Amtrak California ends 2011 with continued high ridership

It may almost be March, but Amtrak has just released their December report, meaning we can take a look at Amtrak California ridership for the end of the year. When I last wrote about Amtrak ridership the August and September reports had just been released. My lack of posting hasn’t been because ridership has been poor. Quite the contrary, ridership continues to exceed previous highs, and the year ended quite well.

For the October-December period, ridership is up over 2010 on two of the lines.
Year on year ridership changes
San Joaquin : +8.6%
Capitol Corridor : +6.9%
Pacific Surfliner : -6.1%

While ridership is down on the PacSurf, ticket revenue is up by quite a bit. I’m guessing Amtrak hiked up fares, which lowered ridership, but more than made up for it in new revenue. That’s just a guess though, perhaps construction or such hurt ridership.

For the October-December period, revenue is up over 2010 on all three lines.
Year on year revenue changes
San Joaquin : +12.2%
Capitol Corridor : +10.8%
Pacific Surfliner : +8.2%

Those aren’t insignificant increases folks, especially for train lines that have been running as long as these. 

Revenue is an important metric because it means Amtrak isn’t padding ridership numbers by discounting fares. Indeed, revenue is up higher than ridership is, meaning more people are paying into the higher bucket rates.

So how are the lines doing on other year-over-year metrics? Very well. Especially the San Joaquin which keeps growing. The Pacific Surfliner seems to be stuck at a certain ridership level for the time being.

Let’s take a look at November ridership, from 2008 to 2011.

The San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor have shown increases every single year.
(Please note the y-axis)


While this is just November, the SJ has added almost 10,000 each month compared to 2009. For a “nowhere” region where “nobody” rides trains, 10,000 new riders is a whole lot of somebodies. In fact, seven of Amtrak’s lines carried less than 10,000 people total for the month of December, so to have the SJ increase ridership by so much is quite the amount. That’s over 300 new riders a day.

The Capitol Corridor is also doing quite well.

The Pacific Surfliner, as I mentioned, is sort of stuck. This graph is sort of deceiving (again, pay attention to the y-axis) but the next graph shows the drops aren’t such a big deal

And how they look all together. In this graph, the swings in PS ridership seem insignificant.

And now October 2010 to December 2011, all three. This graph lets you see how October-December of last year compares to this year.

Again, the highlight here is the San Joaquin, home to the first stage of construction for high-speed rail. There is a very positive trend in ridership increase since 2008, even though the recession hit the San Joaquin Valley especially hard. The trendline added by excel makes the increase clear.

And how do Amtrak California lines compare in ridership to the rest of the country? Same as always actually. The numbers change, but the rankings don’t really. Perhaps next summer we’ll see some movement in the ranking.


I stand by my prediction that all the high speed rail news has acted as a massive advertising campaign for the San Joaquin. It also shows that when offered the service, people will jump on trains, they just need to know the option exists. The continued increases show that riders aren’t trying the train just once, but sticking around. Makes sense, train travel is affordable and comfortable.

That ranking also shows that the 2009-2011 high speed rail grants weren’t random. Every corridor shown in the top 10 was selected for some kind of HSR funding. I hope that after the November election, HSR funding is restored so that the top 10 Amtrak corridors continue to see significant investment and increases in ridership.

One Reply to “Amtrak California ends 2011 with continued high ridership”

  1. Great news and great post.

    Thanks for getting this news out. The San Joaquin Valley does get ignored by too many people. Before my involvement in he great HSR debate I know I never saw or thought about Fresno, except when passing through on the San Joaquin train.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *