Record-breaking Amtrak ridership was achieved in fiscal year 2012 – both nationwide and in Michigan – creating an economic boost for our state, and giving momentum to Governor Rick Snyder’s revitalization goals for Michigan’s transportation infrastructure.
More than 31.2 million passengers traveled by rail across the United States, marking the highest ever annual ridership for Amtrak. Of the 44 Amtrak service lines, 25 set new ridership records, including Michigan’s Blue Water service, which connects Port Huron to Chicago.
A total of 792,769 travelers road an Amtrak line in Michigan, and record-highs were posted on each of Michigan’s three service lines. The Blue Water set its highest ever annual ridership at 187,991. Second-best years for ridership were recorded by both the Pere Marquette service, running between Grand Rapids and Chicago; and the Wolverine service, linking Pontiac to Chicago. Since FY 2003, Amtrak has experienced a 58% increase in Michigan ridership.
Due to rising gasoline prices, a train ticket from Detroit to Chicago is closely comparable with, and sometimes cheaper than, the cost of gas for the same road trip. Switching to rail also gives riders the ability to use their rail car seat as a mobile office. Access to electric outlets and, unlike on a plane, the ability to use a cellular phone on board makes it convenient to work while you ride. Wi-fi access on board trains is not yet available on Michigan routes, but its addition to several other national routes has been a further convenience on those service lines.
Traveling by train is also more energy-efficient than by car or airline. On a per-passenger-mile basis, domestic rail is 30% more energy-efficient than car travel, and nearly 20% more efficient than domestic air travel – a boost for the pocketbook and the environment.
Another convenience found in rail travel is the escape from the hassles of airport security. Boarding your train is a simple as showing up at the train station on time, scanning your ticket, and finding a seat. In a similar manner, many travelers who fear flying find those fears alleviated on a train that travels flat on the ground on a fixed path.
Why is this all so important in Michigan? The 58% ridership increase over the past decade has created a 112% increase in Michigan Amtrak revenue. Amtrak spent more than $31 million at over 80 Michigan companies on Michigan goods and services to keep its rail lines running last year. Additionally, the Wolverine began running 110 mph trains between New Buffalo and Kalamazoo in February 2012, and plans are in place to expand the 110mph service east from Kalamazoo to Dearborn by 2015.
Michigan is poised to make considerable progress with its transportation infrastructure over the remainder of Governor Snyder’s first term. Progress on expansion of the high speed rail on the Wolverine will make travel by rail ever more convenient. Michigan also has extensive rail lines throughout the state already run by commercial freight providers or in some cases not currently in use. Reinvestment in these lines would increase accessibility from city to city across the state, and serve as an important backbone to the foundation in the revitalization of Michigan’s transportation system and economy.
By: Dan Sommerville, Transportation for Michigan Fellow