak is a wonderful partner in providing rail service on MDOT’s Lines, Pere Marquette, Blue Water and Wolverine rail lines in Michigan, and a couple of new services have rolled out recently,” said Nick Schirripa, the southwest Michigan communications representative for Michigan Department of Transportation. Schirripa said he was referring to the new amenities that provide wireless internet and a walk-on bicycle service for Amtrak passengers.

“From MDOT’s perspective, we’re certainly happy about Amtrak’s recent developments and hope to continue our partnership with Amtrak in the future,” Schirripa said.