Report declares a passenger rail 'renaissance'

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

According to the Brookings Institution, Amtrak is fueling a “renaissance” in passenger rail transportation in the U.S. Ridership “is now at record levels and growing fast,” according to a report released last week.

Here are some of the institution’s findings:

Amtrak ridership grew by 55 percent since 1997, faster than other major travel modes, and now carries over 31 million riders annually, an all-time high.

The 100 largest metropolitan areas generate nearly 90 percent of Amtrak’s ridership, especially those in the Northeast and West.

Only 10 metropolitan areas are responsible for almost two-thirds of Amtrak ridership.

The short distance routes consistently dominate Amtrak ridership share and captured nearly all of Amtrak’s recent growth.

Combined, Amtrak’s short-distance corridors generated a positive operating balance in 2011 ($47 million) — while corridors over 400 miles returned a negative operating balance ($614 million).

The report includes an interactive map breaking down ridership trends, and therein some good news for Pittsburgh, which is threatened with the loss of Pennsylvanian service, one of the two routes serving the ‘Burgh. Ridership here, as measured in boardings and alightings, grew 12.6 percent from 1997 to 2012, despite reductions in service, the relatively slow service to Harrisburg and terribly inconvenient arrival and departure times for the Capitol Limited, our other train.

Ridership on the Pennsylvanian (Pittsburgh-Harrisburg-Philadelphia) grew by 32.5 percent over the period; the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Pittsburgh-Washington, D.C.) grew by 26.8 percent, according to Brookings.

Looking at numbers for Harrisburg and Philadelphia shows what frequent, reliable, fast service can do: Harrisburg saw a 244.9 percent ridership growth over the period studied; the Philadelphia metro area ridership grew 26 percent, with 5.3 million passengers getting on or off last year.

Ridership on the Keystone route (Harrisburg-Philadelphia-New York), a true Pennsylvania success story, grew by 221.4 percent.

PennDOT has released Pennsylvania’s first-ever Transportation Performance Report, a detailed rating of the state’s efforts in safety, mobility, system preservation and accountability, “with the results underscoring the need for additional transportation investment,” according to the department.

This is a nice read for transportation geeks, bulging with statistics about highways, bridges, transit systems and other modes, with an assessment of the relative health of each. Link to it here.

roadworkaheadThe bridge carrying Middle Road over the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Hampton will close for nine months next Monday. The turnpike is replacing six bridges in Hampton, Indiana Township and Harmar to make way for a widening project on eight miles of the toll road.

Inspection of overhead structures on Route 51 in the area of the Parkway West may cause lane closures and traffic shifts from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through Thursday.

Night work will cause restrictions on Route 228 in both directions, on Route 19 south and Interstate 79 in Cranberry starting next Monday, according to PennDOT District 10 spokeswoman Deborah Casadei. The restrictions will be in place from 9 p.m. Monday through Friday until 6 a.m. the next day, for two weeks. Ms. Casadei cautions that the work might begin an hour early if traffic is light enough.

On Route 228, traffic will be limited to one lane both ways. One left-turn lane will be closed on Route 19 south to accommodate the restriction. Next Monday only, 15-minute closures are possible on I-79 southbound at Evans City and northbound at Wexford, and on the ramps to northbound I-79 from Route 228 and from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

And in case you missed it, these bridges closed today for repair or replacement: the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge in Beaver County, the South Highland Avenue Bridge in Shadyside and the Levi Bird Duff Bridge over the Parkway North in Ross.

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