Amtrak counts almost 29 million riders

WASHINGTON — Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million people last year, with each of its routes seeing gains, the national passenger railroad said Friday.

The company has posted six years of ridership and revenue growth, recently benefiting from high gas and airline prices. The number of trips over the past year increased 11 percent over the 25.8 million taken in fiscal year 2007.

Total ticket revenue for the year that ended Sept. 30 reached $1.7 billion — also a record for the 37-year-old government-owned corporation, and a 14 percent increase over the $1.5 billion taken in the previous year.

“Amtrak has solidified its role as a leader in the nation’s transportation network and proven intercity passenger rail’s relevance in today’s world,” chief executive Alex Kummant said.

He said highway and airport congestion, high gas prices, increased environmental awareness and improved Amtrak service all contributed to the successful year.

Kummant has previously predicted that annual ridership could grow to 50 million in 10 years.

Amtrak, long criticized for its reliance on government subsidies, has also been enjoying a stronger position in Washington.

Earlier this month, Congress passed legislation that sets funding targets of $13 billion over five years in a major vote of confidence for the company. President Bush, a staunch Amtrak critic, is expected to sign the bill, which also includes broad new rail safety provisions.

The bill also calls for about $1.9 billion in federal matching grants to states for rail projects. Amtrak hopes that money will encourage more states to pay for short-distance “corridor” service.

Those kinds of routes have provided recent success stories for Amtrak and they accounted for the steepest gains in the figures announced Friday.

The Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and Seattle, remained the most popular long-distance train with 554,000 riders, a 10 percent increase over last year.

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