Passengers see value in new train - TransDominion Express


Passengers see value in new train

It’s OK to cheer about the news from the passenger platform at Kemper Street Station.

A few naysayers were less than enthusiastic about the state subsidizing the new Amtrak rail passenger service from Lynchburg to Washington. They said it would be a waste of public money and that not enough passengers would board here to make the service economically feasible.

They were wrong.

While it’s too soon to declare the new rail service a total success, figures from its first month of service in October show the Amtrak train had twice as many passengers as expected during its first month.

Accompanying that good news was a financial note that revenues from passenger fares were strong, despite low introductory rates. “We had a very strong month,” Kevin Page told members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board last week. He is rail transportation chief for the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Total ridership on the new train – Amtrak’s second in the Lynchburg-to-Washington corridor – in October amounted to 8,500 passengers.

Fares produced $414,000, which was 87 percent more than expected and almost enough to cover the cost of operating the train. The state has budgeted a monthly subsidy of $242,000 for the train, but only $48,000 of that will be needed for October, according to Page.

Amtrak has extended its reduced fare on the new train through March. Amtrak officials say that reduced fares can actually increase revenues by increasing the number of passengers. October’s results “are a good indicator that we can grow ridership in the territory,” Page said.

Strong ridership was also reported on Amtrak’s other train that covers the same corridor as it heads north to New York City and south to New Orleans.

During October, 3,777 passengers got on or off the trains in Lynchburg. That was a 68 percent increase from the 2,249 who used the train in October of last year.

Page cautioned the transportation board that ridership normally can be lower in the winter months.

“While the first month’s ridership results are promising, they are not typical since this is the first month of service,” he said. A better indicator of performance will come after the train has operated for three full months, Page added.

Nonetheless, the first figures are a tribute to passengers from Lynchburg and surrounding counties who were told at the outset that if they didn’t use the train, it would not survive. They are using it and they are using it in numbers that could reduce the state’s monthly subsidy.

At the same time, their willingness to take the train reduces in a small way congestion and wear and tear on the highways. That’s good not only for the travelers, but also for the highway budget. And these days, that budget can use all the help it can get.

Original article can be found here.

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