Train Travel Statistics: Amtrak Ridership Rebounding Strong

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It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic derailed most forms of travel. But while airlines have mostly bounced back, Amtrak ridership hasn’t yet fully recovered.

The latest LendingTree study analyzed Amtrak data to show how ridership has changed nationally and by state since the 2019 fiscal year. Although Amtrak is playing catch-up, a ridership surge in certain areas — especially in Northeast states — signals recovery may be on the right track.

We looked at possible reasons why Amtrak is lagging behind air travel and which states are seeing a ridership surge. Later, we’ll provide tips for scoring affordable Amtrak tickets.

  • Amtrak ridership is below what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s rebounding strongly. Ridership in the 2023 fiscal year was 10.9% lower than during the 2019 fiscal year — the last before the pandemic. (Note: Amtrak’s fiscal years run from October of the prior year through September of the listed fiscal year.) But there’s been a rebound, as ridership increased by 24.5% between the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.
  • Amid an Amtrak ticket price bump, train travel still lags behind air travel. While Amtrak ridership is down, the number of people who passed through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints was up 4.2% in November 2023 compared to November 2019. This comes as average Amtrak fares rose 7.1% year over year in 2022 — the largest jump since 2006 — to $77.25.
  • Northeasterners were most likely to resume train travel after the pandemic’s early days. Between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years (the latest available at the time of research by state), Amtrak ridership in Vermont rose by 348.0% — the highest by a wide margin. Following that, ridership in New Hampshire (121.6%), Maine (112.1%) and the South’s District of Columbia (106.5%) more than doubled.
  • Western states showed the lowest growth between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. Montana was at the bottom, though ridership grew by 20.7% — lower than Utah (21.6%) and Idaho (26.2%). In all, ridership increased by less than 30.0% in six states.
  • Ridership has surpassed pre-COVID-19 figures in just two states. In Virginia and Maine, Amtrak ridership grew by 2.3% and 1.9%, respectively, between the 2019 and 2022 fiscal years. Meanwhile, ridership fell the most in New Hampshire (68.8%) and Mississippi (53.0%) — the only two where ridership fell by more than 50.0% in the same period.

3 key things to know about Amtrak ridership data

Amtrak’s reporting uses fiscal years, so the periods discussed are October through September. The five fiscal year periods in our study include:

  • 2019 (October 2018 through September 2019)
  • 2020 (October 2019 through September 2020)
  • 2021 (October 2020 through September 2021)
  • 2022 (October 2021 through September 2022)
  • 2023 (October 2022 through September 2023)

Ridership, as explained in the footnotes on Amtrak’s monthly reports, includes:

  • Northeast Corridor (NEC) routes: The Northeast Corridor main line runs through eight states, from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The NEC daily supports more than 40,000 trips on Amtrak’s intercity services.
  • State-supported routes: The State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee (SAIPRC) is a multiagency body whose members include state agencies, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration. State-supported services include Amtrak routes 750 miles or less and outside the Northeast Corridor. These services are responsible for carrying about half of Amtrak riders nationwide.
  • Long-distance routes: Amtrak’s Long Distance Service Line operates 15 long-distance routes ranging from 764 to 2,438 miles. It provides once-daily service to 39 states and the District of Columbia, offering connections with other long-distance, state-supported and NEC short-distance routes.

Lastly, the national ridership data counts trips, according to an Amtrak senior public relations manager. Each trip is one boarding and one alighting (or deboarding). The state data counts boardings and alightings separately, so it’ll show higher tallies than national ridership.

Before the pandemic, Amtrak ridership was booming, reaching 32.0 million in fiscal year 2019 (October 2018 through September 2019).

But when everything shut down and people were limiting their travel and trying to avoid enclosed spaces (like an Amtrak train car), ridership plummeted to 16.8 million for fiscal year 2020 — which included the last quarter of 2019 before the pandemic emerged. The next fiscal year (2021), which featured pandemic surges throughout, saw the lowest ridership at 12.2 million.

Fiscal year 2022 saw an uptick to 22.9 million, and fiscal year 2023 reached 28.5 million. Though this figure is still below pre-pandemic performance and overall ridership is down 10.9% from before COVID-19 emerged, there are signs things are rebounding.

Amtrak ridership by fiscal year

Fiscal year Total riders
FY 2019 32.0 million
FY 2020 16.8 million
FY 2021 12.2 million
FY 2022 22.9 million
FY 2023 28.5 million

Source: LendingTree analysis of Amtrak performance reports. Note: Amtrak fiscal years are from the prior October through September of the listed year.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that Amtrak ridership fell off so much in the pandemic,” says Matt Schulz, LendingTree chief credit analyst. “That it’s still below pre-pandemic levels is noteworthy, especially considering how people have returned in droves to air travel.” However, the past year’s growth was significant, and it looks like Amtrak is on pace to exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2024, he adds.

As Schulz notes, air travel has bounced back more quickly than Amtrak ridership. The number of people who passed through TSA checkpoints was up 4.2% in November 2023 compared to November 2019. Though there could be various contributing factors, Amtrak’s rising prices — and travel inflation in general — could be partly to blame. From 2021 to 2022 (note: fares aren’t tracked by fiscal years), the average ticket price went from $72.12 to $77.25 — a 7.1% increase and the largest jump since 2006.

However, Schulz says there’s probably more to the story. “Rising fares likely played a role in slowing post-pandemic growth, but so did the suspension of various routes during the pandemic,” he says — some of which took years to resume. Amtrak says it restored services on all routes in fiscal year 2023, which could explain the improving numbers.

Hiring shortages may have also created challenges in those post-pandemic days, adds Schulz, as they did with other forms of travel. In fact, there were reports of Amtrak worker shortages in late 2021 and 2022.

Average Amtrak fares by year

Year Average rail fare (inflation-adjusted) % change
2000 $52.15 11.3%
2001 $54.23 4.0%
2002 $59.07 8.9%
2003 $53.90 -8.8%
2004 $53.29 -1.1%
2005 $51.57 -3.2%
2006 $56.42 9.4%
2007 $58.77 4.2%
2008 $60.39 2.7%
2009 $58.88 -2.5%
2010 $60.70 3.1%
2011 $62.67 3.2%
2012 $64.66 3.2%
2013 $68.22 5.5%
2014 $70.78 3.8%
2015 $70.77 0.0%
2016 $68.30 -3.5%
2017 $68.71 0.6%
2018 $69.59 1.3%
2019 $71.47 2.7%
2020 $73.75 3.2%
2021 $72.12 -2.2%
2022 $77.25 7.1%

Source: LendingTree analysis of Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data.

Northeasterners headed back to the rails after the pandemic’s peak a bit faster than other segments of the country.

Ridership in Vermont saw the biggest increase between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years — 348.0%. Other surges in ridership took place in New Hampshire (121.6%) and Maine (112.1%). The District of Columbia in the South rounded out the top four increases in ridership (106.5%), but it’s worth noting that D.C. is the end point of the NEC main line.

In July 2022, Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Express train expanded service at the Burlington, Ferrisburgh-Vergennes and Middlebury stations in Vermont. Of the 14 stations in Vermont, ridership increases between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years ranged from 233.8% (Windsor) to 406.4% (Castleton).

Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s four Amtrak stations saw ridership jumps of no less than 111.1% between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. (Its biggest increase — 320.7% — was at the Claremont station, which had the lowest ridership numbers in both fiscal years.) And ridership increases in Maine — which has six stations — were carried by the Portland station, which saw a 111.8% jump from 68,841 riders in fiscal year 2021 to 145,776 in fiscal year 2022.

At the other end of the spectrum, ridership in six states grew by less than 30.0%. The bottom three were Montana, Utah and Idaho (all Mountain West states). Leaders in Idaho — which has one station — and Utah — which has four — have been fighting for federal funding to expand rail service in their states. The other three states with sub-30.0% growth were Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina in the South.

Where Amtrak ridership grew the most, 2021 to 2022 fiscal years

Rank State Total riders, FY 2021 Total riders, FY 2022 % change
1 Vermont 19,098 85,558 348.0%
2 New Hampshire 60,937 135,048 121.6%
3 Maine 161,354 342,178 112.1%
4 District of Columbia 1,758,409 3,631,677 106.5%
5 New Jersey 596,796 1,173,868 96.7%
6 Pennsylvania 2,129,189 4,182,216 96.4%
7 Delaware 236,807 456,001 92.6%
8 Massachusetts 1,395,203 2,679,581 92.1%
9 Michigan 330,114 633,231 91.8%
10 Wisconsin 288,969 548,970 90.0%
11 Oregon 288,356 546,938 89.7%
12 Maryland 831,049 1,575,986 89.6%
13 New York 5,220,721 9,888,379 89.4%
14 Washington 377,167 711,749 88.7%
15 Connecticut 788,621 1,465,395 85.8%
16 Rhode Island 409,756 756,776 84.7%
17 California 3,526,804 6,414,831 81.9%
18 Missouri 297,449 530,664 78.4%
19 Illinois 1,942,998 3,389,218 74.4%
20 Virginia 908,075 1,578,326 73.8%
21 North Carolina 499,159 863,006 72.9%
22 Kansas 19,306 32,986 70.9%
23 Indiana 46,221 73,996 60.1%
24 Arkansas 15,383 24,482 59.1%
25 Colorado 114,529 180,095 57.2%
26 Texas 196,300 306,300 56.0%
27 Tennessee 27,124 41,356 52.5%
28 Ohio 82,062 124,964 52.3%
29 Nevada 36,295 55,037 51.6%
30 Arizona 47,075 70,851 50.5%
31 New Mexico 46,486 67,875 46.0%
32 Nebraska 22,208 31,977 44.0%
33 Georgia 75,988 108,958 43.4%
34 West Virginia 23,733 33,887 42.8%
35 Oklahoma 43,633 61,908 41.9%
36 Alabama 20,603 29,086 41.2%
37 Louisiana 83,842 117,446 40.1%
38 Florida 569,165 796,601 40.0%
39 Iowa 24,543 33,725 37.4%
40 North Dakota 44,950 60,709 35.1%
41 Minnesota 65,827 88,617 34.6%
42 South Carolina 90,468 117,190 29.5%
43 Mississippi 45,225 57,607 27.4%
44 Kentucky 4,846 6,120 26.3%
45 Idaho 3,594 4,537 26.2%
46 Utah 28,046 34,109 21.6%
47 Montana 67,066 80,970 20.7%

Source: LendingTree analysis of Amtrak state fact sheets data. Note: Amtrak doesn’t operate in Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota or Wyoming.

In terms of ridership gains by state, just Virginia and Maine have pulled ahead of their pre-COVID-19 numbers, growing 2.3% and 1.9%, respectively, between the 2019 and 2022 fiscal years.

Ridership fell the most in New Hampshire (68.8%) and Mississippi (53.0%) during the same period — the only two states where ridership fell by more than 50.0%. Of the two, New Hampshire is at least on the upswing, seeing the second-highest growth from fiscal year 2021 through fiscal year 2022 (121.6%). Mississippi, however, is recovering more slowly, as it’s among the bottom five states for rising ridership in the last available fiscal year.

Where Amtrak ridership grew the most, 2019 to 2022 fiscal years

Rank State Total riders, FY 2019 Total riders, FY 2022 % change
1 Virginia 1,542,813 1,578,326 2.3%
2 Maine 335,682 342,178 1.9%
3 Ohio 132,095 124,964 -5.4%
4 North Carolina 931,858 863,006 -7.4%
5 Vermont 92,914 85,558 -7.9%
6 Florida 905,074 796,601 -12.0%
7 Oklahoma 70,422 61,908 -12.1%
8 Texas 363,873 306,300 -15.8%
9 Arkansas 30,413 24,482 -19.5%
10 Connecticut 1,829,770 1,465,395 -19.9%
11 Maryland 2,031,975 1,575,986 -22.4%
12 Massachusetts 3,460,079 2,679,581 -22.6%
13 Georgia 141,707 108,958 -23.1%
14 Rhode Island 987,321 756,776 -23.4%
14 Missouri 692,347 530,664 -23.4%
16 New York 13,023,167 9,888,379 -24.1%
17 Michigan 843,529 633,231 -24.9%
18 Kentucky 8,367 6,120 -26.9%
19 Illinois 4,722,853 3,389,218 -28.2%
20 Arizona 99,636 70,851 -28.9%
21 Kansas 46,482 32,986 -29.0%
22 District of Columbia 5,207,223 3,631,677 -30.3%
23 Idaho 6,726 4,537 -32.5%
24 Oregon 812,067 546,938 -32.6%
25 Minnesota 131,973 88,617 -32.9%
26 New Jersey 1,752,369 1,173,868 -33.0%
27 Montana 121,350 80,970 -33.3%
27 Louisiana 176,159 117,446 -33.3%
29 Colorado 270,232 180,095 -33.4%
30 West Virginia 51,568 33,887 -34.3%
31 Iowa 51,499 33,725 -34.5%
32 South Carolina 179,063 117,190 -34.6%
33 Nebraska 49,674 31,977 -35.6%
34 Tennessee 64,401 41,356 -35.8%
35 Delaware 717,359 456,001 -36.4%
36 Indiana 117,811 73,996 -37.2%
36 Pennsylvania 6,659,821 4,182,216 -37.2%
38 Nevada 88,960 55,037 -38.1%
39 North Dakota 101,119 60,709 -40.0%
40 Utah 57,177 34,109 -40.3%
41 New Mexico 116,786 67,875 -41.9%
42 Alabama 51,172 29,086 -43.2%
43 Wisconsin 971,822 548,970 -43.5%
44 California 11,455,840 6,414,831 -44.0%
45 Washington 1,301,585 711,749 -45.3%
46 Mississippi 122,662 57,607 -53.0%
47 New Hampshire 432,170 135,048 -68.8%

Source: LendingTree analysis of Amtrak state fact sheets data. Note: Amtrak doesn’t operate in Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota or Wyoming.

If you’re ready to hop aboard an Amtrak for your next trip, there are ways to beat the increasing fares.

  • Use credit card rewards to pay for travel. Most of the most popular travel credit cards will allow you to collect or redeem rewards for travel, Schulz says. “Various Capital One, Chase and American Express cards are among those that give you rewards for train travel, but that’s just a sample. It’s worth shopping around to compare what different cards offer before applying.”
  • Look into passenger discounts. Don’t automatically assume you have to settle for paying full price for your tickets. Amtrak offers discounts for seniors, students, kids, military service members, veterans and other groups. However, you may not find out about them if you don’t look for them or ask someone, Schulz says. “With so many Americans living on tight budgets, it’s worth your time.”
  • Book early, and be flexible. Amtrak’s website recommends booking your rides as early as possible, which could be a slightly different strategy than you’re used to if you do airline research. You can book as early as 11 months before your trip. Also, check prices for different days of the week or times as you may be able to find lower fares.
  • Consider an Amtrak credit card. Amtrak has co-branded credit cards. “As with many other travel cards, if you’re a loyal, regular customer of Amtrak, it’s worth considering,” Schulz says. However, if you only ride periodically, he says there are probably other cards that can bring you better value.

LendingTree analyzed Amtrak performance reports and state fact sheets to show how ridership has changed since the 2019 fiscal year. Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota and Wyoming aren’t included in our report because Amtrak doesn’t operate in those states. For national ridership, Amtrak counts one boarding and one alighting (or deboarding) as a trip. For state ridership, boardings and alightings are counted separately.

Researchers also analyzed Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data to calculate how average Amtrak rail fares have changed.

Source

This article originally appeared on LendingTree and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on LendingTree and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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