U.S., Amtrak: Numbers Tell The Story; Long Distance Trains Are The Heroes

By Andrew Selden, Guest Commentator; October 2, 2021

It has been clear almost from the very beginning of the COVID epidemic that not all trains were being impacted equally. After the initial shock of March and April 2020, when all ridership briefly went close to zero, some trains have come back strongly while others languish.

The simple way to tell which trains Americans want to use is to look at the numbers in Amtrak’s Monthly Performance Reports (buried but still accessible on the website). Long distance/inter-regional trains? Back to normal loads and sold-out conditions. Short distance “corridor” trains, including the Northeast Corridor? Not so much.

Here are the numbers for the first three quarters of FY’21 (the year ending September 30, 2021):

Ridership (000)

NEC                         2423                       -57%

Regional               3230                       -55%

LD                           1350                       -38%

RPM (000,000)

NEC                        411.7

Regional               473.8

LD                           779.8

The second table is the important one, because with Revenue Passenger Miles we see how far people went and how much intercity transport Amtrak produced, not just how many tickets were sold. And the one segment that gets all the money and attention from clueless senior execs at Amtrak is the NEC, the one segment that still hasn’t come back and remains its poorest performing segment.

Even the ridership numbers are telling, when we recall that in the NEC, three out of four Amtrak passengers are commuters, not real intercity passengers.

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