detail cities that Amtrak passenger trains serve. This
information graphically shows how many U.S. cities of significant
population do not have passenger train service.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article, originally published in 2000, examines Amtrak's strengths and weaknesses in terms of serving the U.S. metropolitan areas. The article attempts to answer how well the National Railroad Passenger Corporation serves the country's major cities or travel markets and which population areas receive service compared to other regions. Also examined is the frequency of service as well as favorable hours of train arrival and departure.
well does Amtrak, the nations intercity rail passenger
network, serve American cities? How is Amtraks service
spread throughout the population areas? The author
attempted to answer these and other questions in a numerical
analysis of Amtrak.
author analyzed data from the Census Bureaus 273
Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Determining population
regions this way would be far easier and more fair than adding
the population of all cities and towns served by Amtrak trains.
State population was also analyzed. This information was placed
in a spreadsheet.
no. 261, Lawrence, Kansas, (population 91,000) is the smallest
MSA served by Amtrak. Enid, Oklahoma, at 56,6999 pop., is
the smallest U.S. MSA, at no. 273. Cumberland MD-WV, Grand Forks,
ND., Danville, VA., Hattisburg, MS, Grand Junction, CO, Anniston,
AL, Flagstaff, AZ, LaCrosse, WI, Texarkana, TX-AR, Florence, SC,
Yuma, AZ, Altoona, PA, Pittsfield, MA, Bloomington-Normal, IL,
and Rocky Mount, NC, in that order, increase from smaller to
larger MSAs in the 258 to 200 MSA rankings served by Amtrak.
But numbers only tell part of the story. For example, a number of cities are served by Amtrak trains in the overnight hours, between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Which travel markets and regions receive such service? And what areas have as their primary Amtrak train less than four times a week service?
Though any classification of regions will be controversial, the author divided the country into four regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and Northwest. Northeast includes states north and east of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Southeast includes states south of the Ohio River plus Arkansas and Louisiana. The Midwest is bordered by Ohio on the east, and Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri on the west. The Southwest includes Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas west to California. Northwest states include Nebraska and the Dakotas west.
For population, the leading regions are the Southwest, Southeast and Northeast, which have similar percentages. The Southwest heads the country with 25.8 percent or 63.7 million people (28.9 percent or 61.6 mill. MSA). Second is the Southeast, which has 23.9 percent of the population with 59.2 mill. (20.8 percent or 44.3 mill. MSA). Only third place is the Northeast, which is often viewed as the most populous part of the country. Just more than one fifth (23 percent or 56.8 million) of the population resides there. For MSA population, its 25.4 percent or 54 mill.
Midwest, at 21.9 percent or 54.2 mill. (20.3 percent or 43.1
mill. MSA) is fourth with the Northwest, at 5 percent, with 12.8
comprises the biggest part of the Southwest. The states
29.7 mill. account for nearly half (46.6 percent) of the
Southwest population and 11.9 percent of the U.S. Put
another way, California has 87 percent of the Southwest
York constitutes 31.5 percent of the Northeast region, Texas,
26.5 percent of the Southwest, Florida, 21.7 percent of the
Southeast, and Illinois, 21 percent of the Midwest. Each of these
states could be considered its own region in terms of rail
passenger service. The population breakdown is necessary to
determine how well Amtrak train service is balanced throughout
Direct v. Indirect Service
study focuses on metropolitan areas or travel markets versus
cities. Reasoning that a traveler will spend up to an hour
driving from one end of a metropolitan area to an airport (i.e.
Kansas City International Airport is a 30 to 45 minutes north of
the popular city Plaza area), then cities located adjacent to
cities served by Amtrak should be considered served
as well. Thus, cities within 40 miles or an easy half-hours
interstate or freeway drive of Amtrak stops are considered
this definition of service, Sharon, PA (MSA 229, population
122,000) is considered indirectly served since it is but
16 miles from downtown Youngstown, OH, although Sharon is in a
separate MSA than Youngstown-Warren (no. 69, population 595,000).
If combined, the two MSAs would be nearly as large as Syracuse,
NY., or Tulsa, OK. Yet the sizeable Youngstown- Sharon
metropolitan areas only receive Amtrak trains at 1:05 a.m. and
this definition would consider Dallas served if
Amtrak only served Fort Worth (35 miles west), as it did in the
early 1970s. The same for Wichita, Kansas, as this MSA of a half
a million is 21 miles south of Newton, Kan., which receives Chicago-
Los Angeles trains at 3:08 a.m. and 3:47 a.m. Few would consider
this service. One of rails selling points is
its ability to provide downtown to downtown service. But this is
a starting point. This is why the numbers reflect direct and
Basic Numbers .
directly serves 81.8 percent (174,037,416 pop.) of the
nations 212,744,066 MSA population. 84.02 percent of
the population is indirectly served (178,749,073). The difference
between direct and indirect service amounts to 4.7 million
people. Prior to the 1979 Carter Amtrak cuts, when Amtrak had
many more routes, the number was nearly 88.18 percent, or
Northeast has the highest direct service, with 93 percent. The
Northwest is second, with 84 percent; Southwest is third with
83.4 percent (89 percent indirectly); 78.2 percent for the
Midwest; 68.7 percent of the Southeast MSAs. Differences of two
percent or less were omitted for brevity.
provides some service, indirectly at least, to every top 30 MSA.
Phoenix, MSA no. 15 at 2.8 million, is the lone top 30 market
that Amtrak does not serve directly. For this study, Phoenix is
considered indirectly served, as both proposed stops
are more than a half hours drive, plus taking Amtrak from
Phoenix requires a two hour thruway bus ride to/from Tucson.
top 50 markets not served by Amtrak include Columbus OH (no. 31,
pop. 1.4 million), Las Vegas (no. 34, pop. 1.2 mill.), Nashville
(no. 38, 1.1 mill.), Louisville (no. 48, with 993, 369 pop.) and
Dayton-Springfield, OH (no. 49, with 944,934 pop.). Oklahoma
City, at no. 45 with 1 mill. pop.) during the late 1990s received
state-supported service to Fort Worth.
State Supported Services
support 25.6 percent (10,136 miles) of Amtraks 39,666 mile
system. Long distance trains comprise half (50.4 percent or
19,995 miles). Short distance routes (under 700 miles in length)
funded by Amtrak comprise 24 percent or 9,535 miles.
Amtraks web site lists more than 22,000 route miles. The
author of this study added mileage for each train (not
necessarily route) listed in recent national and NEC timetables.
the 12 states supporting Amtrak service, the average percentage
of state-supported versus Amtrak-supported services is 57
percent. Oklahoma (109 miles) and Vermont (195 miles) increase
the national average as service in these two states are entirely
state-supported. Without those two states high percentages,
the number would be 49 percent.
three Northeast states, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont, have
state-supported service. New Yorks 381 mile Ethan Allen
Express accounts for 11 percent of its Amtrak service, compared
to Californias 73 percent (4,216 train miles).
California, the most populous state, has the most state-supported
rail miles. Twenty of its 24 trains are state supported.
1,469 miles, Pennsylvania is second (66 percent) in terms of
state-supported mileage. Illinois 849 miles accounts for 66
percent. Other states include Washington, 714 (45 percent), North
Carolina, 593 (41 percent), Missouri, 564 (59 percent),
Wisconsin, 516 (73 percent), Michigan, eighth, (41 percent), and
Oregon, 124 (28 percent).
Regions and Trains
Northeasts 10,451 system-funded long and short-distance
miles earn the third most populous region the honor of receiving
the most Amtrak service. This more than one-third (35.4 percent)
of the national systems 29,530 miles is a higher percentage
of Amtrak service than its population size (23 percent).
Southeasts 23.9 percent of the population receives 24.1
percent of Amtraks system-funded service or 7,119 miles.
The Northwests 2,371 miles is 8 percent national service
for the regions 5.2 percent population.
biggest inequities appear to be the Midwest and Southwest, which
combined share 47.7 percent of the U.S. population (118 mill.
people). The Midwests 21.9 percent population receives only
13.3 percent Amtrak service (with a low 3,916 system
The Southwests 5,673 miles is 19.2 percent of system-funded service for its 25.8 percent population. 27 percent of this mileage is in California.
provides proportional system-funded service to only one of the
countrys top 10 most populated states. Floridas 5.2
percent of the countrys population receives 5.9 percent of
Amtraks route miles.
But most of the other largest populated states (six of the top 10) proportionally receive less Amtrak service.
receives the most system-funded service. Virginias 2.4
percent of the population receives 12.1 percent of Amtraks
service or 3,576 miles.
New York is third. The Empire State’s 3,163 miles of
system-funded long and short-distance services account for 10.7 percent for the
state’s 7.2 percent population. This does not count the long-hauls originating
at New York City (Crescent, Florida trains, etc.)
Jersey is technically third, since its 2,400 miles dont
serve a large geographic part of the state, and serve only a
handful of cities (3.1 percent of population with 8.1 percent
Maryland, fourth place, has 1.9 percent population with 7.9
percent service. The states 2,356 miles are served
primarily by through trains.
terms of route miles, Florida is fourth place in terms of
national-funded service, with 1,760 miles. This is 78 percent of
the states MSAs.
1,548 system miles, like Florida entirely long distance, make it
sixth. The states 5,764 total miles (adding state-funded
services) make it the top state in terms of total Amtrak
passenger miles. But this large states population (11.9
percent of the U.S.) accounts for only 5.2 percent of the system
Amtrak indirectly serves 100 percent of Californias MSAs
(98.3 percent directly). Only two California MSAs, Modesto (no.
94 with 421,818 pop.) and Visalia-Tulare- Porterville (no. 112
with 353,000) do not receive direct service. Riverbank, a San
Joaquin stop, is 11 miles from Modesto. Yuba City (no. 138 with
139,000) is considered direct service since it is less than three
miles from Marysville, a Coast Starlight stop. Californias
four national system trains directly or indirectly serve every
single California MSA, despite the large number of
state-supported trains. Unlike New York, Amtrak provides no
system-funded short distance trains.
the third most populous state with 6.8 percent, receives only 5.1
percent (76 percent of the states population percentage) of
Amtrak service for the states 1,525 mile primarily
long-distance service . Illinois, with 4.6 percent of the
population, is provided 3.1 percent for its 933 system miles or
68.7 percent of its relative population.
and Washington round out the top 10, accounting for larger shares
than their state populations, 3.1 and 2.9 percent service for 1.3
and 1.9 percent respective populations.
Carolina also receives more system service, 2.8 percent, than its
2.6 percent population.
Ohio and Michigan receive around half of system funded service
relative to those states proportional population.
Pennsylvanias 4.7 percent of the population receives 2.5
percent service (54 percent of its proportional population);
Ohio, 48.5 percent of its proportional population for its 4.3
percent; Michigans 3.7 percent population and 2 percent
service (53.9 percent).
states actually receive more Amtrak service than their population
percentages: Arizona (1.9 percent service for 1.4 percent of
population), New Mexico (1.9 percent service for .6 percent
pop.), Colorado (1.6 percent service for 1.3 percent pop.), Rhode
Island (1.6 percent service for .4 percent pop.), Montana (1.5
percent service for .3 percent pop.), Kansas (1.3 percent service
for 1 percent pop.) and North Dakota (1.3 percent service for .2
percent pop.). Other states with larger service to
population ratios include Mississippi, Nevada and Nebraska.
States with similar population-service ratios are South Carolina,
Oregon, Louisiana, Iowa, Arkansas and Utah.
top 10 states account for 54.8 percent of the U.S. population
(135 million) and receive 47.9 percent of Amtrak train miles
service (14,162 miles).
without service, in order of population, include Maine, Hawaii,
South Dakota, Alaska and Wyoming.
sizeable number, 26 percent, of the city markets (or 13 states)
have only one daily train (departures in each direction). These
75 of the 273 markets add up to 51.7 million people. A
majority of these one-train-only-a-day cities are in the
Southwest (47 percent), Southeast (32 percent) and Midwest (19
percent). Still 74 percent of the MSA population served by Amtrak
receives more than one train departure a day.
reality, only one national system train serves Texas, if you add
the four-days-a-week Texas Eagle and the thrice-weekly Sunset
Limited. Using this definition, the populous Southwest has only
1.5 trains. Arizona and New Mexico would therefore have slightly
more than 1.5 trains with daily and a quad-weekly service.
million people in the top 100 MSAs are served by only one Amtrak
train departure or less per day. These include Dallas-Fort Worth (MSA no. 9 with 4.7 million),
Houston (no. 10 with 4.3 mill.),
Atlanta (no. 11 with 3.6 mill.),
Phoenix (no. 15 with 2.8
mill.), Minneapolis (no. 16 with 2.8 mill.), Denver (no. 20 with
2.3 mill.), Cincinnati (no. 23 with 1.9 mill.), San Antonio
(no. 28 with 1.5 mill.), Indianapolis (no. 29 with 1.5
mill.). These MSAs each have more than a million in population:
Salt Lake City, Memphis, Austin and Oklahoma City. The remainder
have between 400,000 and 1 million: Birmingham, Tucson, El Paso,
Omaha, Albuquerque, Little Rock, Mobile, AL., Jackson, MS.,
Spokane, WA., Pensacola, FL., and Youngstown, OH.
only 12.2 percent of cities served receive less than daily
trains, tri- to quad- weekly, 73 percent of the less than daily
schedules involve destinations in the growing sunbelt region. The
Southeast accounts for 17 percent; the Midwest 10 percent. Only
one non-daily train, the Cardinal, serves any portion of the
percent (5.9 million) of the MSA populations primary train
has to be boarded in the wee hours of the morning (Midnight
through 6:30 a.m.). The majority of these markets are in the
Midwest (32.8 percent) and the Southwest (32.5 percent). Nearly
16 percent of the travel markets either receive trains after
Midnight or only three to four times a week. This is concentrated
primarily in the Southwest (64 percent), Midwest (16 percent) and
Southeast (15 percent).
Percentage of Population Served
Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest contain most of the 100 MSAs
which do not have the rail travel option. The Southeast has 13
million and represents 39 percent of the MSAs without Amtrak
service; the Midwest, 8.9 million; the Southwest, 6.6 million;
the Northeast, 3.6 million; and the Northwest, 1.4 million. This
is 33.8 million people, larger than the state of California, and
16 percent of the U.S. population.
15 Northeast markets are absent service. And not one Northeast
top 60 MSA needs service. The other five top 60 MSAs missing
service are located outside of the Northeast. Only two Northeast
MSAs, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, PA. (No. 65 with 621,386 population)
and Allentown- Bethlehem, PA (no. 67 with 613,836) contain more
than a half million people. Five Southeastern MSAs needing
service contain more than a half million population. In the
Southwest, its four.
major Northeast MSAs deficient of Amtrak include York, PA (no.
107, with 370,518), Reading, PA (no. 111, with 354,057) and
Binghampton, NY (no. 139 at 251,698).
Southwest travel markets needing service include Tulsa, OK (no.
58 @ 764,396 pop.), Colorado Springs, CO (no. 80 @ 480,041),
Corpus Christi, TX (no. 101 @ 387,100), Brownsville-Harlingen, TX
(no. 118 @ 320,801), Odessa-Midland, TX (no. 142 @ 243,389),
Lubbock, TX (no. 148 @ 230,672), Fort Collins-Loveland, CO (no.
150 @ 226,021), Amarillo, TX (no. 156 @ 288,165), and Laredo, TX
(no. 169 @ 183,219).
Southeastern missing markets include Knoxville, TN (MSA no. 63 @
654,181 pop.), Baton Rouge, LA (no. 71 @ 570,165), Sarasota, FL
(no. 74 with 538,783), Daytona Beach, FL (no. 82 with 465,925),
Melbourne-Titusville-Palm Bay, FL (no. 83 with 460,977), Johnson
City-Kingsport-Bristol TN/VA (no. 84 @ 460,147), Augusta, GA (no.
85 @ 457,228), Chattanooga, TN (no. 88 @ 447,488), Lexington, KY
(no. 91 @ 446,699), Fort Myers-Cape Coral, FL (no. 102 with
387,091), Huntsville, AL (no. 116 @ 332,933), Montgomery, AL (no.
119 @ 319,175), Macon, GA (no. 121 @ 316,077), Fort
Pierce-Port St. Lucie, FL (no. 128 with 295,646),
Fayetteville-Rogers-Springdale, AR (no. 134 @ 266,980),
Asheville, NC (no. 154 @ 211,284), Clarkesville-Hopkinsville,
TN/KY (no. 162 @ 197,481), Naples, FL (no. 164 with 195,731),
Fort Smith, AR (no. 166 @ 192,395), Myrtle Beach, SC (no. 177 @
169,178), Fort Walton Beach, FL (no. 180 with 167,580), Wheeling,
WV (no. 192 @ 154,153), Parkersburg-Marietta WV/OH (no. 193 @
150,641), and Monroe, LA (no. 197 @ 147,055).
Midwestern cities without service include Wichita, KS (MSA no. 75
@ 530,508 pop.), Des Moines (no. 92 @ 429,717), Saginaw- Bay
City-Midland, MI (no. 96 @ 402,949), Canton-Massillion, OH (no.
97 @ 397,511), Madison, WI (no. 98 @ 397,511),
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA/IL (109 @ 357, 463), Rockford,
IL (no. 110 @ 354,774), Peoria, IL (no. 113 @ 345,954),
Appleton-Oshkosh, WI (no. 115 @ 342, 154), Springfield, MO (no.
125 @ 300,980), Evansville-Henderson, IN-KY (no. 129 @ 288,929),
Duluth, MN (no. 143 @ 238,134), Green Bay, WI (no. 152 @
214,244), Cedar Rapids, IA (no. 171 @ 181,704), Mansfield,
OH (no. 173 @ 174,851), Sioux Falls, SD (no. 188 @ 160,670),
Lima, OH (no. 190 @ 154,944), Janesville-Beloit, WI (no. 194 @
150,322), Terre Haute, IN (no. 195 @ 148,468) and Joplin, MO (no.
196 @ 147, 127).
Northwest has fewer major cities devoid of Amtrak service. The
biggest are Boise, ID (MSA no. 103 with 383,843 pop.) and Yakima,
WA (no. 151 with 218,318). Others include Billings, MT (no.
223 @ 125,771), Bismarck, ND (no. 262 @ 91,044), Great
Falls, MT (no. 268 @ 79,134), Cheyenne, WY (no. 269 @ 78,473) and
Pocatello, ID (no. 271 @73,850).
per square mile is another way to view Amtrak service. Nine of
the top ten most population dense states are in the Northeast;
The other, Ohio, is no. 10. Texas, the third most populous state,
is at no. 30. The only other Southwest or mountain state
within the top 30 most people per mile states, Washington, is no.
Northeast contains the most dense population, with 1,253 people
per square mile, versus the Midwests 132, the
Southeasts 110, the Southwests 49, and the
Northwests 21. The national average population per square
mile is 313.
The country’s 10 most population-dense states, New
Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Delaware,
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, in that order, comprise 31 percent of the U.S.
population and 34.9 percent of Amtrak national system service
top 20 most population-dense states, which include Illinois,
California, Hawaii, Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina,
New Hampshire, Tennessee, and South Carolina, contain 63.3
percent of the U.S. population (157 million) and 72.6 percent of
of the nations top 10 most populated states each possess
more than four percent of the countrys population. Michigan
and New Jersey each have three percent. North Carolina,
Southeast, at no. 10, has 2.6 percent. The remaining states all
contain under three percent with a vast majority (numbers 31
through 51) under one percent. The District of Columbia (at no.
48 with .02 percent) is ranked by the Census Bureau as a state in
terms of population.
paper, Amtrak seems to serve a significant part of the U.S.
population. And this, at first glance, appears to be balanced.
The 10 largest states accounting for 54.8 percent of the
population receive 47.9 percent of Amtrak train service. 29 of
the top 30 MSAs receive service.
countrys top 10 states containing the most population per
mile receive service slightly above their comparable population
percentage. (34.9 percent service for 31 percent population).
The most population-dense states do receive significant service, but some of the major states receive less service than their share of the national population (California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan).
the dozen states supporting short and medium-distance service,
the average percentage of state-supported miles to national
system miles is 57. But the second largest state, New York, pays
only for 11 percent of its short, medium and long-distance
sizeable part of the U.S. (26 percent) is served by only one
train a day. A number of key top 50 markets are not served,
including Phoenix, AZ, Columbus, OH, Las Vegas, NV,
TN, and Louisville, KY. Less than 20 percent of the travel
markets either receive trains after Midnight or has only three to
four times a week service.
provides the most service to the Northeast with 10,451 system
miles, which also has the highest direct service (93 percent).
This regions 23 percent of the population receives 35.4
percent of the national funded system miles.
Midwest, a region with nearly equal the Northeasts
population, is near the bottom, in terms of Amtrak system
service, with 3,916 miles. Just a little more than three-fourths
of the Midwests MSA population receives Amtrak service.
Southeasts 7,119 miles is the second largest region in
terms of mileage but the smallest region receiving direct service
(68.7 percent). The Southwests relatively high direct
service, 89 percent, is third in terms of national system miles,
with 5,673. The Northwest has 2,371 miles, which with 8 percent
of the system miles, is a little higher than its relative
population percentage (5.2 percent).
The disproportionate share of national system resources provided to one region over other more populous regions demonstrates how Amtrak service is not evenly spread among the four geographic population regions.
Top of page
Back to advocacy resources