Amtrak sets record for yearly ridership

More than 24 million passengers traveled on Amtrak in Fiscal Year 2003, which ended September 30, the highest annual ridership ever experienced by the nation's intercity passenger rail service in its 32-year history.

Despite a number of adverse conditions this year, including a lagging economy that has hurt the travel industry overall, the Iraq war, the Presidents' Day blizzard, the Northeast blackout and Hurricane Isabel, Amtrak's ridership topped the previous record of 23.5 million passengers set in 2001 and was 2.7 percent better than last year's result of 23.4 million.

Long-distance trains showed substantial improvement over last year, with those in the Eastern region of the country improving ridership by 3.8 percent and those in the Western region improving by 6.6 percent. The most substantial increases were experienced by the Pennsylvanian (up 64%) due mostly to a change in routing; the Texas Eagle (up 20%); the Silver Meteor (up 15.2%); and the City of New Orleans (up 14.5%).

Amtrak attributed the overall positive results largely to its "back-to-basics" approach to winning over passengers, begun earlier this year.

Ridership on shorter distance routes in the West increased by 11.7 percent over last year.


SEPTA budget cuts derail holiday train

Think of this as Christmas trimming, SEPTA-style.

'Tis nearly the season for the Magical Holiday Railroad to be making its run around the lobby of the transit agency's Center City headquarters in Philadelphia. In what is widely regarded as one of the most elaborate G-scale displays in the country, 10 model trains tootle along 1,000 feet of track, past snowy mountains 15 feet tall, twinkling pines, miniature Philadelphia landmarks, and hordes of life-size gawkers.

Or used to. This year, the whole kit and caboose will be sitting out the holidays in the Grinch's attic.

The savings for budget-crunched SEPTA: $40,000. A SEPTA spokesman said $40,000 "is the cost of paying a bus driver for a year."

The five-year-old Magical Holiday display is the latest sacrifice to SEPTA's fiscal 2004 deficit, which has been whittled since spring from $54 million to a still-formidable $26 million. To forestall fare hikes and severe service reductions on real trains and buses, the agency has scavenged for economies, from halving tuition reimbursement for employees to shrinking cleaning crews at Center City stations.

The ax had hung over the little railroad since summer, as SEPTA searched for a corporate Santa to sponsor it. None came forward.

(From the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Congress approves $1.22 billion for Amtrak

House and Senate bargainers have agreed to give Amtrak $1.22 billion for the new year, close to what railroad officials say they need to keep trains running and maintenance projects on track.

The money was to be included in a compromise $90 billion measure for transportation programs, the Treasury Department and several smaller agencies for the federal budget year that began Oct. 1.

That measure also will clear the way for a 2.2 percent pay raise for members of Congress, bringing their salaries to more than $158,000 a year.

Officials of Amtrak had initially said they needed $1.8 billion this year to retain existing levels of service. President Bush proposed $900 million, an amount the House approved.

After the Senate voted to provide $1.35 billion, Amtrak President David Gunn wrote lawmakers that anything less would "seriously jeopardize the availability of service and continued operation of the national system."

The final compromise between the two Republican-run chambers underlined the clout wielded by Amtrak supporters. Though its busiest line runs from Boston and Washington, Amtrak serves 500 communities in 46 states.

Fatality at LIRR

A 17-year employee of the Long Island Rail Road was struck and killed by an eastbound train outside Copiague on October 20 while working on the tracks.

Joseph Boyd, 41, of Babylon, was an electric traction employee who worked as a flagman alerting his fellow crew members to oncoming trains. His crew was about to start work on the third rail on the tracks east of the Copiague station when he was accidentally struck. He was a member of IBEW Local 589.

(From Newsday.)

MBTA to proceed with fare hikes

Following a unanimous vote by its Board of Directors, MBTA will increase bus, subway, commuter rail, and boat fares by an average of 25 percent beginning in January.

In a last-minute gesture, the board also promised not to hike fares again for at least two years. An MBTA official said the fare hikes will raise an estimated $49.1 million in additional revenue annually and were necessary to maintain existing service.

(From the Boston Globe.)




© 2003 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers