RIDIN' THE RAILS Ridership in county has more than tripled in 16 years, showing the importance of short routes like the Keystone
BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Amtrak ridership at Lancaster County's three train stations more than tripled over the last 16 years, mirroring the success the rail system has had with short-distance corridors, according to a Brookings Institution study.
Brookings, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., think tank examined Amtrak ridership data between 1997 and 2012 for the nation's largest 100 metropolitan areas.
"Amtrak is too often considered a big, bloated bureaucracy that depends heavily on federal subsidies and is no longer relevant to the technologically oriented metropolitan economies of today," study co-author Robert Puentes wrote in a news release. "But the fact is that Amtrak is reinventing itself through its short haul routes and with the support of states, which are helping upgrade tracks, operate routes, and redevelop stations."
The study, being released today, found 90 percent of Amtrak's ridership since 1997 has been on short-distance routes.
Ridership jumped to an all-time high in 2012 and is increasing at a rate faster than other domestic transportation modes, according to the study.
It recommends Amtrak, states and the federal government promote intermodalism -- the linking of multiple forms of transportation -- and promote multistate rail agreements.
In Lancaster County, the study shows 207,073 passengers used the Lancaster, Mount Joy and Elizabethtown stations in 1997. Ridership jumped to 740,587 passengers in 2012 -- nearly a 260 percent increase. The Lancaster station is undergoing renovations; Elizabethtown's station has been redone; and Mount Joy has had its platform improved.
Lancaster was one of just eight metropolitan areas -- urbanized areas with a population of at least 50,000 -- across the country that saw ridership at least triple.
Two rail lines go through Lancaster: the 195-mile Keystone line from Harrisburg to New York and the 444-mile Pennsylvanian line from Pittsburgh to New York.
"The Keystone in many ways is sort of emblematic of the success we're seeing with the short-distance corridors," said Joseph Kane, a policy research assistant and study co-author.
Pennsylvania also is one of the few states that fund Amtrak, according to the study.
"Pennsylvania realized the local demand in Lancaster and elsewhere, and has invested in improvements in those lines," resulting in increased use, Kane said.
Such partnering shouldn't be viewed as the federal government passing costs on to the state, but instead, Kane said, as an example of innovative funding in challenging economic times.
A PennDOT spokeswoman said the agency had not seen the report and could not comment.
Short routes generated $47 million for Amtrak in 2011, according to the report, while long-distance routes cost Amtrak $614 million.
"Every single one of the 18 corridors traveling longer than 400 miles operated at a negative operating balance in 2011, whether traveling just over 400 miles on the Pennsylvanian or clear across the country on the California Zephyr," according to the study.
Kane said Lancaster benefited by being close to Amtrak's ridership center in the northeast corridor.