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Amtrak ridership hits record levels; Chicago route grows 9.8%

Updated: April 9, 2013 4:25PM

Amtrak ridership increased in the first six months of fiscal year 2013, with ridership in March setting a record as the single best month ever in Amtrak’s history, the railroad said Tuesday.

Ridership on the Illini/Saluki route, which operates between Chicago and New Orleans, grew 9.8 percent in the October to March period, among the largest jumps.

Other local ridership boosts include the Chicago to St. Louis route, which grew 2.5 percent in March and 2.3 percent between October and March. The Chicago to Quincy route grew 0.4 percent in March and 1.2 percent between October and March.

The only route to take a hit was the Hiawatha Service, from Chicago to Milwaukee. The route lost 5.2 percent of riders in March and 4.3 percent between October and March. That line might pick up more riders as the Chicago Cubs begin playing their rivals the Milwaukee Brewers.

For long-distance rides, the Capitol Limited, which travels between Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago, saw a 1.5 percent boost in March and a 0.8 boost between October and March.

Overall ridership grew 0.9 percent from October 2012 to March compared with the prior year despite disruptions from weather including Superstorm Sandy. Amtrak said 26 of 45 routes had rider increases.

The railroad said October, December and January also set individual monthly records. Amtrak expects to end the fiscal year at or above last year’s record of 31.2 million passengers.

“The continued ridership growth on routes across the country reinforces the need for dedicated, multi-year federal operating and capital funding to support existing intercity passenger rail services and the development of new ones,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said.

Other routes with ridership growth in the October-to-March period included the New York City to Georgia route, the Palmetto, up 10.5 percent; the Coast Starlight, which operates between Los Angeles and Seattle, up 10 percent; the San Joaquin in California, up 8.9 percent; the Piedmont in North Carolina, 8.6 percent; and the Wolverine route in Michigan, up 8.2 percent.

Some local routes didn’t see a change, or recorded ridershop loss. The California Zephyr, which travels between Chicago, Denver, Glenwood Springs and San Francisco saw a 2.7 percent decline in March, but gained 2.6 percent of riders between October and March.

The City of New Orleans route — Chicago to Memphis to New Orleans — lost .06 percent of riders in March but gained 0.2 percent of riders over the six month span ending in March. The Empire Builder route — Chicago to St. Paul to Milwaukee to Spokane to Portland/Seattle — declined 6.7 percent in March and 0.7 percent from October to March.

The Southwest Chief route from Chicago to Albuquerque to Los Angeles saw no change in March, but a 0.6 percent boost from October through March. The Texas Eagle route — Chicago to St. Louis to Dallas tp San Antonio — lost 0.7 riders in March but gained 0.2 percent of riders from October through March.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles

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