At least here in California, according to Caltrans and Amtrak, who partner to operate the Amtrak California intercity routes:
Californians are leaving their cars, SUVs, vans, and trucks at home and riding trains instead in unprecedented numbers. Today, Caltrans and Amtrak reported a record-setting 5.5 million passengers rode California's state-supported intercity passenger trains in federal fiscal year 2008....
In 2007-08, the Pacific Surliner carried more than 2.89 million passengers, a seven percent increase from the preceding year.
In Northern California, Capitol Corridor (Auburn to San Jose) trains carried 1.69 million riders, an impressive 16.8 percent jump from the previous 12 months. Meanwhile nearly one million passengers (949,611) rode the San Joaquins service (Bakersfield to Sacramento/Oakland). This past July, ridership shot up a whopping 32 percent over July 2007, rising above 100,000 for the first time. The Capitol Corridor and the San Joaquins ranked as the nation's third busiest and sixth busiest lines, respectively.
Amtrak ridership in federal fiscal year 2008 increased to 28,716,407, marking the sixth straight year of gains and setting a record for the most passengers using Amtrak trains since the National Railroad Passenger Corporation started operations in 1971.
Some might cluck that this is just the product of the dramatic spike in gas prices that took place earlier this year and won't last. While that did fuel some of this ridership growth, ridership on Amtrak California routes has been steadily growing since 2002. Amtrak itself has set ridership records every year since 2002. There is every reason to believe ridership will continue to rise.
That growing ridership reflects a growing awareness among Californians of the value of passenger rail, and that was reflected in last week's election where most passenger rail proposals were approved by voters (Measure B in Santa Clara County, the BART funding plan, is still too close to call). In the article Eugene Skoropowski, managing director of the Capitol Corridor, noted that Prop 1B (passed in 2006) also intended money to be spent on rail expansion. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance delayed this, using a flawed audit to claim new cars weren't necessary, but that has been reversed and new cars have been ordered.
We need to accelerate Prop 1A and Prop 1B rail funding. While we wait on federal matching funds for HSR - which we will press for in 2009 - California needs to wait for nobody to release the bond money for the other passenger rail projects that are awaiting funds. California legislators should make it a priority to spend that money as an infrastructure stimulus, as well as part of a long-term plan to grow rail in this state.
Record ridership is an opportunity to take passenger rail to the next level. Let's make sure our legislators follow through on it.