Markets along existing Amtrak routes with untapped ridership potential

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DesertDude

Train Attendant
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Sep 18, 2014
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As I've spent more time in the realm of rail advocacy, I've found myself more interested in "low hanging fruit" improvements that would help Amtrak bolster ridership as opposed to grandiose plans of bringing back certain routes or building high speed rail. I think one area of improvement for Amtrak is marketing, as many people don't even realize that Amtrak is an option to travel from their city to certain other destinations. Generally speaking, if Amtrak can improve ridership on existing routes, it becomes easier to add increased frequencies and new routes. If ridership falls, that's a harder sell.

That said, I think there may be some select markets along existing routes where Amtrak could bring in a lot of new riders if they just did a better job of making people in the area aware that Amtrak is an option. One such market that fits the bill (IMO) is the Provo/Utah Valley area.

I was just looking at Allegiant Air's interactive flight map, and was surprised to learn that they now offer non stop flights from the Provo airport to eight destinations. It wasn't that long ago that they only offered flights from Provo to maybe two other cities (Oakland and Phoenix-Mesa, IIRC). Keep in mind that it's really not cumbersome to get from Provo to the SLC airport, which has many more flight options. Without traffic it's only a 45 minute drive, and of course there is the FrontRunner/TRAX option to get to the SLC airport as well. But even with the proximity to the SLC airport, there's enough demand from people living in the growing Provo area to support multiple flight destinations from the local municipal airport.

Provo has some other advantages as well. Between BYU and Utah Valley University, at least 20,000 college students (a demographic that may be more open to train travel) live in the area. The Provo station also has better calling times than the SLC station (eastbound is still a little rough with a 4:35 AM departure, but not so bad if the train is running significantly late). And while the Provo station doesn't have the amenities that the SLC station has, it also doesn't have the depressing Amshack and homeless problem found in downtown SLC. It's also within walking distance of Provo's city center and the Provo FrontRunner station. And for now anyway, none of those 8 Allegiant flights from Provo go to Denver, Reno, or Sacramento, which would be some of the main destinations for passengers boarding Amtrak, so no competition there.

What do you think? What are some other cities where you suspect Amtrak has untapped ridership potential?
 

jis

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Certainly the Texas triangle, and all of the Southeast. Bringing back a LD from CHI to MCO to MIA would certainly be packed. But as service is scaled back... it's harder to bring back.
You mean ORL. MCO is not an Amtrak code for anything around Orlando. It is the IATA code for one of the various airports associated with Orlando.
 
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If you are talking tapping ridership on existing routes by adding trains/service, I would say Cleveland would be at the top of the list right off the bat. If good service (i.e. reliable, on-time and, especially between Chicago and Indy, much faster service) could be provided then one could add Indy and Cinci to that list, although this one is a slightly different case.
 

DesertDude

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Sep 18, 2014
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The Sunset Limited serves a lot of large metropolitan areas, and a really large chunk of the route is pretty straight. I'm sure in another universe it could be a very useful train.

Yes, I very much agree with this. I'll quote what I said on this forum a long time ago:

"...the Sunset Limited from LAX to NOL would be a very successful train in any sane world (and I'm not even talking about restoring the train NOL-FL). If you count Phoenix, the SL serves 4 of the 7 largest cities in the U.S. The route also has many retirees who have more time for train travel. Some of the places the SL serves (like Tucson, El Paso, and Palm Springs) don't have the best flight options, making it easier for Amtrak to be a competitive alternative.

Yet the Sunset Limited only runs 3 times a week, serves San Antonio at an ungodly hour, and annoyingly bypasses Phoenix and Las Cruces. If the UP was cooperative and Amtrak was aggressive about improving the SL, there's no doubt in my mind it could be the most wildly successful of the "transcontinental" routes. I'm talking you could easily get a solid ridership base for a twice-daily train, and I wouldn't say that about some of the other LD trains.

I'm afraid the wasted potential of the SL is just a microcosm of the wasted potential of the whole system."
 

Cal

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Yes, I very much agree with this. I'll quote what I said on this forum a long time ago:

"...the Sunset Limited from LAX to NOL would be a very successful train in any sane world (and I'm not even talking about restoring the train NOL-FL). If you count Phoenix, the SL serves 4 of the 7 largest cities in the U.S. The route also has many retirees who have more time for train travel. Some of the places the SL serves (like Tucson, El Paso, and Palm Springs) don't have the best flight options, making it easier for Amtrak to be a competitive alternative.

Yet the Sunset Limited only runs 3 times a week, serves San Antonio at an ungodly hour, and annoyingly bypasses Phoenix and Las Cruces. If the UP was cooperative and Amtrak was aggressive about improving the SL, there's no doubt in my mind it could be the most wildly successful of the "transcontinental" routes. I'm talking you could easily get a solid ridership base for a twice-daily train, and I wouldn't say that about some of the other LD trains.

I'm afraid the wasted potential of the SL is just a microcosm of the wasted potential of the whole system."
Absolutely.
 

daybeers

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IMO all of their routes have untapped market potential in some way. Increasing frequency is the best option.

The Lake Shore probably has the highest number of corridors set for raking in tons of ridership since it's basically a string of really strong corridors and populations.

Coast Starlight is another one.

Chicago-Pittsburgh & Pittsburgh-Washington on the Capitol Limited.

Carolinian, Palmetto, & Vermonter are all strong state corridors that could use increased frequency.

Downeaster north of Portland is very untapped. Moving the Portland station back closer to downtown would save easily 10-15 minutes.

Even on the NEC, especially the northern section, increased frequency and options late at night are lacking.
 

dadonatrain

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I know, and I agree. But it might still be interesting, in the spirit of the OP, to think about ridership on trains vs planes on many short routes, plus think about what it might do for ridership if some routes took on trains with fewer intermediate stops, as a deliberate attempt to grab travelrs going all the from beginning to end.

Just blue sky thinking here, in the “what if” spirit of the OP.
 
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Chi-Indianapolis-Cincinnati?

The potential market is there, I think. The Cardinal route that takes it through Oxford, Ohio where Miami University is located is ripe for more business if only there was a stop, maybe a flag stop?, and a decent station for that to happen. The Amtrak shack that exists in Cumberland, MD would be sufficient. Improving the arrival and departure times of the train would help as well.
 
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Although I’m certainly biased since I live in the area, Orlando is a natural hub for passenger rail in a state that is underserved by Amtrak.

However, I think Brightline will take that market that Amtrak has neglected. It’s even possible a higher speed Brightline route from Tampa/Orlando to Jacksonville via Cocoa could at least match Amtrak’s schedule and do a better job of marketing, customer service, and equipment.

The question would then be how best to integrate Amtrak’s Silver Service with Brightline’s Florida network.
 

west point

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The following recognizes the inability of more than any planned additional 2 RT trains is not possible until the Long Bridge additional 2 tracks are complete. At present only more cars on present trains will be possible.

1. The WASH - Richmond route especially south of VRE has shown high potential especially pre-C-19. Not entirely known if second Norfolk train will just be an extension from RVR.
a. 4 RT trains WASH - Selma have proven at times fully booked.
b. The Carolinian from Selma to CLT keeps getting many passengers on the NCRR portion.
c. Palmetto has shown the ability to fill up all the way to present end at Savannah. However, extending it to MIA will give Orlando area stations arrivals early in the day for all Orlando attractions. As well early departures to Florida east coast. North bound late MIA departure same convivence. This RT will provide good connections for all the cruise ship departures and arrivals. Very high potential for additional service and will give some passengers ability to take a train other than the Silvers.
d. There is enough potential to restore the Florida special for mostly LD passengers. Offs only going south of JAX except Orlando and boardings only south of JAX going north.

2. WASH - Lynchburg - Roanoke with second RT will add better connections especially north of LYH.
3. Daily cardinal gives daily service especially Charlottesville and north.
4. The Crescent route will give much more passengers once north bound train returns to its 1930 / 0730PM departure at ATL.
5. A early day departure late arrival for a daytime train ATL - CLT - Raleigh - Richmond will fill need for that route service especially Greensboro south. Maybe combine with train at RVR as substitute as Regional? North of Greensboro the Crescent, Roanoke, Cardinal 4 trains will provide good passenger times.
5. Along with #4. CP seems willing to initiate FTW/ DAL - Meridian once the merger is completed. It appears that mid 2024 at the latest that that route can start. Maybe earlier if the problem of required ADA high platforms can be resolved. This is another reason for the Crescent to leave NOL at about 0630 - 0700. However, I believe that DAL - MEI - ATL - WASH will become the primary train NOL- MEI will either be a connecting train or joining Crescent at MEI. DAL - ATL will become baggage, 4 Coaches 2 - 3 sleepers, full diner. Split at MEI 1 - 2 coaches, sleeper , lounge. That will have Crescent become baggage, 6 coaches, lounge, diner, 3 - 4 sleepers. That will have Crescent compare to EB for number of cars and probably 3 locos. It gives Texas - NE, NEC including connections to Carolinian mostly single train service or 1 connection to eastern NC and Va.

All the above will add more passenger at all preset train stops with MEI - FTW adding potential passenger for stops all the way to NYP.
 

Skyline

OBS Chief
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Feb 19, 2016
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Plenty of reliable connections to/from Harrisburg eastward via the NEC and Keystone service, so...

One additional run Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, continuing to Cleveland where a connection could be made east and west along the LSL route.

There is probably a market west of Pittsburgh that would connect Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago.

The key is better times at Pittsburgh, Cleveland, etc than currently exist, to complement existing schedules.
 
Joined
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The Kansas City - Omaha market has lots of potential with possible connections to St. Louis, Southwest Chief destinations and Zephyr cities. There should be a choice of two routes: BNSF on the east side of the Missouri River or Union Pacific on the west side. There were 4 or 5 trains in either directions as late as the early 1960s.
 
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Provo has some other advantages as well. Between BYU and Utah Valley University, at least 20,000 college students (a demographic that may be more open to train travel) live in the area.
I think any place with a large number of college students would be a good place to advertise. Chicago - Campaign/Urbana for example. Or in my neck of the woods, Brunswick ME - Portland - Boston.
 
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Atlantic Coast route, not serving southern Florida, but local service between Jacksonville/Savannah - Charleston - Florence - Fayetteville - Richmond (and maybe to Washington). I couldn't believe that there's not a freeway that connects Charleston and Savannah.
 

joelkfla

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Atlantic Coast route, not serving southern Florida, but local service between Jacksonville/Savannah - Charleston - Florence - Fayetteville - Richmond (and maybe to Washington). I couldn't believe that there's not a freeway that connects Charleston and Savannah.
Orlando is the busiest station in FL excluding the Auto Train, with twice the ridership of JAX in 2019. I think you'd pick up a lot more riders including ORL, maybe enough to justify the cost of running the train back to Sanford for servicing.
 
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