Thursday, February 01, 2007

Amtrak's goal is to double riders by 2020 -- does that mean double the number of trains?

Dick Durbin is kicking ass for passenger rail. He held another (his third in the last year or so) rally for an Amtrak expansion, this one in the Quad Cities. And at the public meeting, Ray Lang, the senior government affairs director for Amtrak, had this to say in the Quad-City Times (thanks to United Rail Passenger Alliance for catching it on their blog):

Amtrak’s goal is to double the number of riders nationwide by 2020, he said, adding that Amtrak is not looking at long-distance rail service. The company’s future is servicing corridors 300 to 500 miles.
That's something to think about.

If we are going to double ridership on Amtrak, how could that happen?

First off, Amtrak carries about 25 million people a year. Doubling ridership would mean 50 million riders a year. In Illinois, there are 3.3 million riders (with 2.5 million in Chicago). If we doubled ridership, Chicago's Union Station would see 5 million annual boardings and the rest of the state would see 1.6 million boardings.

That's a big expansion in the next 13 years. It's basically an 8% growth rate every year for the next 12 years. Fortunately, we've been hitting that rate on our corridor trains, and some of our long-distance trains.

How can we maintain that growth? We need more frequencies. We need the trains to get more reliable and we need the average speed to rise. That means we need capital investment in tracks, signals and trainsets. And we can't do it with single-track in the system. We need to figure out a way to work in partnership with the freight railroads to get more tracks built and maintained so we can run more trains without having to pull over (or slowing down freight traffic).

It's time to buy new trainsets. And it's time to expand into new markets, like Peoria, Decatur, Rockford and the Quad Cities.

Amtrak's set out a very exciting goal of doubling ridership. Illinois, and Senator Durbin, are national leaders in improving Amtrak. This is a good time for trains.

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