Cheap Gas Takes Toll on Amtrak Ridership

McClatchy's Curtis Tate reports on Amtrak routes in Missouri and Kansas. Reduced ridership on the Missouri River Runner may be the result of falling gas prices.

2 minute read

December 31, 2015, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

As gas prices drop, we know that fuel efficiency of the new vehicles purchased decreases, while vehicle-miles-traveled and traffic deaths increase. As for public transit, it may be too early to tell whether ridership decreases, but some early signs say it does.

It's also too early to tell if cheap gas will have the same effect on Amtrak ridership, though a report from Missouri may be telling.

"Missouri’s state-supported River Runner between St. Louis and Kansas City [...] lost 10,000 riders from 2014 to 2015, with about 179,000 for the year that ended Sept. 30," writes Curtis Tate, Washington correspondent for McClatchyDC,

Amtrak may be facing some competition with lower gasoline prices. In both Missouri and Kansas, prices are about 24 cents below what they were a year ago, according to AAA. The current U.S. average price is $1.99 a gallon, compared to $2.29 a year ago.

“When gas prices go down, we do see ridership fall some,” said Kristi Jamison, railroad operations manager at the Missouri Department of Transportation."

In neighboring Kansas, travel on the long-distance Amtrak Southwest Chief essentially was flat. Boardings and alightings at its six Kansas stations [PDF] increased a mere .5 percent over FY 2014. However, Tate writes that ridership on the entire Chicago to Los Angeles route "posted a record year with more than 367,000 passengers."

Readers may recall that some Kansas cities were in danger of losing Amtrak service but "sleepy towns in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico banded together" to retain the service.

Not so successful was an attempt by the largest city in Kansas to restore rail service.

Wichita applied for [PDF], but did not receive, a federal grant to bring service back for the first time since October 1979. It is estimated to cost $90 million to extend Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to Wichita and Newton, Kan.

In a tweet, Tate adds, "Oh my. No wonder the Southwest Chief route in Kansas needed help. 179 miles of jointed rail vintage 1940-55."

Monday, December 28, 2015 in McClatchy Washington Bureau

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