Greater Greater Washington

Top 10 busiest Amtrak routes

Rail use in America continues to climb ever higher. In July, Amtrak posted its busiest ridership month ever. But what are the busiest individual routes?


An Amtrak Cascades train leaves Seattle. Photo by KurtClark on Flickr.

Let's take a look. Here are the 10 highest ridership Amtrak routes, as of July, 2013:

Number 1: Northeast Regional
July 2013ridership: 687,331

Number 2: Acela Express
July 2013 ridership: 276,477

Number 3: Pacific Surfliner (Southern California)
July 2013 ridership: 271,517

Number 4: Capitol Corridor (Northern California)
July 2013 ridership: 140,533

Number 5: Keystone Service (NY to Harrisburg, PA)
July 2013 ridership: 123,874

Number 6: San Joaquin (Central California)
July 2013 ridership: 117,348

Number 7: Empire Service (Upstate New York)
July 2013 ridership: 99,801

Number 8: Cascades (Pacific Northwest)
July 2013 ridership: 85,565

Number 9: Hiawatha (Chicago to Milwaukee)
July 2013 ridership: 79,423

Number 10: Lincoln Service (Chicago to Saint Louis)
July 2013 ridership: 66,461

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed ridership data as being for the full fiscal 2013 year. Data is for July 2013 only.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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The acela and NE regional are parallel and hit the same stops, although the acela is more express. The NE regional also goes further south in some cases.

by Richard B on Aug 16, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

But what does this mean?

As someone who took Amtrak in July and August, I experienced two engine malfunctions on the NE Regional. While I'm pleased that people are using Amtrak, it also means that they will expect better maintenance. Maybe Amtrak need more capital funding?

by Randall M. on Aug 16, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

The ridership numbers are for the month of July 2013, not the fiscal year or year to date.

The Regionals and Acelas overlap certainly, but the Regionals hit more stops than the Acelas. The Acelas only stop at the major market stations while the Regionals stop at New Carrollton, a few at Aberdeen & Newark DE, etc. The NE Regional ridership numbers are only for trips on the NEC between DC and Boston. Trips on the NE Regionals that extend into Virginia such as Richmond Staples Mill to NYP are counted under the Virginia Regional trips.

Amtrak and the NEC badly need more capital funding. However, with regards to the electric locomotives used on the Regionals, Keystones, etc, the first of the new ACS-64 electric locomotives are undergoing testing and may enter revenue service in October. The new locomotives should provide a major boost in reliability and cost savings over the aging AEM-7 units and the troublesome HHP-8 units as they are deployed over the next 3 years.

by AlanF on Aug 16, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

^
Thanks for catching that, Alan. The post has been corrected.

by BeyondDC on Aug 16, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see the least popular routs as well. Maybe some of those need to be given over to bus companies so Amtrak can focus its capital budget on improving service to the popular and money making routes.

by snootypants on Aug 16, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the information about the new locomotives. I look forward to not being delayed for hours due to engine trouble.

by Randall M. on Aug 16, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Nobody rides trains in California.

by JJJJJJ on Aug 16, 2013 1:47 pm • linkreport

JJJJJJ,

Let me fix this for you...

--Nobody rides trains at all between cities.--

by Burger on Aug 16, 2013 6:57 pm • linkreport

@snootypants the least-ridden routes are usually products of political compromise to win votes for Amtrak funding from politicians whose districts/states ordinarily wouldn't receive service based on demand.

by Pennsy on Aug 16, 2013 8:26 pm • linkreport

Not to be confused with the "Empire Builder" route from Chicago to Seattle, the "Empire Service" crosses New York state - it's one of three routes that do so - the others being the "Lake Shore Ltd" (extending to Chicago) and the "Maple Leaf" (extending to Canada). In other words, west of Albany, about half the passenger capacity on the "Empire Service" route is not on the "Empire Service" trains. So I'm not sure what the numbers are counting.

by Turnip on Aug 16, 2013 10:46 pm • linkreport

The tenth busiest line, the Lincoln between Chicago and St Louis, posted a 73% increase. An increase that large would seem to suggest something unusual. Any ideas as to why that particular increase is so great?

by MarkHill on Aug 17, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

@Turnip, the Empire category listed above is the NY Penn Station (NYP) to Albany (ALB) segment ridership for all Empire Service trains and very likely the Maple Leaf. Not sure how NYP to ALB traffic is counted for the Adirondack and Ethan Allen, but they are probably put into the NYP to ALB corridor category. To be clear, these are passengers getting on and off at stops from NYP to ALB.

The Empire Service & Maple Leaf are split into 2 categories in the corridor list shown in the new release and the Amtrak monthly reports. Empire Service NYP to ALB which has 12 daily trains total on weekdays. The second, labeled Albany-Niagara Falls-Toronto, counts all passengers getting on or off the 2 Empire Service trains & Maple Leaf at stations west of Albany from Schenectady to Niagara Falls. The Maple Leaf continues to Toronto, but it is run by VIA crews from the border to Toronto and is treated as VIA train north of the border.

The above list for Number 7 is not quite correct; it should be labeled Empire Service (New York City - Albany).

by AlanF on Aug 17, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

@MarkHill, the Chicago to St. Louis corridor was shut down for one or more extended periods in July 2012 for track work as part of the 110 mph corridor upgrades. They have been periodically shutting down all or a portion of the corridor for 6 to 8 day periods with buses around the closed segment or entire route during the warm weather months for several years. There is another service interruption going on right now from August 16 through 23 with a mix of trains and chartered buses. The Texas Eagle is taking a detour route between Chicago and St. Louis.

The upgrade project for the Lincoln service corridor results in these large swings in month to month ridership numbers. The swings will continue until they complete the major track replacement work.

by AlanF on Aug 17, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

The use of ridership as a measure of train productivity can be deceptive. Each person boarding the train counts as one unit. However that traveller may only be going a short distance, as little as 40 miles even. A more useful measure of performance would be revenue passenger miles. By this measure the long distance trains actually do much better than the short corridors.

by Robert van Wormer on Aug 19, 2013 9:07 am • linkreport

The other misleading (maybe?) thing about NE Regional is that VRE commuters can use certain trains using their VRE ticket. So, does that count toward VRE ridership AND Amtrak ridership, making it appear to have more riders? Sure, it might not amount to a lot but it doesn't really represent Amtrak's corridor when thousands of people are using it to get from Crystal City to L'Enfant.

by Sam on Aug 19, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

The number of trains you can use the VRE/Amtrak codeshare on its hilariously small. I'd wager that it's not even worth considering. I don't even think Amtrak stops at Crystal City. I have been on one that stopped at L'Enfant, after I boarded at Alexandria, but we blew through Crystal City.

by Another Nick on Aug 19, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

The Pacific Surfliner ridership does not include the two Commuter rail lines that meet in Oceanside that would increase these figures even more, Metrolink and Coaster.

by Bob L on Aug 21, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

"Nobody rides trains in California."

That's right, JJJJJ. Read the data so you can deny it with hoary old stereotypes from Annie Hall.

by Sam Huddy on Aug 21, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

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