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Arkansas ARP - Texas Eagle ridership gains


- Arkansas Association of Railroad Passengers -


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.

                 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. Email:

Posted: Tuesday February 11, 1997.

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