According to ridership figures released by Amtrak Intercity in a 3 February 1997 press release, the Texas Eagle in the first quarter of fiscal year 1997 achieved the highest ridership growth of any long-haul route. In typical Amtrak fashion, the press release ignores the ridership gains on the Eagle, while extolling the virtues of numerous short-haul routes which operate with state subsidy. Amtrak has become increasingly militant in their demands for state funding to supplement more traditional federal funding. The corporation's insistence on state funding in the case of the Texas Eagle is seen as a test of whether Amtrak can successfully demand state funds for long-haul trains serving multiple states. State funding is indeed appropriate for short distance, intrastate trains, but is an unrealistic demand in the case of long-distance, interstate trains.
Amtrak ridership statistics for the Texas Eagle show that the tri-weekly train carried 27,545 passengers during the first quarter of fiscal year 1997, representing an increase of 18.3 percent over the same period of the previous year. This percentage increase was higher than that of any other long distance route. For the month of December 1996, the Texas Eagle posted a 14.7 percent increase in riders, second only to the California Zephyr's 17.1 percent increase. [The Zephyr operates daily between Chicago-Salt Lake City, and quad-weekly to California, while the Eagle operates only tri- weekly.]
The Eagle's ridership achievement was attained in the face of considerable adversity, resulting from Amtrak Intercity's gross mismanagement of this route. In August 1996, Amtrak announced that the Eagle would be discontinued on November 10, 1996, and the corporation subsequently generated extensive negative publicity to support that decision. For over six weeks, it was impossible to make advance reservations on the Texas Eagle because the train inventory had been prematurely deleted from Amtrak's reservation system. All existing reservations were cancelled at the same time. Because of the strong demand for rail service along this route, the Eagle was able to not only recover the lost ridership but also surpass other routes in the process.
When asked about the failure to mention the Texas Eagle in the press release, an Amtrak spokesperson offered only the lame excuse that "we can't mention every route." The spokesperson also noted that Amtrak had done a modest amount of advertising in November and December, in what many passengers saw as a token effort to overcome the full page discontinuance notices which the corporation had previously published in the newspaper of every on-line city. These earlier "discontinuance" ads prompted harsh criticism from members of the Arkansas and Texas congressional delegations, because the expense of the negative advertisements far exceeded previous Amtrak expenditures for Texas Eagle advertising.
Despite the Texas Eagle's ridership growth, Amtrak is still hoping to discontinue the train on May 10, 1997, and indeed is now refusing to take reservations for any travel after May 10. Persons interested in preserving rail passenger service as a transportation option in Arkansas and Texas are being urged to call or write their congressional representatives. Calls to the office of any U.S. Senator or Congressman may be routed through the capitol switchboard: (202)-224-3121.
#(attachment)# Amtrak Intercity SBU -- Ridership by Route (long-distance trains) Train Frequency Q1 FY-1996 Q1 FY-1997 % Up (Down) ------------------ ----------- ------------ ------------ ------------- Texas Eagle [A] 3/week 23,290 27,545 18.3 California Zephyr [B] Daily-4/week 101,862 115,657 13.5 Crescent Daily 49,899 56,195 12.6 City of New Orleans 6/week 35,272 38,171 8.2 Empire Builder [C] Daily-4/week 75,802 78,050 3.0 Southwest Chief Daily 56,922 56,465 (0.8) Cardinal 3/week 20,120 19,417 (3.5) Lake Shore Limited Daily 90,352 85,876 (5.0) Auto Train Daily 54,636 51,505 (5.9) Silver Star Daily 79,938 74,929 (6.0) Capitol Limited Daily 52,363 45,167 (13.7) Sunset Limited 3/week 36,374 30,782 (15.4) Silver Meteor Daily 86,070 69,567 (19.2) [A] Texas Eagle ridership does NOT include Chicago-St. Louis passengers which are also carried aboard this train. [B] California Zephyr (Chicago-Denver-Salt Lake City-Oakland) ridership also includes ridership of two other trains, the Desert Wind (Salt Lake City-Los Angeles) and the Pioneer (Denver-Portland). Daily service is provided Chicago-Denver-Salt Lake City, with tri-weekly or quad-weekly service to west coast destinations. [C] Chicago-Minneapolis-St. Paul segment operates daily, Minneapolis-St. Paul to Seattle/Portland operates quad-weekly.
Source of statistical data: Amtrak press release #97-4, February 3, 1997
Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill Pollard.
Posted: Tuesday February 11, 1997.
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