Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Amtrak, AATA post latest ridership numbers (up!)

11. August 2008 • Murph
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Last week, AATA published its 2007 Annual Report (12 page pdf), showing continued ridership growth (though less dramatic than in the 2 years previous). Today, the Ann Arbor News and Detroit News are reporting Amtrak ridership increases for the past year.

AATA boasted only a 2.5% increase in fixed-route riders in 2007, but notes that the past 3 years have seen a total 30% increase in ridership, as well as a 30% increase in productivity (measured in riders per service hour).

Amtrak reported Wolverine Line (Port Huron to Chicago) ridership increases of 5.9% for the October ’07 – July ’08 period, and national increases of 11.3% during that period. (See previous AU articles for historical data on the Ann Arbor station.)

Both operators note that system capacity is limited for future ridership increases – AATA notes that additional buses have been added during peak hours to handle the standing-room crowds that riders are familiar with, while the Amtrak articles repeat the earlier warning about a lack of rolling stock for increasing service. The DetNews cites Amtrak officials as estimating that ridership would have increased further, except that weekend trains are sold out, with some weekend demand spilling over onto Monday and Thursday routes. While the A2News notes that Congress has passed a “veto-proof” funding increase of 33% for Amtrak’s upcoming fiscal year, adding and upgrading rolling stock and rails could consume billions of dollars.

  1. This past Friday I took the Acela Express from Boston to NYC. I booked my trip the week before – all that was left was business class (which was fine with me). The train did fill up that day.

    It is a great way to get between those two cities. Very comfortable, and in business class there is a 120v receptacle in which to plug your laptop. I don’t know if they provide that in coach. Now if they only provided wifi …

       —Tom Brandt    Aug. 11 '08 - 10:20PM    #
  2. Awesome on the funding increase.

    I generally schedule my trips to Chicago on Thursdays and return Mondays just to avoid the cost and overflow on the weekend trains.

       —Matt Hampel    Aug. 11 '08 - 10:20PM    #
  3. Tom, each seat pair on the Wolverine has 2 outlets, unless you are unlucky and get a Superliner. (the Superliner does give you a better view and better seats, though — they come out when there’s a lot of snow on the tracks)

       —Matt Hampel    Aug. 11 '08 - 10:22PM    #
  4. The superliners have an outlet in the observation car next to the stairs down to the cafe car. There’s only one or two places where you can sit and use it comfortably, but at least on cross-country trains it’s usually available if you’re quick. An extension cord might help.

    Depending on the train sometimes there’s another outlet below in the cafe.

    I have been on superliners with power at every seat, but they’re rare.

       —Bruce Fields    Aug. 11 '08 - 10:37PM    #
  5. Just think of what the state might accomplish if they worked out an agreement with Amtrak to put some funds towards purchasing more equipment that could be dedicated for Michigan trains? Michigan is a bit unique in that most of our trains run largely within the state (California is the only other state that I can think of that is even close to us in that regard). The investment would primarily benefit Michigan trains and Michigan riders. We can spends billions on roads but we nickel-and-dime our spending on alternatives.

       —John Q.    Aug. 12 '08 - 12:06AM    #
  6. John Q., that is a great idea—I never thought of that. I’m gonna start accusing you of being the mayor now! :D

    Unfortunately, considering the state of MI’s economy and the fact that we now need $6Bn to fix the roads, getting train $$$ might be difficult. But if you could spin it as a road-saver, maybe it could work.

       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 12 '08 - 06:44PM    #
  7. re – power: I’ve found most of the superliner cars have four 120v outlets, one on each side of the car midway between the center stairwell and either end of the car. On any trip, take along a 3-to-1 power adapter and make yourself two quick friends.

       —Murph.    Aug. 12 '08 - 07:02PM    #
  8. Thanks for the tip, Murph! I’ve missed those, somehow. Googling around…. from this discussion they appear to be at seats 19 and 55, but some people report trouble accessing them, depending on the plug and the exact placement of the outlet.

       —Bruce Fields    Aug. 12 '08 - 07:11PM    #
  9. re – state funding: I believe the Pere Marquette (Chi -> GR) and Blue Water (Chi -> Lansing -> Port Huron) lines are largely MDOT funded.

    From an somewhat dated MDOT press release , it looks like increasing ridership has allowed the State to cut funding in recent years – filling the seats helps cover costs.

    The operating contract between MDOT and Amtrak for two routes (the Blue Water and the Pere Marquette) recently was renewed for fiscal year 2006-2007, beginning Oct. 1, 2006. The contract is $6.2 million, a 12 percent decrease from the previous year’s contract of $7.1 million. This decrease is credited to increases in ridership and revenues on the state-supported routes.

    The Michigan lines are an investment on the State’s part, and I’d agree with John Q. – we’re due to look at some capital costs before our investment falls apart.

    I don’t think, YUA, that increased passenger rail service would do much for road wear – getting freight off the roads and onto rails would be much more effective for that – but we should definitely look to diversify our capacity portfolio rather than adding lanes, etc., and avoid road costs that way.

       —Murph.    Aug. 12 '08 - 07:12PM    #
  10. In addition to equipment, the state could look at purchasing additional segments of track from the freight carriers. The only “high-speed” segment in the state is the section that is owned outright by Amtrak. The State’s purchase of additional track segments could pave the way for more improvements.

    The state already owns over 600 miles of freight lines, most of which are leased out to smaller freight carriers. Those sections were purchased to ensure that rail freight service was maintained when the larger carriers like CSX and Conrail divested themselves of those lines back in the 70s and 80s.

    The state also maintains a revolving loan fund for track and equipment upgrades. These are intended for freight lines. The state should look at doing the same for passenger lines and equipment. Local governments could even tap into such a fund for grade crossing and other improvements that would facilitate better train service.,1607,7-151-11056-22233—,00.html

       —John Q.    Aug. 12 '08 - 08:50PM    #
  11. The monthly meeting of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers is being held this Saturday, August 16th. Rick Harnish, the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, will do a quick presentation on the rapid pace of railroad expansion in Spain. Then there will be an open discussion on how to get more trains in Michigan. Here are the details:

    August 16, 10:15 am
    St. Joseph Public Library
    500 Market Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085

    There is no charge for this event. You are welcome to join the group for pizza afterwards.

    Midwest High Speed Rail Association website:

    Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers website:

       —Louis Schneider    Aug. 13 '08 - 05:25AM    #
  12. If there’s growing demand that outstrips supply, they could…um…ask people enjoying the comfortable service with the 120V outlets to pay a little more of the bill, requiring less in the way of subsidies and/or providing more cash for expanding service.

       —mw    Aug. 15 '08 - 03:00AM    #