Area Amtrak route contributes to state’s record numbers

Chicago lines to St. Louis and Milwaukee show sharp increases over 2018

By PETER HANCOCK

Capitol News Illinois

phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – Amtrak routes that connect Chicago to St. Louis and Milwaukee saw record numbers of riders in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 while the national passenger rail system turned in its best financial performance in several years.

Amtrak reported Friday that the Chicago-St. Louis corridor recorded 756,062 riders during the fiscal year, up 5.5 percent from the previous year, and 24 percent higher than fiscal year 2011.

In addition to passing through Alton, that corridor includes the “Lincoln Service” route that makes four daily trips between the two urban hubs, as well as the “Texas Eagle,” which makes one daily round trip. Both of those services are partially funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Amtrak “Hiawatha Service” between Chicago and Milwaukee gained nearly 38,000 passengers over the year, growing to 882,189, a 4.5 percent increase over 2018. That route is operated under contract with both the Illinois and Wisconsin transportation agencies, is Amtrak’s most-travelled corridor in the Midwest.

Nationwide, Amtrak set a company record with 32.5 million customer trips, a year-over-year increase of about 800,000 passengers.

Amtrak also reported its best financial performance in many years, taking in $3.3 billion in operating revenue, 3.6 percent better than 2018. That resulted in a net operating loss of $29.8 million, the closest the company has come to breaking even in its history.

Amtrak was founded in 1971 and operates passenger rail service in the 48 contiguous states and portions of Canada. Although it receives state and federal subsidies, it is managed as a for-profit corporation.

2 Comments

  1. M.E. Singer on November 9, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    Really? Imagine what the passenger traffic level would be if IDOT/Amtrak had only by now achieved the promise of 110 mph running time between CHI-STL.

    Also, imagine if Illinois was not tied to the Passenger Rail Investment & Infrastructure Act of 2008 (PRIIA) that allows Amtrak to charge such state-supported corridors at Amtrak’s highly questionable full cost methodology? How does Illinois not realize the excessive, unaudited charges are used to subsidize Amtrak’s deficit-ridden Northeast Corridor? Why does the state not bother auditing its invoices to see how Amtrak shifts costs onto Illinois that are solely related to the Northeast Corridor?

    Does the state even know that Amtrak does not even charge the states along the Northeast Corridor for their intercity trains operating bi-directionally, twice per hour, between Boston-Washington, a distance of 457 miles? Yet, PRIIA requires all states to pay for any passenger rail service operation under 750 miles. Go figure; of course, we’ll never hear any complaints from the so-called rail advocacy groups paid to run Amtrak’s consumer relations, i.e., paid to keep quiet.

    Caveat–this issue will only grow with the eventual introduction of passenger rail service between the Quad Cities-Chicago.

  2. M.E. Singer on November 9, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    When Amtrak boasts about the CHI-MKE “Hiawatha” route, beyond sharing the same financial problems with PRIIA as the “Lincoln Service to STL, Carbondale, and Quincy, the current crop of Amtrak managers failed to study history of how this line played a significant role in proving the viability of “run thru” trains between MKE-STL via Chicago. Between 1972-74, two trains daily operated as thru consists, successfully building up a traffic base by offering Glenview as a convenient point to board these trains towards Springfield, STL.

    Imagine today if this concept of “run thru” service was re-validated by Amtrak to connect MKE and Glenview to Champaign, Ann Arbor, etc. Before Amtrak, their were only four thru trains between Washington-Boston via NYC; today, Amtrak has scheduled two trains per hour in each directions between Washington-Boston. Perhaps if Amtrak did not exclusively focus solely upon its Northeast Corridor, we could succeed to re-build the corridors to serve the future, while maximizing asset utilization.

    Interestingly, note how California has assumed control over the marketing of its regional inter-city trains by expanding their regional reach, increasing frequencies, and emphasizing the convenience of schedule frequency to support day-trippers for business and leisure.

    Looking back, sad to realize how many options we enjoyed between CHI-MSP, CHI-KC, and CHI-OMH, relying upon fast, frequent, deluxe trains; how corridors were created as late as the end of the 1960s for 2 hour corridors CHI-Champaign and 4 hour corridors CHI-Carbondale.

    Frankly, Illinois needs to study California’s JPAs and seize control of its state corridor trains.

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