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In Chicago, Amtrak ridership picking up steam, data shows

An Amtrak tra| Sun-Times Media

An Amtrak train | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2013 6:10AM

Amtrak passengers in and out of Chicago’s Union Station jumped by more than 39,000 last fiscal year, helping fuel a record high in Amtrak ridership nationally, Amtrak data indicated Monday.

Union Station’s 3.5 million riders helped Chicago hold steady as the fourth-busiest station in the nation for Amtrak. Tops was New York City with more than 9.55 million riders; then No. 2 Washington D.C. with more than 5 million; followed by No. 3 Philadelphia, with more than 4.1 million.

Chicago’s ridership inched up by 1 percent in the 2013 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, or by 39,075 riders.

But it was up a hefty 14 percent from five years ago. That’s 441,824 new riders since 2009.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari attributed the one-year increase to downstate track improvements that led to improved reliability, increased interest in the high-speed 110 mph downstate leg of Illinois Amtrak, and volatile gas prices.

“Driving is our No. 1 competitor,’’ said Magliari. “Each time there’s a major move in [higher] gas prices, we see a spike in visits to and inquiries about trains and schedules.’’

The route with the largest increase, the Chicago to St. Louis “Lincoln Service,” includes a 15-mile high-speed route introduced last November between Dwight and Pontiac, which could be a draw in itself, Magliari said. Plus, most cars on the overall “Lincoln Service” last year started offering free Wi-Fi, which may have attracted “tech-saavy millennials,” Magliari said.

Concerning the five-year increase, Magliari noted that to meet demand Amtrak added routes in Illinois in 2006, only to see ridership dip with the recession in 2008 and 2009.

But now, Illinois ridership is jumping back up to the point that “there’s only so many people who can buy seats before we are going to be bumping up against capacity, as we did before 2006,’’ Magliari said.

However, he noted, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have been purchasing additional rail cars that should come on line at some point.

Railroad officials say Amtrak nationally carried a record number of passengers in the year ending Sept. 30 despite Northeast service that was temporarily knocked out by Superstorm Sandy. Ticket revenues also increased to a record $2.1 billion.

Amtrak relies on federal subsidies for a small share of its operating expenses.

Contributing: AP


Twitter: @rosalindrossi

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