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Midwest enjoys strong 10-year ridership gains
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Midwest enjoys strong 10-year ridership gains

Ridership on both state-supported and long-distance routes in the Midwest grew on almost every route in the 10 years from Fiscal Year 2007 to FY 2017.

Ridership also grew robustly on the Chicago-St. Louis, and Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridors, where construction of infrastructure for higher-speed trains had wreaked temporary havoc with schedules, suggesting passengers are returning.

State-supported trains
Overall ridership on the region's nine state-supported routes rose 20 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2017, while the one-year growth from FY 2016 to 2017 was 4 percent. (See MIPRC’s full chart, here.)

Leading the long-term growth was the Missouri River Runner (St. Louis-Kansas City, two round trips daily), whose ridership jumped 49 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2017, and the Blue Water (Port Huron, Mich.-Chicago, one round trip daily), which jumped 46 percent during the same period.

Ridership on the Wolverine (Detroit/Pontiac, Mich.-Chicago, three round trips daily), which was subject to years of modified schedules to accommodate extensive track work for higher-speed service, rose two percent over the same 10-year period.

But the Wolverine’s one-year ridership rebounded 11.6 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2017 – the biggest one-year increase among the state-supported routes – perhaps reflecting the end of that trackwork and the introduction of 110-miles per hour service between Porter, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The Hiawatha (Chicago-Milwaukee, seven round trips daily) saw its ridership rise 40 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2017.

Ridership on Lincoln Service trains (Chicago-St. Louis, four round trips daily) rose 24 percent between FY 2007 to FY 2017, despite schedule changes due to trackwork as part of Illinois’ effort to upgrade this corridor to 110-mph service. One-year growth was a robust 7.6 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2017.

And ridership on the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains (Chicago-Quincy, Ill., one round trip daily each) rose 5 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2017.

The Hoosier State (Chicago-Indianapolis, one round trip four days per week) posted a 10-year gain of 12 percent despite uncertainty over its survival and problems from freight train-induced delays.

The only state-supported routes to register declines over that 10-year period were the Pere Marquette (Chicago-Grand Rapids, one round trip daily), which dropped 11 percent, and the Illini/Saluki services (Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., one round trip daily each), which dropped 5 percent, including a one-year, 4 percent decline from FY 2016 to FY 2017 – a situation Illinois Department of Transportation officials are eager to correct.

“Illinois DOT continues to work with Amtrak and the CN [Canadian National Railway] on the unacceptable on-time performance and subsequent ridership losses seen on our Illini and Saluki state-supported trains,” said Beth McCluskey, director of IDOT’s Office of Intermodal Project Implementation. McCluskey is also MIPRC’s chair.

The Pere Marquette may have turned a corner, however; ridership registered a 4.4 percent increase from FY 2016 to FY 2017.

Long-distance trains
Ridership also increased substantially on the Midwest’s eight long-distance trains – up 19 percent overall from FY 2007 to FY 2017.

Leading the way was the Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio, Texas, one round trip daily), which shares the Chicago-St. Louis corridor with the state-supported Lincoln Service. Ridership rose 58 percent, from 218,321 passengers in FY 2007 to 345,679 passengers in FY 2017.

Ridership on the City of New Orleans (Chicago-Memphis-New Orleans, one round trip daily) rose 42 percent, from 180,473 passengers in FY 2007 to 255,435 passengers in FY 2017.

On the Midwest’s other long-distance routes, in order of growth from FY 2007 to FY 2017 (see MIPRC’s full chart, here), ridership was up:

• 26 percent on the California Zephyr (Chicago-Denver-Emeryville, Calif., one round trip daily).
• 24 percent on the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York City/Boston, one round trip daily).
• 19 percent on the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington, D.C., one round trip daily).
• 16 percent on the Cardinal (Chicago-Washington, D.C.-New York City, three round trips weekly).
• 15 percent on the Southwest Chief (Chicago-Los Angeles, one round trip daily).

The Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland, Ore., one round trip daily) was the only long-distance train to register a 10-year decline, dropping 10 percent – which perhaps reflects the flooding and oil traffic woes which beset the train’s route west of the Twin Cities. In terms of sheer numbers of passengers, however, the Empire Builder remains the region’s most popular long-distance train.

Another way to measure passenger growth is to track the number of boardings and alightings – how many people are getting on and off trains – in each Midwestern state. Here, too, both one- and 10-year trends show robust growth, except for Minnesota and North Dakota, which are served by the Empire Builder, and Iowa (which is served by the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief).

Overall, the number of boardings and alightings in the region grew four percent from FY 2016 to FY 2017, but 24 percent over the 10 years from FY 2007 to FY 2017.

Missouri posted the biggest 10-year increase, 56 percent, while Michigan and Indiana led the way in one-year gains from FY 2016 to FY 2017, with increases of 8.4 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively. Other states posting significant 10-year, double-digit gains include Ohio (35 percent), Kansas and Indiana (both 34 percent), Wisconsin (32 percent), Illinois (24 percent) and Nebraska (19 percent). See MIPRC’s full chart here.

In addition to mobility, Amtrak provides another, direct economic impact to the Midwest: procurement of goods and services. In FY 2017, Amtrak spent $402 million on goods and services region-wide, the bulk – $235.6 million – in Illinois (home to Chicago Union Station). Amtrak spent $63.3 million in Minnesota, and $26 million in Missouri. In addition, 2,628 residents of Midwestern states were employed by Amtrak in FY 2017, adding another $181.3 million to the region’s economy. See the full list here.

For more information about Midwestern trains, and schedules, please visit Amtrak's Midwest Service webpage.

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