Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Ground Transport

Amtrak Ridership Jumped a Quarter in Fiscal 2023, Fell Short of Full Recovery

3 months ago

Amtrak carried 28.6 million customers on train trips during its latest fiscal year. That number, while an improvement of nearly a quarter from 2022, fell short of its aim to match pre-pandemic ridership of 32.5 million trips.

But even as overall numbers fell short of those four years ago, Amtrak said Thursday that the number of trips across its national passenger rail network had fully recovered — and was up in some places — by September, the last month of its 2023 fiscal year.

“Amtrak ridership continues to set post-pandemic records,” CEO Stephen Gardner said in a statement Thursday. “We’re inspired by the soaring demand for intercity passenger rail and are eager to continue connecting more people and places.”

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains in San Diego
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains in San Diego. (wyliepoon/Flickr)

The railroad has ambitious expansion plans, dubbed Connect U.S. and largely funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, that could see it add dozens of new passenger rail corridors and trains across the country over the next decade. The first route of that expansion could be new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., sometime next year. The route was previously operated in 2005 but suspended after Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks. And, new engines and passenger cars on order will add capacity and improve service on everything from Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train to its state-funded corridors and long-distance trains.

During the year ending in September, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor that connects Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., was once again its busiest route. The railroad carried 12.1 million riders on the corridor, up 31% from last year and down just 3% from 2019. Ridership fell 7% on its second busiest route, the Pacific Surfliner in California, to 1.5 million trips during the year; trains on the corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego were affected for up to six months last fall after coastal erosion temporarily closed the tracks.

Amtrak’s ridership numbers indicate that privately owned Brightline’s new Miami-Orlando passenger rail line that opened in September will likely be the second busiest intercity passenger train this year.

Amtrak posted some of its biggest ridership gains on state-supported routes in Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. The largest jump was to Norfolk where ridership doubled from 2019 to more than 480,000 passengers this year; Amtrak added a third daily train to Norfolk from Washington in 2022. And, affirming the maxim “build it and they will come,” ridership climbed nearly 72% compared to four years ago to nearly 87,000 passengers on the railroad’s Ethan Allen service to Vermont that was extended to Burlington last July.

Amtrak leadership will discuss the railroad’s performance and plans at a public board meeting on Friday.

Ground Transport

IDEAS: Amtrak Introduces First Electric Vehicle Into National Network

6 months ago

Amtrak and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) are set to introduce their first electric vehicle into the Amtrak Cascades route.

Credit: Amtrak

The new electric bus will be able to complete the almost 200-mile round-trip on a single charge, with the new EV set to save ‘approximately 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year, cutting CO2 emissions by 109 tons annually’, according to a release from Amtrak. 

The charging hub for the electric vehicle has also been built with sustainability in mind, having been installed on land that was once occupied by large fuel tanks.

Credit: Amtrak

“At Amtrak, we strive to give our passengers reliable, comfortable, and sustainable travel options. By incorporating environmental considerations into our current operations and as we work with our partners to reach more of America, we continue to make Amtrak an even ‘greener’ mode of transportation,” said Kara Oldhouser, sustainability director at Amtrak. 

Credit: Amtrak

The introduction of the electric bus bus is hoped to help Amtrak advance its pledge to become net zero by 2045, with the company examining other routes within the National Network that could operate electric vehicles.

Skift Ideas uncovers the most creative and forward-thinking innovations happening across travel. We celebrate innovation through our Skift IDEA Awards and hear from leaders on our Ideas podcast.

You can listen and subscribe to the Skift Ideas Podcast through your favorite podcast app here.


Amtrak Indefinitely Suspends Trains on Busy California Route

1 year ago

Amtrak has indefinitely suspended trains to San Diego on the Pacific Surfliner, the second busiest route in its network after the Northeast Corridor that connects Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.

The suspension of all trains south of Irvine, Calif., on the line that connects Los Angeles and San Diego was due to “safety concerns to the right-of-way” related to erosion, according to the Pacific Surfliner’s website and twitter feed. The Southern California regional rail operator, Metrolink, that shares the tracks added that “movement to the right of way” in the vicinity of San Clemente, Calif., was at fault for the suspension.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner California

Amtrak’s latest schedule shows 11 daily trains between Los Angeles and San Diego along the corridor impacted by the closure.

The Pacific Surfliner operates on 100-plus year-old tracks that sit on bluffs along the beach in San Clemente. While these offer impressive views to riders, it also presents risks, like erosion, to the right-of-way and the ability to operate large passenger trains.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was enacted last year includes $66 billion in funding to both upgrade and expand the U.S. passenger rail system. Potential uses of those funds include hardening rail infrastructure against climate change, and threats like coastal erosion.

“Amtrak is working to restore limited service between Irvine and San Diego,” a spokesperson for the railroad said.


Amtrak Sets Date for New Rail Service to Vermont’s Largest City

2 years ago

Amtrak will begin serving Burlington, Vt., later in July, nearly 70 years after passenger rail service ended to the city.

Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express will begin daily service to Burlington from New York on July 29, the passenger railroad said Wednesday. The train, which is an extension of existing service to Rutland, Vt., will make the trip in seven-and-a-half hours and includes new intermediate stations in Middlebury and Vergennes, Vt.

The last passenger rail service to Burlington ended in 1953.

The new Amtrak station in Burlington, Vt. (Amtrak)

“The extension of service to Burlington highlights the continued growth in demand for train travel throughout this country, and we are proud to meet this demand with our partners” in Vermont, Amtrak President Roger Harris said in a statement.

As exciting as the rail expansion is, Amtrak faces challenges making its Burlington trains competitive with flying and driving. Flights between New York and Burlington are an hour-and-a-half or less with nonstop offerings from Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines. Driving takes just over six hours without traffic.

Amtrak’s expansion to Burlington comes as the railroad prepares for an influx of federal dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The railroad has unveiled an ambitious expansion plan, dubbed Connect U.S., that includes new passenger rail corridors and expanded service across the U.S. Amtrak anticipates funds arriving and work beginning on parts of that plan sometime next year.


Amtrak Returns to Canada

2 years ago

Amtrak resumed trains to Toronto on Monday, two years after the international passenger rail service was suspended in the early days of the pandemic.

The daily Maple Leaf train connects New York and Toronto in 12-and-a-half hours, according to Amtrak. Trains cross the border near Niagara Falls, N.Y. The railroad’s passenger trains to Montreal and Vancouver remain suspended.

(Tom Baston/Flickr)

“The return of this vital rail connection is welcome news not just for passengers who love to travel, but for countless businesses across New York State and Canada who make it possible for visitors to experience the best of what every locality has to offer,” New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said in a statement. “As cross border travel continues to open and increase, passenger rail is a great way to experience the beauty of New York State and Canada.”

The resumption of Toronto service comes amid an expansion of Amtrak service this summer. The railroad will return to Burlington, Vt., after more than 50 years on July 29, and adds a second daily train to Roanoke, Va., on July 11. Both expansions are funded by their respective states.

Amtrak is operating near 80 percent of its pre-pandemic schedule on the Northeast Corridor, its busiest line, between Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.

Tags: amtrak

Business Travel

Amtrak To Add More Trains As Demand Returns

2 years ago

Good news on travel demand, of the rail kind: Amtrak has announced its summer schedule with most Acela frequencies since the onset of the pandemic and Northeast Regional departures nearing 80% of pre-pandemic service levels. The new summer schedule also includes the restoration of four long-distance trains to daily service, the service said in an announcement.

Amtrak anticipates the announcement of additional service for summer travel later this spring.

Amtrak Announcement

Tags: amtrak