Amtrak trains carried more than 30 million passengers in the past 12 months, the most in one year since the passenger railroad was created four decades ago, railroad officials said Thursday.
Ridership during the budget year ending on Sept. 30 was 30.2 million passengers, up 5 percent over the previous year. Ticket revenue was up by more than 8 percent despite significant weather-related disruptions in much of the country.
Amtrak has set ridership records eight out of the last nine years. A decade ago, it carried 21 million passengers a year.
"Amtrak is fulfilling its national mission and is part of the solution to meet America's growing transportation and energy needs," Joseph Boardman, Amtrak's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Despite its success in attracting riders, Amtrak's critics in Congress are squeezing the railroad's federal subsidies and trying to take away its most valuable routes in the rail corridor that links Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
The House Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee last month approved a budget that sharply reduces Amtrak subsidies. In June, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., proposed soliciting bids from other railroads for the right to service the 456-mile Northeast Corridor, which is the heart of Amtrak's operations. He said it was taking the railroad too long to achieve consistently high-speed service equivalent to trains in Europe and Asia.
Amtrak has proposed its own plan to upgrade its Northeast Corridor track and trains and to eliminate bottlenecks so that trains can travel up to 220 mph. Trip time between Washington and New York would be reduced to 96 minutes and between New York and Boston to 93 minutes. But the plan would be phased in over 30 years and cost $117 billion to implement. The railroad is seeking private investment to pay for some of the cost.
"Americans are returning to the rails in record numbers, yet Republicans are pulling out all of the stops in their rush to auction off Amtrak's assets to the highest bidder on Wall Street," Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, top Democrat on the transportation committee, said. "It makes no sense to tear apart a railroad and its workforce while they are succeeding at their jobs."
Amtrak was created by Congress in 1971 after passenger railroads failed in the face of competition from airlines and interstate highway travel. With the U.S. population expected to exceed 400 million people by 2050, nightmarish congestion is forecast for the nation's already crowded highways and airports.