Amtrak Ridership Skyrockets on Route Through Back Bay Station

Short-range Amtrak travel has soared over the past 15 years and Boston’s Back Bay and South Station are stops on the two most popular routes in the Northeast Corridor.

According to a Brookings Institution report, Amtrak ridership has grown by 55 percent since 1997 — most of this increase is short-distance routes (less than 400 miles). Eighty-three percent of all Amtrak ridership in 2012 was via short-distance routes.

The two most popular routes in the Northeast Corridor are the Acela and Northeast Regional, which both make stops in Boston. Both routes are slightly more than 300 miles.

The Acela had 3.395 million riders in 2012 while the Northeast Regional, which makes more stops, had more than 8 million riders. That’s an increase of 1 million riders in 15 years for the Northeast Regional (the Acela did not exist in 1997), according to the report.

“Those two routes generated a net operating balance of $ 205.4 million in 2011, with $ 178.8 million derived from Acela operations alone. This is not a new phenomenon as over the five fiscal years ending in 2011, these two Northeast Corridor routes delivered an average positive balance of $ 135.9 million per year. They also generated this return via their own operations—the two routes received essentially no state funding support for operations during those five years,” according to the report.

“However, since Amtrak owns most of the track in the Northeast Corridor and must maintain the tracks for its own services plus regional freight and commuter functions, it incurs higher long-term depreciation costs not included in these operating statistics,” reported the Brookings Institution.

Adie Tomer, associate fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of the authors of the report, told The Boston Globe:

“If you’re close to another big metropolitan market and the train runs frequently, people are going to take it,” Tomer said. “When distances extend past about 400 miles, any individual is going to think long and hard about taking a flight, for time considerations alone.”

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