On Friday, Amtrak reported that it served over 30 million passengers in the last fiscal year. This is the most that the rail company has ever carried, which has helped boost an interest in the United States high speed rail industry. Supporters have been pushing for the country to adopt high speed rail for years, and now they say it’s clear that there is demand for the sector. US High Speed Rail Association chief executive Andy Kunz said that the figures from Amtrak prove there is demand. Ridership is skyrocketing, yet it’s not getting a lot of investment.
Passenger numbers at Amtrak were up over 5% year-over-year during the company’s fiscal year, which ended Sept 30. As a result, revenue for tickets jumped 8%, even though there were disruptions in the Western, Central and Northeastern US due to extreme winter weather conditions. Over half of the group’s services set records this year as well, which includes seven routes that carried over one million travellers.
Amtrak says that effective marketing, continued growth in rail business travel and high fuel prices are why it’s been successful in the last year. Since 2002, commuter rail services have reported a rise in passengers and revenue each year – except 2009. Chairman Tom Carper noted that Congress created them to fulfill an important need for national transportation and connecting the country in ways that other means of transport can’t.
The records come as there is more talk in the US about high speed trains. Supporters claim that it’s obvious there is a need for it, while there are numerous benefits. They also say further rails will fill a void for medium-haul passengers who find that it costs too much to fly or is too inconvenient to drive. They have called for a system built from scratch, using rails designated for high speed trains only and new technologies to enable trains to travel at speeds faster than 200 miles an hour.
However, those against high speed rail say it’s too expensive and hard to warrant in the current economic climate. Kunz says that, at the very least, the rise in demand offers another sign that people are getting sick of increasing airfares and flight cancellations. The figures from Amtrak show that people want and need another way to travel.
The vision that supporters have for high speed rail will take a while for sure, as funding for it is only trickling down. There is also disagreement between the two sides about how it will benefit Americans and the wider economy. It’s the hope of the High Speed Rail Association to address some of these concerns at a conference next month. The organisation plans to demonstrate the benefits and potential profitability that can come from it.