VOL. 128 | NO. 91 | Thursday, May 9, 2013
By Jennifer Johnson Backer
More railroad passengers boarded and stepped off Amtrak trains at Memphis Central Station in 2012 as travelers turned to trains amid higher gas prices and improved rail reliability.
Passengers wait to board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Memphis’ Central Station. Amtrak and Memphis will celebrate the annual National Train Day on May 11 with family-friendly events.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Passengers who embarked and alighted in Memphis gained 11.2 percent to 73,116 travelers in the 2012 fiscal year ended Oct. 31, compared with 65,769 passengers a year earlier.
Amtrak operates one long-distance train through Tennessee, the City of New Orleans, which runs daily from Chicago to Memphis and from Memphis to New Orleans. The government-subsidized railroad operates one other Tennessee station in Newbern-Dyersburg.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says Amtrak has set passenger records for nine of the last 10 years.
He attributes Amtrak’s growing popularity to improved reliability and on-time service, increased hassles with other modes of transportation, and rising gas prices. Amtrak also has introduced free Wi-Fi and a new ticketing system that lets people present tickets on their smartphones.
“For a lot of people, going a lot of places, we are a much better option than driving, and in a lot of markets, a much better option than flying,” he said. “Our primary competition is driving and gasoline prices are unpredictable; generally, they are trending up.”
Amtrak and Memphis will celebrate the importance of trains at the sixth annual National Train Day on Saturday, May 11, at Memphis Central Station at South Main Street and G.E. Patterson Avenue. Mayor A C Wharton Jr. will attend the event to speak about why trains matter to Memphis.
The free event, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., also will feature Amtrak railcar displays, a Chuggington Kids Depot with train-themed children’s activities based on the animated Disney Junior television series, an operating model train featuring Amtrak equipment, and other family-friendly activities and train-themed displays.
Memphis joins more than 200 communities across the nation that are hosting events at train stations, railroad museums and other locations commemorating this year’s theme: “Trains Matter.” Amtrak’s Magliari said not many of the events will be as big as National Train Day in Memphis.
“A lot of people in Memphis don’t see us because we pass through in one direction in the early morning and the other direction in the evening, so if you want to see what Amtrak equipment looks like, learn more about our service and about the importance of the railroad industry, then Central Station is the place to be this Saturday,” he said.
In the 2012 fiscal year ended Oct. 31, Amtrak spent $1.3 million on goods and services in Tennessee and employed 13. That compares to $2.8 million spent on goods and services in fiscal 2011, much of which ($1 million) was in Chattanooga.
Nationally, a record number of riders used Amtrak in March, pushing the rail service to higher ridership numbers in the first six months of fiscal 2013, the rail carrier said last month.
From October 2012 to March, ridership increased by 0.9 percent to 15.1 million riders, compared with the same six-month period the previous year. March set a record for the best month in Amtrak’s history, with 2.8 million riders, a 1.9 percent gain over March 2012.
More than half, or 26 out of 45 routes, saw ridership climb in the first six months of fiscal 2013. The passenger railway company said it 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.
While most of Amtrak’s passengers are concentrated in the Northeast, Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Amtrak is a very important asset for bringing people in and out of Memphis.
“That train is important to us and we market it and promote it,” he said. “We are very proud to have Memphis-to-Chicago and Memphis-to-New Orleans Amtrak service out of here.”